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Whoops! Google test kills Chrome for thousands of users

Google Chrome
(Image credit: Deepanker Verma/Pexels)

Google's Chrome browser might have angered some business users this week after it broke and left corporate IT staffers unsure of how to fix the problem -- all as the result of testing by Google that was carried out without notifying the users.

Google acknowledged this week that it launched an "experiment" in Chrome browsers that was designed to reduce the browser's resource usage when users move other programs over the Chrome browser window. 

The idea is that Chrome would go into a sort of low-power mode when it recognized it wasn't being used to reduce resource usage and ultimately improve the broader computing experience.

The new feature was apparently pushed out to many, perhaps all, users of Chrome builds 77 and 78, which would amount to millions of users worldwide. Few reported problems.

However, when business users employing virtual-machine environments, such as those provided by Citrix, launched their Chrome browsers, they discovered that their tabs went blank, with no apparent way to fix them. 

Employees who wanted to go on the web, including in applications they needed for work, found that Chrome was unresponsive.

Worst of all, Google pushed out the update without informing users, so companies were left without a solution.

"Do you see the impact you created for thousands of us without any warning or explanation? We are not your test subjects," said one poster in the Chromium bug thread quoted by ZDNet. "We are running professional services for multi-million dollar programs. Do you understand how many hours of resources were wasted by your 'experiment'?"

In a post to the Chromium bug forum, Google software engineer David Bienvenu acknowledged the problem and said that the company had previously tested the feature in Chrome beta builds with no issue over a period of five months. After it was pushed live to users using the stable Chrome version, however, things went awry for companies using virtual machines.

The problem wasn't limited to Citrix virtual environments. Other virtual-machine deployments had issues, according to forum postings.

"Citrix likely has the highest impact and most visibility but it seems to be affecting all terminal servers at least, possibly all server OS," said one poster in the Chromium bug thread.

Google's Bienvenu said in the bug thread that the company had rolled back the update on Thursday night and that Citrix users were no longer experiencing the problem. But that didn't stop forum posters from complaining to the Google engineer about the issue that lasted two days and undermined productivity in their offices.