White Screen of Death: Admins up in arms after experimental Google emission borks Chrome

An experimental feature silently rolled out to the stable Chrome release on Tuesday caused chaos for IT admins this week after users complained of facing white, featureless tabs on Google's massively popular browser.

The issue affected thousands of businesses' terminal servers, with multiple users on the same server experiencing "white screen of death" at the same time.

Someone posting on the Chromium bug tracker mailing list described the problem as follows:

The person added: "We have fixed this temporarily by starting chrome with -disable-backgrounding-occluded-windows," applying the fix through a group policy object.

Google software engineer David Bienvenu jumped in to explain:

At 1824 UTC last night, Bienvenu rolled back the experiment change, noting "I'm not sure how long it takes to go live, but once it's live, users will need to restart Chrome to get the change."

This prompted one admin to snap back:

Irate IT admins posting on the Chromium dev blog pointed out the problem didn't only affect Citrix, though with its wide adoption it was the highest-profile casualty. One posted:

A US school IT manager threatened to ditch Chrome OS in favour of Microsoft's Office 365 as a direct result of the silent experiment:

A poster on the Chromium bug report thread said they had installed Firefox as a workaround for silent Chrome updates that didn't increment the version number or give any other indication that today's build wasn't the same as yesterday's.

For those who are no longer keen to be part of the experiments, Peter Beverloo, who works on Chromium Web Capabilities, has listed that the Chromium Command Line --no-experiments parameter should work to opt out.

As for the "occluded windows" experiment in question, the change has been rolled back. Nonetheless, the customer confidence impact of discovering that what should be a stable build with updates controlled by local admins is no such thing will reverberate. No sysadmin wants to find that vendors are silently messing with what used to be a stable deployment configuration.

As one IT pro put it not one hour ago: "I don't think we should stop making noise about this. The issue now is that Google has gotten so big that they aren't concerned at all about what they have done because they know we will keep using their software." ®

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