Google suspends Chrome upgrades as COVID-19 impacts software schedules

With 6.7 million residents in the San Francisco Bay Area ordered to stay at home to slow the coronavirus spread, scheduled Chrome and Chrome OS releases have been delayed.

Chrome browser logos
Google / Gerd Altmann (CC0)

Google has stopped upgrading its Chrome browser and its Chrome OS operating system because of the COVID-19 pandemic and has not said when it would resume refreshing either.

"Due to adjusted work schedules at this time, we are pausing upcoming Chrome and Chrome OS releases," Google said in a short statement posted Wednesday to its Chrome releases blog. "Our primary objectives are to ensure they continue to be stable, secure, and work reliably for anyone who depends on them. We'll continue to prioritize any updates related to security, which will be included in Chrome 80."

The "adjusted work schedule" clearly referred to the disruption caused by the pandemic, including a six-county "shelter-in-place" order for California's Bay Area. Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., 39 miles southwest of San Francisco, is located in Santa Clara County, one of the six under lockdown.

On March 10, Google recommended that all North American employees work from home.

According to a now-outdated Chrome release schedule, Google was supposed to upgrade the browser to version 81 on Tuesday, March 17. Chrome OS was to shift to version 81 on March 24. Google had both on a metronomic schedule that delivered new features every six to eight weeks.

Also on Wednesday, Google updated Chrome 80 — the version that debuted Feb. 4 — to build 80.0.3987.149, which contained fixes for 13 security vulnerabilities. The nine that Google called out in a separate post were all rated as "High," the second-most-serious threat ranking in a four-step scoring system. Only one of the nine noted a bug bounty amount — $8,500 — and five other bug listings said that a cash reward would be determined later.

Four of the nine described vulnerabilities were reported to Google by Yue Mo of the San Francisco-based Semmle Security Research Team. Three of the remainder were discovered by members of Google's own Project Zero group.

Google did not offer a timetable for resuming Chrome and Chrome OS upgrades. The next in the two product series were slated to release April 28 (Chrome) and May 5 (Chrome OS).

It was unclear if the Chromium project had also paused, although code commits were still landing Wednesday. If the Google-led, open-source Chromium did halt new work, then Chrome (and the other browsers that rely on Chromium) would not be able to progress in any case. Microsoft, which in January released a revamped Edge built atop Chromium, may have to follow Google's lead and limit its browser to security updates, too.


Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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