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Google backs off redesign of Chrome's New Tab Page

Users say awful revamp hinders productivity

Google has apparently rethought a change to its Chrome browser that had users up in arms and has restored an older design of its popular New Tab Page in the newest beta of Chrome 27.

Users were overwhelmingly against a revision of Chrome's New Tab Page (NTP) that debuted in Chrome 27 in early April. The new NTP reduced the number of thumbnails of recently visited websites from eight to four, inserted a large Google search box, shifted the Web apps view to a new button near the top of the browser window, and dumped other features, including the ability to view recently closed tabs, from the NTP.

Google announced the NTP redesign in December, when it began replacing the existing page in the "Dev" channel, the least-polished of the three builds it maintains for each edition. On April 4, it pushed the revision to the beta of Chrome 27.

Comments on various Google blogs and product discussion forums were almost universally negative from the start.

"First upgrade in 2 years I want to roll back," said Gerry Fitzgerald in a comment appended to the December blog. "Horrid. Rigid. At least let me pick which links and apps I want on the [new tab] page and give me more than 4!!!"

Google argued that the changes were necessary, that many users, not realizing they could search from Chrome's Omnibox -- Google's name for the combined address bar and search field -- steered instead for google.com to initiate a search. "The goal is to save people time by helping them search and navigate the Web faster," contended Chrome software engineer David Holloway, in the December announcement.

Then this month, Gideon Wald of Google, who was monitoring the feedback discussions and occasionally weighing in, essentially told the disgruntled to get used to the new NTP. "We do recognize that power users will be frustrated by some aspects of this change," Wald wrote April 19. "But we know you'll be able to adapt your workflows; you are the population that's willing to learn."

That didn't sit well with Yuri Tzur. "We could also adapt to a new browser," Tzur countered. "If we're supposed to be the ones to test it, I think our feedback should be taken into consideration instead of being dismissed."

Users told Google in no uncertain terms that they hated the new look of Chrome's New Tab Page. Google has apparently heard the outcries, and restored the old design.

Users hammered Google over the change most loudly in a long thread where Google asked for comments on the new NTP. There they argued that the move was a sop to novices at the expense of experienced Chrome users, that the large Google search box was redundant when the Omnibox was available, and that access to Web apps had been demoted to a button.

"I really dislike it," said someone identified as "Terrible Tony" on April 18. "The number of favorite pages displayed has dropped considerably, and I don't need a giant search bar taking up space when I use the Omnibox."

"Awful" was a word that many used.

"Awful awful awful regression," said "etacarinae" on the same thread April 19. "Stop breaking things that aren't broken for the sake of breaking things."

"I can't believe someone looked at Chrome and went, 'Yeah, this needs more search bars,'" said Kirill Vovk on Friday. "[The] New Tab Page design has no improvements at all and hampers usability for me."

Dissatisfied users even found a way to restore the older design by modifying a setting in the chrome://flags page.

Google seemed to bend to the criticism when Wald, who cited research that showed most users clicked only the first four thumbnails, said the team was "looking at designs that reincorporate 8 tiles to see if we can make them work." He also said Google was considering or working on other changes, including a Web apps launcher to debut in "a few months," but acknowledged that the disappearance of the apps view from the NTP "isn't great."

"I promise your concerns are being heard," Wald wrote April 23. "Please understand that there are a lot of considerations in play in a change like this, and we're doing our best to find the right end state."

Yesterday, Patrick Minze reported on the same thread that his copy of Chrome had reverted to the older NTP design when he updated the beta to version 27.0.1453.65. Computerworld also saw the old-style NTP after restarting that same version of the Chrome beta.

It appeared Google reset the default of the "Enable Instant extended API," one of the many settings found after typing "chrome://flags" in the Omnibox, from the previous enabled to disabled instead. (That, in fact, was the workaround others had discovered months ago.)

Franois Beaufort, who closely tracks Chrome and Chrome OS changes on his Google+ page, said on Friday that the latest Chromium build -- Chromium is the open-source project that feeds code into both Chrome and Chrome OS -- used a new NTP that, while retaining the Google search field, showed eight, not four, thumbnails.

While Google does not hew to a set release schedule for Chrome, version 27 should shift from beta to a final edition some time in May.

This article, Google backs off redesign of Chrome's New Tab Page, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is [email protected].

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Read more about internet search in Computerworld's Internet Search Topic Center.


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