Project Eraser – Reduce Google Chrome Complexity

Both Google and Mozilla have been busy reducing the complexity of their browsers lately. I wonder if this is partially a reaction to Microsoft’s Edge browser?

Google back in mid-2015 announced the start of Project Eraser, an initiative to make the Google Chrome browser less complex by removing obsolete or rarely used features. The project has not been reported wildly on in the news which is somewhat surprising. The company began inspection of code and features in Chrome 43 to find opportunities to remove code from Chrome to keep it simple and maintainable.

Project Eraser is the effort to simplify Chrome by unlaunching features and code-paths that no longer provide enough value to justify their complexity either in the code or in the UI. Starting in M-43 we are proactively seeking out opportunities to remove or never launch new functionality on the basis of keeping Chrome code simple and maintainable and Chrome UI easy to understand and intuitive to navigate.

A project member listed several examples that Chrome developers might want to look at to reduce the browser’s complexity including “rarely used features”, “obsolete or unmaintained code” or “narrowly differentiated or redundant functionality”.

Project Eraser

One example that Project Eraser may have been applied to is the proposed implementation of a sidebar API in the Chrome browser.

chrome blank tabs

The sidebar API would allow Google and extension developers to create add-ons that would make use of a sidebar, similar to what Mozilla’s Firefox web browser and third-party browsers such as Opera or Vivaldi support.

Initially given a go in April 2015, Google has since then made this a “wontfix” issue which means that the implementation will not happen after all. The core reason given for abandoning the idea is simplicity, or more precisely, “keeping with Chrome’s core value of simplicity”.

We will not be proceeding with this feature request. We recognize that there is a significant number of you who will be disappointed with this decision, evidenced in part by the many stars on this issue. We debated it extensively, both inside the team and with members of the community. In the end we decided that the WontFix resolution was more in keeping with Chrome’s core value of simplicity

Closing Words

Google’s Project Eraser is very similar to goals announced by Mozilla in recent time to evaluate Firefox features and either make them great or abandon them. Two of the first features that Mozilla decided to abandon were support for complete themes and tab groups.

While both browser companies seem intent to make the browser less complex, the Firefox community has an advantage currently in form of the browser’s mighty add-on system. As soon as Mozilla announced the removal of Tab Groups for instance, add-on developers started to create add-ons that would bring the feature back.

While that dampens some of the decisions Mozilla makes, things may change in the near future as Mozilla announced massive upcoming changes to the Firefox add-on ecosystem.

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