Google yanks option to restore Chrome's old-style new tab page, riles users all over again

Google digs in its heels, tells users to find an add-on if they don't like the new new tab page

Google has removed the option that let Chrome users restore an older version of the new tab page, closing that loophole and showing the oft-criticized scheme to everyone.

The new tab page appears when users press Ctrl-T (Windows) or Command-T (OS X) in Chrome. All browsers offer a similar new tab page that, at a minimum, shows thumbnails of the user's most visited websites. The feature, which debuted on Opera in 2007, has been copied by all its rivals, including Chrome, Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Mozilla's Firefox, and Apple's Safari.

Last September, Google rolled out its redesigned new tab page with Chrome 29, featuring eight thumbnails of frequently-visited websites and a large Google search box, shifted the Web apps view to a button, and dumped other features, including the ability to view recently closed tabs.

Users howled. In comments posted to the browser's support forum, they blasted the changes as unnecessary and disruptive to their online productivity.

But at the time, Google left them an out. By setting "Enable Instant Extended API" in the advanced options -- reachable by typing "chrome://flags" in the address bar -- to "Disable," users were able to restore the old new tab page.

Last Thursday, however, with the release of Chrome 33, Google yanked that setting from the "flags" page.

"The chrome://flags page differs from other Chrome settings in that they are meant for developers and are not official or a supported part of Chrome," explained SarahMM on a support thread dedicated to the disappearance of the "Enable Instant Extended API" option. SarahMM was identified as a Google employee.

"In the case of Instant Extended API, this is based on old code, which is not included in our most recent update," SarahMM added.

Instead, she recommended that Chromes users install one of three add-ons that modify the new new tab page, but do not completely restore it to the older style. Computerworld's expert on all things Google, blogger JR Raphael, suggested one more.

To say that users were unhappy would be a monumental understatement: As of early Monday, the thread dedicated to the vanished flag setting contained over 400 posts, a very high number for a Google support forum.

Some of the messages were definitely not workplaceappropriate, unless one's workplace was an NFL stadium after the home team had just handed the ball over four straight times.

Others were more moderate, but still stinging.

"Sorry, but this is unacceptable in ANY form whatsoever and I have no clue who you think you are fooling with your canned PR response," wrote Jason Hellenthal on Feb. 20, aiming his comment at SarahMM. "Old code? It was a decision to force the user into not turning it off."

"You can pretend it's about the extended API, but this is just a distraction from the fact you are forcing us to practice bad browsing behavior, like using unnecessary third-party extensions," chimed in coreytodds yesterday.

Many users were short and succinct in their pleas. "For the love of the little crying infant baby Jesus would you STOP messing with my new tab page?" asked Steve Pittman on Saturday.

Several noticed that if they changed the default search engine from Google to an alternative, say Microsoft's Bing, the large Google logo and search field vanished. The irony wasn't lost on them. "Change search engine to Bing and the Google logo and child's search box go away! Except, of course, I'll be evaluating a new search engine," wrote Alex Kushnir last Thursday.

In Windows, Chrome's search engine setting can be found on the "Settings" page after clicking on the icon with the three horizontal lines at the right side of the browser's toolbar. In OS X, the setting is on the "Preferences" page, called up from the "Chrome" menu at the far left.

Others claimed that they were uninstalling Chrome and switching to Firefox.

But those users' comments were full of sound and fury, signifying nothing to Google, or so it seemed by the reply of one Google senior software engineer on the Chrome UI team, Peter Kasting, who replied to similar complaints that had been posted to the Chromium bug tracker.

"We have, in fact, considered the various issues people have raised with the new NTP [new tab page], and suggestions have been kicked around as to how to address those issues, so you may see changes in the future, (emphasis in original)," wrote Kasting on Feb. 20. "Completely reverting the NTP, however, is not one of those suggestions, because the new NTP is massively improved on all kinds of important user satisfaction metrics. Reverting it, in our opinion, would harm the overall UX [user experience] for a large fraction of our userbase, and we have a moral duty to consider their well-being, not just the opinions of the few who complain."

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

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