Project Eraser: reduce Google Chrome complexity

Martin Brinkmann
Jan 9, 2016
Google Chrome

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.

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.

Project Eraser: reduce Google Chrome complexity
Article Name
Project Eraser: reduce Google Chrome complexity
Project Eraser is an initiative by Google to reduce the complexity of its Chrome web browser by removing features or code.
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  1. pd said on January 10, 2016 at 10:31 am

    FFS: please tell me I didn’t just read the ‘word’ “unlaunching” !

    Marketing copy writers are such nefarious wankers.

  2. D. said on January 9, 2016 at 10:27 pm

    I agree with JohnMWhite completely. Who is their audience? Who is Mozilla and Google trying to reach, or hold on to.

    1. JohnMWhite said on January 10, 2016 at 4:51 am

      That’s a great way to phrase the question. Who are these people who need a Fisher Price browser? Why are they the priority?

  3. Ben said on January 9, 2016 at 7:07 pm

    Ahh Chrome, the browser where you cannot have more than 5 tabs because there is no scrollable tab bar.
    Genius piece of software.

  4. JohnMWhite said on January 9, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    I’m all for keeping application code trim, for the sake of stability and responsiveness, but I am no fan of the obsession of browser developers for ‘simplifying’ their programs. Why is there such a desperation to go from feature-rich applications that are our portal to the web to bog standard windows with nothing but a hamburger on them? What are Google and Mozilla so afraid of? It’s as if they firmly believe that most web users are too stupid to use a browser, but I do not understand where that idea comes from, since the Internet has got on just fine for almost twenty years before ‘simplicity’ was in vogue.

    1. Lurking Again said on January 10, 2016 at 12:24 am

      The basic concept is sound. As any software evolves there are features from some dark age that have been forgotten, superseded, no longer required by later versions of the programming language, etc. Identify and removing these bits will make for a smaller, more robust package. The real problem is identifying these bits and removing the correct ones.

      1. JohnMWhite said on January 10, 2016 at 4:49 am

        The concept you are referring to is what I was referring to as keeping the application ‘trim’. The concept Google is referring to is making the application ‘simple’. These are not the same thing and I still do not see why tech companies are currently so desperate to make more simple what is already quite easy to use for hundreds of millions of people.

    2. Earl said on January 9, 2016 at 11:47 pm

      A lot of users (40% of Firefox users? [recent article here]) just aren’t interested in the same things that the [Mozilla] devs of the browser(s) are–they just want to do what it is they opened the browser to do and get on with whatever they’re about. More users, though, at least occasionally go beyond the basics of what they’re doing, if only to kill some time while they’re waiting for something else. That’s not “stupid”. That’s just “coming from a different place”. Way too many people simply generalize because it makes them feel better… about themselves.

      “Hey! Project Eraser… yeah, Mozilla has one of those, too… it’s called ‘Australis’ :) :) ” I’m just kidding (sort of). I’ve had no issues with Australis. It has one significant visual change (easy to modify/revert if that’s what you want to do). Same with every other change wrought by Australis. Most of the “changes” that I’ve heard people complain about with Australis actually were implemented with Fx4. The one actual change with Australis was making those changes uncustomizable , like some of the “unmovable” buttons (again, something one can fix with add-ons). Really, someone is going to switch browsers because a button is on the right and they want it on the left because they can’t find it on the right? (Yes, I’ve heard that refrain incessantly. No, I don’t get it.)

      Phasing out XUL and XPCOM, though, will be a killer for Mozilla. It’s just getting to be one thing after another with them–bad decision after bad decision. Screw over your developer and user community, and you’re dead (not great). In their infinite conceit, Mozilla is actively chasing away their most valuable supporters. Oh, well,.. it was nice while it lasted.

  5. Mats Svensson said on January 9, 2016 at 4:22 pm

    Big news!
    Turns out no one ever asked for the ability to type in whatever URLs they want.
    So now you never have to worry about that anymore ever again!

    From now on, simply go to, and type in where you want to go, we will take you by the hand and help you there.

    Google, don’t be evil(er than us, or else…).

    1. Doc said on January 10, 2016 at 6:51 pm

      Don’t laugh…several people I know never learned enough about PCs to know they didn’t have to do just that: type a word, go to the Google search page, and follow the link from there.

  6. Nebulus said on January 9, 2016 at 11:39 am

    Every hard word I said about Mozilla when started doing the same thing applies here perfectly.

  7. Yuliya said on January 9, 2016 at 10:31 am

    They’re removing features from Chrome? What features? It barely got any. Will they remove the annoyance that is the new tab? It’s funny to see uBlock always blocking elements in Chrome’s new tab page, lol.. even there.

  8. juju said on January 9, 2016 at 9:10 am

    It’s not about reducing complexity or reducing features. it’s about tying lose ends and getting rid of evidence. those browsers are not only browsers.

    1. juju said on January 9, 2016 at 9:21 am

      i’m just going to add one thing to the above. you have to be very cautious when navigating such terrain – the landscape is littered with toes for stepping. it’s not news that some toes have talons.

  9. Dwight Stegall said on January 9, 2016 at 8:58 am

    Someone should have a talk with Mozilla. They haven’t removed many old features…just hid them. No wonder Firefox file size is so huge. I bet it would run a lot faster and be more stable if they got rid of them. Last time I checked it had three certificate managers. :(

    When I used to hang out in Chrome Help forum a sidebar was mentioned. But Google employees said it presented many security problems they didn’t want to deal with. I thought it sounded phoney since several other browsers have it. In fact, for a while, IE had two of them. But, you could only open the one on the right-side with a favelet.

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