Google working to reverse Chrome bloat

Google has worked hard to keep its browser fast. Now, with Chrome 10.0 nearly triple the size of Chrome 1.0, it's working to make it smaller, too.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
Stephen Shankland worked at CNET from 1998 to 2024 and wrote about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
Chrome has grown heftier in the last two years.
Chrome has grown heftier in the last two years. data from Google; chart by Stephen Shankland/CNET

When Chrome got its start, the browser was svelte and fast-loading if limited.

Now, it's got plenty of features, but two years later, it's nearly three times bigger. And Google, deciding that's not a good thing, has set up a task force to curtail Chrome bloat.

The task force is "aggressively looking at options to bring down the size of Chrome distribution binaries," said Anthony Laforge, Chrome technical program manager, in a mailing list message this month. Binary files are the ones computers understand; they're created from human-comprehensible source code.

With broadband connections, large file sizes aren't necessarily a showstopper. But they can cause plenty of problems. Chrome Developer Ian Fette described two:

1. We do distribution deals with Chrome, where we bundle Chrome with other products. These get difficult when our binary grows. 2. We see increased download failures / install dropoffs as the binary grows, especially in countries with poor bandwidth like India. India also happens to be a very good market for Chrome (we have good market share there and growing), so that's also very problematic.

Added another Chrome programmer, Adam Barth:

At a more macro level, adding MB to Chrome is pretty invisible to developers. It's a tragedy of the commons, where each of us grazes our cows just a bit and piles on just a few more KB. Performance would be the same, except we're fanatical about not regress startup or page load performance. Maybe we need to be more fanatical about not regressing binary size?

Chrome has grown from 9.0MB with version 1.0 to 26.2MB for version 10.0 on Windows. Despite being dogged by reputations of being bloatware, Firefox 4.0 is 12.0MB for the Windows version.

Chrome has proved to be influential. It increased the relevance of the open-source WebKit browser engine project on which it and Apple's Safari are based. Mozilla has embraced Chrome's fast-rev ethos, starting after today's release of Firefox 4.

Google Chrome logo

And although it's hard to find a direct link from external statements, it seems likely that Chrome helped to add fuel to the fire Microsoft lit under its Internet Explorer developers. With IE9, released last week, Microsoft once again has a competitive browser. (For a walk down memory lane, check this superb tour of Internet Explorer 1.0 through 9.0.)

Google updated its Chrome logo last week, though the change won't arrive beyond the developer version of the browser until Chrome 11 reaches beta and stable versions.

"Since Chrome is all about making your web experience as easy and clutter-free as possible, we refreshed the Chrome icon to better represent these sentiments. A simpler icon embodies the Chrome spirit -- to make the web quicker, lighter, and easier for all," Google designer Steve Rura said in a blog post yesterday.

Correction at 10:16 a.m. PT: This post initially misstated the browser that has grown from 9.0MB with version 1.0 to 26.2MB for version 10.0 on Windows. It's Chrome. Also, the labels on the bar graph were reversed. The horizontal axis is the version of Chrome, while the vertical axis shows the size in megabytes.