Google yanks option to restore Chrome's older UI; users decry 'ugly' new look

The move, which came after Google upgraded its popular browser to version 71 last month, prompted an outcry from users who hate the latest user interface.

Chrome users have laid into Google after the search giant scrubbed an option that let them restore an earlier user interface (UI), saying that the new look was "untenable" and "ugly," and "would burn the eyes."

The brouhaha, which has packed complaints into venues like Chrome's official support forum, Twitter and Reddit, grew in volume and vitriol throughout December, after Google upgraded the browser to version 71.

Although Google revamped Chrome's UI with version 69 - released in September to mark the browser's 10th anniversary - users were able to punt that look-and-feel for the prior by setting an option in the panel that showed after typing chrome://flags into the address bar. The option was labeled "UI Layout for the browser's top chrome;" switching from "Default" to "Normal" and restarting the browser restored the older UI.

But with Chrome 71, which Google started distributing Dec. 4, the "Normal" setting vanished.

That set off some users, who had been so unhappy with the even more minimalist UI, particularly the rectangular tabs and the lack of clear definition between tabs, that they'd reverted to a pre-69 design.

chrome 71 tabs Google

Chrome tabs in version 71.

"The new (tab) shape causes problems - you can't visually feel them, and the tab text gets crushed out. It's really inferior to the old shape and contrast," wrote bhowes in a message posted to the Chrome support forum.

Others chimed in. "Bring back the old GUI (graphical user interface) or I am switching," threatened XeX Menu togo.

"Your browser is so ugly now that it's actually unusable, and customers are leaving because of it," contended Ec Little. "Whoever is responsible for this should be fired for causing Chrome to hemorrhage customers."

As ZDNet reported a week ago, examples of similar grievances were rampant across Twitter and on Reddit. One of a slew of reddit threads spelled out a gripe in stereotypical Reddit rage. "I'm off to Firefox until Google fixes the tabs o7 I'd rather not get blinded AND vomit every time I use Chrome," wrote ferengi4.

Others just mocked the browser. "Big Brother's removed the ability to change Chrome's UI," tweeted Michael Schulze on Wednesday. "All must embrace Fisher-Price. Press the Horse icon for any questions or complaints."

Here and there, some refused to bend a knee to the UI mandate and pointed others toward pre-71 copies of Chrome that allowed interface roll-back.

A Google engineer said that would be wrong. "Please don't do this," pleaded Peter Kasting on Reddit. "As a Chrome dev, we would really rather you use another browser than try to lock yourself on an old version of Chrome. There are serious consequences to this, and much like choosing not to be vaccinated, the choice affects other people besides just you."

Kasting was referring to running an out-of-date version of Chrome, one that would no longer receive security updates.

He also downplayed Reddit-based criticism and argued that leaving a reversion option was bad practice. "Reddit posts are not an unbiased, representative sample of all feedback," he wrote. "I invite you to consider the arguments at (here) for why teams don't necessarily choose to expose options." The link led to a post by Chrome developer Evan Martin, who argued that options were bad user experience and sometimes more trouble to maintain than a standard feature.

Kasting is no stranger to Chrome UI controversy. Nearly five years ago, a petition on demanded that Google executives fire Kasting and his UI team. "We have been betrayed by the Chrome team, having taken matters into their own hands and blatantly changing Chrome for what many see as far worse, far slower, and far less useful, but also more importantly taking away 'choice,'" said James Brown, who launched the petition.

Brown - and the 300 and some others who signed the online petition - were upset about changes to Chrome's new tab page. More than upset, actually; more like furious. Some of the messages left by users were definitely not workplace appropriate while others were creative, if leaning toward the blasphemous. "For the love of the little crying infant baby Jesus would you STOP messing with my new tab page?" asked Steve Pittman in February 2014.

Other crusades of UI-change complaints launched against Chrome struck out at revisions to the browser's scrollbar (January 2014) and an overhaul of its bookmark manager (April 2015).

"HATE - HATE - HATE the new format. Again - HATE IT!!!!!!!!!" MaryMom628 stormed over the bookmarking tool, using every last exclamation mark in her monthly allotment.

It's unlikely that Google will bow to user demands and return an option for the older Chrome UI; it didn't give in during any of the other donnybrooks.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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