Google Rolls Out Silent Chrome Experiment That Breaks Enterprise Setups

 

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Google’s Chrome browser has always had a very quick update cycle, but there are multiple release channels if you don’t want to live on the cutting edge and deal with bugs. Google also lets IT administrators control updates on their networks. However, the browser maker ruffled some feathers this week when it rolled out an experimental feature that broke Chrome on many remote enterprise environments like Citrix.

IT staff began noticing issues early this week when thousands of machines started showing blank white tabs in Chrome. Users were unable to access the browser at all, causing work in some offices to grind to a halt. It was unclear what caused the widespread issues at first as most IT administrators control when Chrome updates roll out inside their network. Google, however, took the liberty of enabling a new feature on a subset of machines, even those on managed networks.

The culprit, it seems, is a feature called WebContents Occlusion. Google designed this feature to reduce resource usage when Chrome tabs aren’t visible. For example, if you move another window over top of Chrome, the browser can suspend your tabs and revive them as soon as they’re visible again. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

According to Google Chrome engineer David Bienvenu, the WebContents Occlusion flag has been in beta for about five months. Google turned the feature on for about one percent of stable users for a month, and it didn’t get any complaints. It began pushing WebContents Occlusion to more devices on Tuesday morning, which kicked off the trouble.

It seems that the feature doesn’t understand the way remote access clients like Citrix and Microsoft RDP render the browser. So, Chrome thinks there’s something on top of it and suspends tabs. People began calling this the “White Screen of Death” in a nod to the infamous blue screen of death that indicates a Windows crash. That’s a big problem for companies that have thousands of workers on Citrix who rely on the Chrome browser.

Google rolled back the change on Thursday after lengthy discussion threads popped up on Google’s support forums. IT workers are understandably annoyed that Google pushed a silent feature update to stable devices that broke everything. In many cases, companies spent hours attempting to troubleshoot their own setups before realizing it was a widespread Chrome issue. Hopefully, the Chrome team is more careful with flipping flags in the stable version going forward.

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