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Google Chrome's shutdown glitch defies an easy fix

There are as many causes as there are potential solutions for the browser's failure to relaunch. It's simpler to click the error message's Restore option than to troubleshoot the glitch.

Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

When diagnosing PC problems, sometimes it pays to take the easy route.

About every other time I open Google Chrome lately, an error message alerts me that the browser failed to close correctly. I'm then prompted to click the Restore button to reopen the tabs that were active when Chrome last closed.

Who's got the time to figure out what's causing the browser to hiccup when it closes? Just go the restore route or start the browsing session afresh. No big deal, right?

Having nothing better to do over a holiday weekend, I decided to look into the matter. The only thing my investigation determined is that the problem dates back years and occurs on every kind of hardware that Chrome runs on, including the new Windows 8.1 "Metro" version 32 of the browser (more on that program below).

Your choice of potential Chrome-shutdown fixes
The first proposed solution I found entailed deleting the Preferences file in Chrome's User Data system folder. Another recommended renaming the Default folder in the Chrome system-folder path so the program would recreate it.

Other helpful souls suggested deleting the entire user profile and then letting Chrome recreate the profile when you sign back into your Google account. Several said they solved the problem by unchecking Chrome's option to remain running in the background when the browser closes.

Then there were those that swore by updating Chrome's extensions, or clearing your history and cookies, or uninstalling and then reinstalling the browser. One forum denizen suggested typing about://conflicts in Chrome's address bar to troubleshoot problems with third-party apps.

For me, deleting the browser's Preferences file and renaming its Default system folder both worked -- for a time. Eventually, Chrome's failure-to-relaunch message would resurface.

As W.C. Fields once said, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damned fool about it."

New Chrome for Windows 8.1 may get you off the desktop...and onto a Chromebook?
The silver lining of my weekend spent launching, relaunching, and re-relaunching Chrome -- interspersed with trips to various system folders and settings dialog boxes -- is a new appreciation for native Windows 8 apps over their classic desktop alternatives.

Google Chrome 32 option to switch to native Windows 8 mode
Set Chrome to open in the browser's native Windows 8 mode by choosing this option on the settings menu. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Analysts such as InfoWorld's Serdar Yegulalp speculate about Google's strategy of enticing Windows users to adopt the Chrome OS by giving them what amounts to a free trial version that runs inside Windows 8.1.

After switching between the desktop and "native" Windows 8 versions of Chrome for several days, the clear winner for me is the new Chrome OS-style interface -- despite the fact that the revamped browser continues to generate the shutdown-failure error message.

To set Chrome to its native Windows 8 mode, click the settings icon in the top-right corner of the browser window and choose "Relaunch Chrome in Windows 8 mode." If Chrome isn't already your default browser, you'll have to choose it in the dialog box that appears. (You can revert to your previous default browser after making the switch.)

The first thing you notice is the browser's full-screen view, which places the Chrome OS's shelf in the bottom-left corner of the screen and a simple clock in the bottom-right corner. Click the button to the far left of the shelf to open your apps window. Other shelf shortcuts open your Chrome apps and various Google services: the Chrome browser, Gmail, Google Drive, Google Docs, and YouTube.

Google Chrome 32 apps window in native Windows 8 mode
In native Windows 8 mode, Chrome places the shelf at the bottom of the screen for easy access to Google services. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Apart from the appearance of the shelf and the disappearance of the Windows taskbar, the browser functions identically in desktop and native-Windows 8 mode, as far as I could tell. So why bother to go native? The obvious reason is to have ready access to your Google apps. Of course, not many Windows machines are loaded with apps designed for the Chrome OS -- at least not yet.

Choice is nice. And with the equivalent of the Chrome OS running inside Windows 8.1, you've got many more app choices. That all by itself is reason enough to make the switch to the native version of Chrome for Windows 8.1, crashes or no crashes.