Friday, March 23, 2012

The Usability Issues of Google Chrome

By Xuelin Ma

Nowadays, a large number of browsers are on the market. Since browsers are the most frequently used type of software and lots of companies regard browsers as key products, developing an attractive and usable browser becomes more and more important.

Chrome, the browser developed by Google, has lots of advantages, such as fast speed, high level of security, simple download operation and so forth. However, it also has several flaws.

Lack of Warning

The warning message is one of the most important heuristics that can prevent system from potential errors. Most software now provides this function when users make important decisions (i.e., delete data, close windows). However, as the second or third widely used browser, Google Chrome does not provide any message when users try to close the entire browser, which may lead to data lost if users just tend to close one single tab. On the contrary, Internet Explorer and Firefox will pop up a proper warning box asking for confirmation (See figure 1), thereby preventing unwanted operations.

To solve this problem, Google Chrome should give proper notification (i.e., pop-up warning box) to inform users the system process and the potential error. Besides, an approach to recover data from error should be given. For example, users can choose to start the browser with the web pages they were browsing last time (Figure 2).

Figure1: The pop-up warning box in Internet Explorer

Figure 2: Preferences setting of startup webpages in Internet Explorer

Tab Clutter

With the release of Internet Explorer 7 in 2006, all major web browsers featured a tabbed interface [1]. A study in 2009 shows that users switched tabs in 57% of tab sessions [2]. With this large proportion of users, web browsers should solve the related major problems thereby keeping and attracting potential customers.

However, Google Chrome frustrated users with invisible tab descriptions. Specifically, with the increasing number of opened tabs, Chrome automatically narrows down the length of each tab to save screen space, just like the other web browsers do. However, instead of at least showing a few words of the webpage’s title and hiding some tabs temporarily, Chrome will always narrow down all the tabs without giving any description of web pages, which makes them hard to be recognize (Figure 3).

One of the most used solutions for this problem is to hide some tabs temporarily and show them when needed (Figure 4). In addition, several words of the title description or the icon of the related webpage should always be shown. To give more user friendly feature, colorful tabs can be used to help users distinguish and navigate more easily (Figure 5).

Figure 3: Tabs with invisible title description in Google Chrome

Figure 4: Some tabs are hidden at the left of the tab bar in Internet Explorer

Figure 5: Colorful tabs used to help users distinguish tabs in Firefox


[1]Wikipedia Google Chrome
[2]Jeff Huang, Ryen W. White (2010). "Parallel Browsing Behavior on the Web". Proceedings of the 21st ACM Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia (HT '10).


  1. As a regular user of google Chrome, I really DO NOT see ur point!!!
    TAB CLUTTER: there is a label feature designed for each tab. So, when u have a lot of tabs u just need to move ur mouse cursor on the tab and label will show name or url of the tab. So, there is a title description. Moreover, I really don't like to see my tabs get hid by the application. Because, I have to go back and forth using <- and -> keys for moving between tabs. Just assume how troublesome it is when I want to switch between very first and very last tabs!!!
    LACK OF WARNING: It is not a big deal if I close some tabs or whole window accidentally. They are no critical information that I don't want to loose or I can't find anymore!!! Moreover, an option is suitably provided in the settings of Chrome that u can set to open the same tabs in case of accidental closing. Also, it will retrieve all the tabs in case of crashing of the application. I believe that modal message box for such a less of importance issue is annoying.

    1. As for the warning problem, I think it is important. Assume you are filling in a form and clicking the "Close" button by accident, so you may lose some valuable information even though you can reopen the same page. In this way, users have to fill in again which bring inconvenience to some extent. If users don't like this modal message, they can choose to not appear next time. But as the product itself, it is necessary to inform users of potential error.
      In addition, the problem that lack of warning violates the heuristic developed by Jacob Nielsen as well.

    2. Thanks for you comments.
      As for the tab clutter problem, I think appropriate text description will be much more apparent and easier for users to obtain the information about corresponding page, compared with move ur mouse to find information.
      Hiding previous pages may make ur browser interface looks simple and neat. Suppose you opened so many pages, it is quite possible to click the wrong tab from so many tabs which have no apparent text description and look the same.
      In this way, I think it is necessary to notice this problem.