I've read a lot of discussion about rapid releases, browser autoupdating etc. in the browsersphere over the past couple of months. Much of this discussion comes from Firefox's decision to move to a rapid release model much like Chrome's.

Chrome's autoupdate system is deceptively simple. I say "deceptively" because as a user it appears completely invisible, but really there are a lot of sophisticated technologies and processes that support it.

The key point here is "completely invisible." We have made numerous improvements to the autoupdater over the course of Chrome's life, including one major change a while ago when we sped up the frequency of our releases from once per quarter to one every six weeks. But from a user perspective Chrome is still well.. Chrome.

I'll expand on invisible, because it's important:

The Chrome autoupdater works quietly in the background, never notifying you. If there's an update, it'll download it and prepare it so that the next time you start the browser it's the latest version. Sort of like how the next time you load GMail it's the latest version.

This is also the reason for another of Chrome's controversial (in nerd circles) design decisions - installing into AppData. We don't install into Program Files as most Windows apps do because that is a locked down folder on most computers and as such we can't silently replace the Chrome installed there - on Windows Vista and newer attempting to do so will cause a UAC auth prompt - causing the whole screen to go black and requiring immediate consent before it can continue. Because our updater runs in the background and an update can be installed at any time this was an unacceptable user experience for us.

We designed our extensions system to work in this kind of world - knowing that by maintaining a smaller set of well supported APIs we would be able to update Chrome more frequently without disturbing people's addons.

Autoupdate is one of Chrome's killer features. It is magical because it continuously updates an entire development platform invisibly, frequently. Supporting it has driven how we structure our development processes. It was also one of Chrome's first features. Delving back into project history long before we launched publicly in 2008, the autoupdate project was one of the very first we started working on. The idea was to give people a blank window with an autoupdater. If they installed that, over time the blank window would grow into a browser. And today, some five years after our autoupdater started updating a mostly blank window that could barely load webpages, it is now an engine for delivering an incredibly sophisticated web technology platform onto our users' computers, which in turn allows web app developers to build amazing new online experiences. I have never seen such an effective platform update mechanism before.

Invisibility is a key part of one of Chrome's four "S"s - simplicity. We seek not to bother the user with information that is irrelevant. As important as it might seem to engineers for our users to weigh fully a variety of considerations relating to our software, in reality they have better things to be doing. They're trying to find a restaurant, check an email, post a facebook update, and then get the hell away from the computer. Every time the user agent steps in between the user and their task, we slow them down and diminish their enjoyment. Content, not Chrome.
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