Some years back Google decided to build a browser. As I understand it Chrome cam about not as a 20% project like so many other google products but as an effort by the founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. It was a brilliant move which has changed the face not just of browsers but of how we use computers in general.

Is it that Chrome ushered in the era of fast JavaScript? Is it that Chrome wasn’t afraid to innovate by including new features? Is it that Chrome introduced process per tab to eliminate the crashing hanging monstrosity that was Macromedia Flash?  No the big innovation in Chrome was that it updated itself.

I know what you’re saying: lots of applications update themselves. Well that’s true. I remember building an automatic update system for a desktop application I worked on back in 2005. It was a great system but it had a flaw which I didn’t even realize until Chrome solved the problem. My application asked users if they wanted to update before the update ran. The update was not silent. Chrome just updates in the background. This results in adoption curves which look like this:

chrome-adoption-2012-11Within a few weeks almost everybody is using the latest and greatest. For years we’be dealing with the legacy of slow adoption of internet explorer versions. That should not be anywhere near as bad a problem with Chrome.

While it is impressive how easily Chome is updated what is more impressive to me is that there are so few problems with this continual upgrade cycle. As was pointed out to me in a meeting today IT departments tend to be very resistant to this sort of update model. They are terrified that new versions of software are going to break things for their users. This has proven to be false.  It was always amusing to me that IT departments would claim that they need to do some sort of comprehensive testing on all their software when a new version of a browser came out. There is so much to test I really don’t know how you would ever do it.

Instead it is easier to just be spry and update your apps to account for new versions of browsers. The continual updates are likely to be small and not break much.  If the entire internet can handle chrome updates it seems like a single IT department could do it too.

Chrome’s big revolution has been to prove the viability of continual updates.