What the Lack of Outrage Over Chrome Automatic Updates Means

by Krishna on May 25, 2011

Coding Horror had a post two days ago on the frequent updates of Google Chrome. What I find amusing is that it refers to Version 11 as the most recent version. I just checked my version and I am using Version 12 (albeit on the beta channel), so it won’t be long before that changes.

Jeff Atwood thinks that this is the future. I am not so sure. One reason is that Google Chrome is a free product and so they can do major version updates. Companies with a commercial desktop product usually cannot afford to do that, unless they have some kind of subscription model going on. On the web, regular updates are inherently part of a web application, so there is nothing new there.

But why don’t you see more complaints about Google Chrome being so frequently updated? Some theories:

  1. Supreme backward compatibility: What worked in previous versions of Chrome will always work in a newer version. Or if it doesn’t, they just quickly release a new version that fixes the broken incompatibility. Very hard to get right, but then Google is not your average software engineering company.
  2. No horrible legacy of ignoring standards: Internet Explorer has been very cavalier when it came to honoring HTML and CSS standards. Which means that more websites get broken on IE with every release that fixes issues. Google Chrome started out properly, so your site would have either worked always or never on Chrome.
  3. Nobody tests on Chrome: For a long time, IE and Firefox have been the browsers that people test on. Safari, Opera and Chrome have been after-thoughts. That should be changing rapidly now, but only after Chrome has released many versions and become much more stable.
  4. The corporate environment: People always blame grannies for IE 6. But the biggest culprits are corporations with web applications that cannot be upgraded. The IT team ensures that your desktop browser never gets upgraded. And you are not allowed to install anything else.
  5. Nobody knows what the current version of Chrome is: How do you ask your tester to test on Version A.B.C of Google Chrome? I don’t even know if it is possible to download that version, or disable automatic updates. At some point, you just stop caring.

Regardless, the good thing is that it puts both Internet Explorer and Firefox under so much pressure to innovate as well as adhere to the latest standards.

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