Chrome, the operating system, is apparently pretty great – but Chrome, the operating system, is the worst thing that ever happened to Chrome, the browser.
Since the beginning of ChromeOS, Chrome on other platforms has increasingly been bogged down by additions that only make sense for ChromeOS users. Things like app launchers, notification systems, and user profiles simply don’t add much if you’re running a web browser on Windows, Mac or Linux – all of those operating systems have their own, better-integrated tools for doing the same thing. Yet Chrome bundles all this and more.
Chrome, the operating system, is relatively lightweight – but its existence means that Chrome, the browser, does all sorts of things its own way instead of going native. And that sucks, especially for those of us who hate Chrome but feel stuck with it.
It’s Grown Into a Monster
Remember when Chrome was simple? Back in 2008, Google explained that its browser was going to be simpler. They even made a cartoon explaining this:
Since then, Chrome has become a famous hog of memory and battery life. I’m not going to argue that the addition of things like Chrome apps and notifications are what’s eating your computer’s power, but the fact is that Chrome isn’t just a browser anymore: it’s a platform. And if you’re not using that platform, Chrome is adding all kinds of unnecessary crap to your browsing experience.
Here are just a few of the worst things about Chrome, in my opinion.
I don’t know why there’s any confusion about Chrome’s add-ons situation! After all, it’s simple! Let me explain:
- Chrome supports two kinds of add-ons: “Extensions” and “Apps”. Both are found in the Chrome Web Store. Like I said: simple!
- “Extensions” customize the browser, similar to addons for Firefox. You know: things that customize the new tab page, make Gmail better or even change how Facebook works.
- “Extensions” are represented by little icons to the right of the address bar (except for when they aren’t).
- “Apps” are different from “Extensions”, in that “Apps” are mostly just links to websites represented by smartphone-app-shaped icons.
- “Apps” are totally different from “bookmarks” in that they have bigger, smartphone-sharped icons.
- “Apps” used to show up on the new tab page, but that made them too easy to find. For this reason, they now show up in a separate program called “Chrome App Launcher”, which may or may not be installed on your system depending on…something.
- Isn’t this simple?
- Oh yeah: some “Apps” are more than websites, because they’re kinda/sorta desktop programs that launch in new windows, without an address bar, and may or may not have some sort of offline capability. These close if you close Chrome, just to remind you that they’re not really desktop applications.
- In many cases, such as Google’s own Hangouts, there is an App and an Extension with the same name and icon, which may or may not offer the same functionality and also may or may not be a totally different interface. It’s up to you to discover which one you like, at random, by searching the Chrome Web Store and installing whichever you notice first.
- Oh, and you can also possibly/maybe/unofficially run Android apps in Chrome as well. Note that “Android Apps” are not to be confused with “Chrome Apps” (though the “Android Apps” are to be launched from the “Chrome App Launcher”).
- None of this is confusing.
- Not even slightly.
- Google knows what they’re doing.
Why Does Chrome Have Its Own Notification System?
One of the great new features of Windows 10 is an integrated notifications system. Chrome doesn’t support it.
It’s part of a longer trend: OS X users have had a system-wide notification system for years, but on that platform Chrome also goes its own way.
Err… Chrome desktop notifications don't use Notification Center on OSX? Wut?
— Joni Korpi (@jonikorpi) April 30, 2015
Chrome has it’s own notification system, which makes sense on ChromeOS but not on every other platform. These notifications look out of place and overlap with notifications from other programs.
Why complicate things? Why not integrate with the operating system? It’s frustrating, and users are noticing.
I'm so sick of Chrome notifications on Windows – I can't reposition them and they sit right on top of my clock.
— Paul Heasley (@pheasley) August 13, 2015
It’s a superficial thing, but it points to Chrome replicating functionality from ChromeOS instead of integrating with operating systems.
User Profiles. Why?
Chrome user profiles – a solution to a problem no-one has. Also: that annoying name button! >:-(
— Richard Holliday (@rjpholliday) January 31, 2015
Logging into a stranger’s Chromebook is easy: just log into your Google account and you’re done. All of your settings, all of your apps, all of your bookmarks.
This is brilliant. It also makes no sense on a desktop computer.
Desktop operating systems have their own user system, meaning if a friend of mine wants to borrow my laptop they can – without having access to all of my personal files. Maybe I’m missing something here – this could potentially be nice for families sharing a desktop computer – but I really wish I could get rid of that button at the top-right. And I’m not alone.
[Editor’s note: It’s really handy if you want to swap from a work profile to a home profile]
None Of This Crap Is Integrated On Mobile
Google, on some level, knows that everything I’ve mentioned here isn’t necessary – and the mobile versions of Chrome are the proof. None of the unnecessary features I’m complaining about are included in the iOS or Android versions of Chrome, both of which integrate nicely with their respective operating systems. Why not build a browser that does the same things on desktop operating systems?
Chrome Killed Google’s Desktop Offerings
Once upon a time, Google offered a variety of apps for Windows, Mac and Linux users. These days, they basically offer one: Chrome. Everything else is offered as a Chrome extension (or an App!)
Want to use Google Hangouts to chat with your friends? Install Chrome. Want to be notified when you get a new Gmail message, or SMS over Google Voice? Install Chrome. Want offline access to your Gmail, Google Calendar or Google Drive? Install Chrome. It’s Google’s official answer to everything on the desktop.
Heck, sometimes Google goes one step further. Sparrow was a fantastic desktop Gmail app, until Google bought out the company and shut down development.
That’s right: it’s not enough to not offer a desktop app. Google also buys third party companies to take those apps off the market as well. Wonderful.
Great Operating System; Needs a Better Browser
As Internet jokes go, it’s a pretty old one: “iTunes is a pretty great operating system, it just needs a better music player”. The joke being that iTunes, once a simple music player, grew so complex and added so many features unrelated to playing music that it started to suck at…you know…actually playing music. (Even funnier: that joke was common 10 years before Apple Music, but I digress).
Here’s my point: I think Chrome is a pretty good operating system, it just needs to be a better browser. Ideally something that stays out of the users’ way.