Google has fumbled trying to make Chrome a good experience in Windows 8, and at the same time provided an excellent example of how using the desktop and the “Modern Interface” together in workflow isn’t quite a great experience. Today, I’m going to take a look into the weaknesses that currently face Chrome in Windows 8 and what that means for those of us that are still using a keyboard and mouse with Microsoft’s latest operating system.
If you’re an avid Chrome user and you recently upgraded to Windows 8 you may have noticed something — you now have two different functional copies of Google Chrome. One of which is the desktop version you had before, but now if you click Chrome’s smart screen tile, you will see the second copy of Google Chrome — it opens in the “Modern Interface” UI. Oddly, there is an exception to this rule. If you currently have a running window of Chrome on the desktop, it will simply take you there instead.
What if you want to use the “Modern Interface” UI tile to launch the desktop version of Chrome? You can’t. That is, unless you already have the desktop version running, but that defeats the purpose. Those that are clever might come up with the obvious solution — just right click the .exe for the desktop version of Chrome and “Pin to Start Screen.” That would make sense, and yes, this will work. You can quit out of desktop Chrome completely and use that start screen tile to launch it. But just once. It disappears after you use it once.
So now you’re back where you started. I normally boot up my computer and I’m presented with the “Modern Interface” start screen and a Google Chrome tile icon. Chrome is usually the first thing I want to use after booting up, but in this case I want to use the desktop version because I’m old fashioned and still use a keyboard and mouse. To do so, instead of being able to just click the tile and be taken straight to the app, I have to click the Desktop tile and then click Chrome on my task bar.
This may seem petty, but it’s one extra click that I shouldn’t have to make. It wouldn’t bother me nearly as much if I could simply pin the desktop version of Chrome to my start screen. Apparently, some kind of registry entry is keeping that from being possible. Why is Chrome the only app that has a “smart” tile? Why can’t Chrome’s start screen tile work the same as every other app and provide simple functionality — launching Chrome?
What’s worse is that the “Metro” version of Chrome is not simply a non-windowed version of your desktop chrome. It’s a completely separate application. Unless you use your Google account to sync your Chrome settings, the “Metro” version of Chrome will not retain your settings from the desktop version. It’s like using a completely different copy of Chrome, one that is completely void of all content belonging to its desktop counterpart. It has no way of simply using the bookmarks, history, add-ons, and settings that you already have on the desktop version.
Also worth noting is that on a desktop PC that was upgraded from Windows 7, the “Metro” Chrome is hard to use and always full screen. The biggest problem I had was the grab-able bar that sits at the top of all Windows 8 applications. Since the app is full screen, I am used to moving my mouse to the very top of the screen to click the tabs. In the “Metro” interface, you have to move the cursor slightly lower to actually click the tab and I found that quite annoying. This isn’t much of a problem on touch screens, but it annoyed me quite a bit when I thought I might be able to use only the “Metro” Chrome and leave the desktop version completely. That idea didn’t work too well.
Whatever the case may be I think this simple issue is bigger than me just having to make a few more clicks to use desktop Chrome. It’s a great example of a case where the new start screen and “Metro” interface full screen apps don’t make a great experience if you’re not on a touch screen PC or a Surface. If I had a Microsoft Surface, I’m sure that I would be using the “Metro” version of Chrome 9 times out of 10 and I’m sure I would be happy with it. In this case however, Google didn’t really consider the desktop user that just wants to pin Chrome to the start screen.
Update: Not even one day after writing this article, Google updated Chrome to version 23 on all platforms. This has addressed a few of the issues I outlined in this post such as “Metro” and desktop versions of Chrome having different profiles.