Google Seeks to Restore Chrome’s Lost Luster

Posted on October 17, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud with 32 Comments

Google Seeks to Restore Chrome's Lost Luster

Last week, Google began rolling out the 54th version of its Chrome web browser to Windows and other platforms, and the update will hit Android and Chrome OS in the coming days too. But fans of this browser will want to look forward to the next release, Chrome 55, which should finally fix long-standing memory usage and battery life problems.

Make no mistake, Google Chrome is a big deal.

The browser turned 8 last month, and it is now the most popular web browser in the world. It has 54 percent usage share on PCs; Internet Explorer has 25 percent usage share but is dropping fast, and number three Firefox accounts for less than 10 percent of the market. And on mobile, it has an identical 54 percent usage share, with Safari accounting for 25.7 percent. When it comes to web browsing, there is Google Chrome. And then there are these other things.

Chrome deserves this kind of usage, given its rich feature set and cross-platform compatibility. But today’s Chrome is also a far cry from the thin, light, and speedy browser that Google first introduced in 2008. Back then, Google was driven by a fear of Microsoft and its ability to undermine Google’s efforts with Windows. That seems quaint today, yes.

That first Chrome release was minimalistic in every way imaginable, and it was the first major browser to merge search functionality with the address bar. But from an end user perspective, the overreaching aim of Chrome was performance: Google wanted to make sure that its cloud-hosted services were presented in the best possible light. Indeed, it actually marketed Chrome as a “modern operating system for web applications,” which should have been a tip-off to its long-term plans, but wasn’t.

The first public beta of Google Chrome. September 2008.

The first public beta of Google Chrome. September 2008.

Over the years, Google has evolved Chrome in interesting ways, has switched web rendering engines, has gone back and forth over how web apps can integrate with the host OS, and has gradually piled on new features and functionality. Concurrent with this, Chrome has become a memory hog as performance has suffered.

It’s gotten so bad that even Microsoft has piled on the pain by demonstrating how superior the battery life of its Edge browser is to that of Chrome. After a feeble attempt by Google at muddying the waters, Microsoft then explained why Edge still beat the competition handily.

Well, Google will have none of that. And it is now racing to finally sew up whatever memory and performance issues the browser still has, and will further improve battery life in the process.

For people like me who use the most popular web browser (Chrome) on the most popular desktop OS (Windows) and mobile OSes (Android, iOS), this is important. And it can’t happen quickly enough.

Chrome 54, out now, appears to focus mainly on a few developer features and bug and security fixes on the desktop side. Apparently, this will be a bigger update on mobile, where Chrome 54 for Android in particular will support offline web page, music, picture, and video viewing capabilities and other new features.

But Chrome 55, due before the end of 2016, will be a big deal on the desktop. It will bring big improvements to memory usage, performance and battery life, especially for those with PCs with less than 8 GB of RAM. And Google plans further improvements in future Chrome releases, with a goal of making the browser efficient even on systems with just 1 GB of RAM.

Like many of you, I switch back and forth between browsers fairly regularly, if only to see what’s new. So I typically do so when a new release of Firefox or even Opera arrives. There’s nothing wrong with these browsers per se, and even Edge, which basically brings up the rear in most ways, has nice display advantages, especially on high DPI screens. But there’s just something about Chrome. And if Google is able to right its performance and battery life issues, I suspect the next 8 years will be pretty successful for the browser. Just like the first 8.


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