How Chrome’s Best Feature Got Killed Before Launch

A brilliant solution to pop-ups, squelched by an early reviewer.

Before Google announced Chrome to the public, it had an artist create an informational comic book for journalists — a sort of deluxe press release. It introduced people to Chrome’s main features: its Google integration, its multithreaded processing, etc. It was also released a bit too soon. According to its creator, “Google’s mailroom accidentally shipped some copies on September 1st — about two days before the scheduled launch — so for a little over a day, the comic was all anyone could see of the browser!”

But one feature in the comic isn’t in Chrome. And it’s a good one: a clever solution to the seemingly eternal popup problem. “There’s no concept of a drive-by pop-up in Chrome,” the comic reads. “Pop-ups are scoped to the tab they came from — and confined there.”

The original pop-up problem has been largely solved. Unless you have malware on your machine, browser windows don’t just appear out of nowhere. You have to invoke them somehow, which generally means clicking. A common example would be pop-up ads that appear after you click on a Flash video player. They’re still ads, and they’re still annoying, but they’re technically your fault. And this same technique is widely used for non-ad purposes, which means a blanket block is not an option. Sites that have pop-out audio players work this way, for example. Even Facebook does it.

A long browser session will usually end with one or two errant windows floating in the background. With this feature, you would never have more than one Chrome window unless you opened another on purpose. Google, it seemed, had found a pretty good solution to the modern pop-up problem.

According to a Googler who used to work on Chrome, though, this feature was killed at the last minute. Why? A bad review.

When we sent the very first Chrome out to reviewers, one reviewer sent back a draft of a review that said Chrome seemed like a nice browser but it had the strange additional feature of popping up ads inside the pages as you browsed.

The reviewer was so accustomed to their existing browser simply blocking pop-ups that it didn’t occur to them that the pop-ups were caused by the pages they were visiting, and instead thought it was some Chrome monetization strategy!

Because of this, the feature was scrapped at the last second. There is still some “constrained window” code left over in Chrome that is still used for e.g. HTTP auth prompts. Because the ports came later, I seem to recall we didn’t bother with implementing all the draggy window management stuff on Linux and instead centered a dialog over the page content without the window manager controls.

Sad! (Also: Who the hell sends drafts of reviews back to companies before publishing?)

You can download extensions that do something sort of similar, but none that handle the problem quite so elegantly. Oh well! Maybe a future version will have something similar.

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