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August 31, 2011

Chrome's Most Important Feature

Ben Goodger, a former Mozilla developer who now works at Google on the Chrome team, thinks that autoupdate is one of the most important Chrome features.
Autoupdate is one of Chrome's killer features. It is magical because it continuously updates an entire development platform invisibly, frequently. Supporting it has driven how we structure our development processes. It was also one of Chrome's first features. Delving back into project history long before we launched publicly in 2008, the autoupdate project was one of the very first we started working on. The idea was to give people a blank window with an autoupdater. If they installed that, over time the blank window would grow into a browser. And today, some five years after our autoupdater started updating a mostly blank window that could barely load webpages, it is now an engine for delivering an incredibly sophisticated web technology platform onto our users' computers, which in turn allows web app developers to build amazing new online experiences. I have never seen such an effective platform update mechanism before.

Chrome automatically updates in the background and makes sure that it always has the latest features and bug fixes. You don't longer have to worry about version numbers, the list of features from the latest release and you can no longer decide that it's a bad idea to upgrade to the new version because of an annoying change. Extensions also update in the background and you're always using the most recent versions. That's a great thing for developers, who don't have to support legacy Chrome versions and spend so much time testing their sites and extensions. It's also a great thing for users, who can rely on a secure browser that has the latest security fixes and it's better protected against malware. They can also use the latest Web apps without having to worry about updating their browser.

Chrome's rapid release cycle works well because of the autoupdater. Annoying users with notifications about the new releases makes people delay updating their browser. Some of them will find ways to disable the updater and will continue to use an old version of the browser. Ben Goodger thinks that making the updater invisible is very important:
Chrome's autoupdate system is deceptively simple. I say "deceptively" because as a user it appears completely invisible, but really there are a lot of sophisticated technologies and processes that support it. The key point here is "completely invisible." We have made numerous improvements to the autoupdater over the course of Chrome's life, including one major change a while ago when we sped up the frequency of our releases from once per quarter to one every six weeks. But from a user perspective Chrome is still well.. Chrome.

I'll expand on invisible, because it's important:

The Chrome autoupdater works quietly in the background, never notifying you. If there's an update, it'll download it and prepare it so that the next time you start the browser it's the latest version. Sort of like how the next time you load GMail it's the latest version.

I think the autoupdater is the most important Chrome feature because it's the enabler for the other features. Ever since it was released back in 2008, Chrome has constantly improved, supporting new Web technologies, adding new features to the interface, new APIs for extensions and cutting-edge security features. Without a powerful autoupdater, many Chrome users would still have an outdated version and wouldn't be able to use them. Sometimes, removing choice can dramatically improve a software.

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