Sometimes I just want to punch Google in the face

There are things I like about Google, and things I don’t like.

I like Android. I like Gmail (apart from the UI). Even though I use Bing as my default search engine, I still prefer Google’s image search. And there is no question that Google excel at both traditional web and cloud services.

One thing they do not excel at is desktop software. Particularly on Windows.

Mostly this is because they simply don’t know what they’re doing. Last year it was reported that Google were scrapping internal use of Windows entirely, but even before that, it was obvious they really had no idea how a Windows client/server network operates. Their software installers typically ignored even the most basic rules about where files should be stored, especially when it came to user profiles. On products like Google Earth and Sketchup, they’ve improved, but one product’s data storage model remains as badly designed as ever, and that’s Google Chrome.

Ironically, this is the one that they’ve put the most effort into getting ready for use on Windows networks. Just last month, Google made a big show of declaring that “Chrome is Ready for Business“, with a proper Windows .msi installer and even ADMX Group Policy templates. They’re one step ahead of Firefox, who rely on a third party distribution for the same functionality. Apple don’t even bother attempting Group Policy support in Safari, and just like all of Apple’s half-baked .msi installers, Safari won’t even deploy without low-level modifications to the setup database.

Sadly, despite being ahead, Chrome still falls short of being ‘ready for business’ on a Windows system. Just for starters, the .msi installer is actually a wrapper (breaking #2 of  my 10 commandments) and therefore impossible to customise. Even changing the location of the shortcuts is impossible, and while we’re on the subject of shortcuts, it unceremoniously poops one onto the desktop the first time a user runs Chrome (commandment #5).

That would be bad enough except for the fact that due to a complete lack of understanding of how roaming profiles work, all the user data for Chrome is stored in the local part of the user’s AppData – not the roaming part. That means the settings are not carried over to a different computer when the user logs on elsewhere, which in a school network, happens all the bloody time. Cue desktop shortcut appearing again because Chrome thinks the user has never used it before. You could move the user data directory to the roaming profile with the -user-data-dir= command line option, but it has to be specified every time, and means that the browsing cache will also be stored in the roaming profile (the only data that should be in the local part). What’s more, when I tried doing this, Chrome wouldn’t even run.

The bug for this has been open for more than 2 years now.

Finally, as the icing on the cake, Google nags the user to make Chrome the default browser when they start the program. While the user can say “Don’t ask again”, such is Google’s conceit at the perfection of their browser that they don’t allow the administrator to suppress this prompt in their fabled Group Policy templates, leaving helpdesk staff having to deal with dozens of end users who just blindly clicked on ‘Yes’ without really knowing what they were doing. Again, you can suppress this with the -no-default-browser-check command line option, but it has to be specified every single time the program is run, so means modifying the shortcut on the Start Menu. Of course, the desktop shortcut Chrome creates for itself doesn’t include this option.

Overall, Chrome is maddening for administrators. It’s a good browser, and it runs JavaScript-heavy web apps like lightning, which is why I installed it to help with our script-tastic MIS that runs like a snail under IE on older systems. I just wish Google would actually listen to a live Windows sysadmin once in a while and get it right. I shouldn’t be having to suppress the desire to punch their designers in the face at the same time that I’m applying for a Google Apps for Education account.

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About The Angry Technician

The Angry Technician is an experienced IT professional in the UK education sector. Normally found in various states of annoyance on his blog. All views are those of his imaginary pet dog, Howard.

6 responses to “Sometimes I just want to punch Google in the face”

  1. Andy says :

    Kudos. Things like this are all too often the case but at least they are a league above the normal rubbish ‘educational’ software productions. I get into arguments when I phone support desks about installing their crappy software and crappy installers only to be met with “oh yes, just let the students run the installer…”

    Maddening, pathetic and totally against all sense.. AT, have you come across an abomination called ‘ALAN tests’? .. the software is written by idiots.

  2. Andy says :

    BING???? what! are you serious you use BING? one of the worse search engines in the world!!!

    • AngryTechnician says :

      I consistently get more relevant results from Bing than from Google. I know I’m not a typical case, but it’s not Microsoft’s fault you don’t know how to construct decent search queries. :P

  3. Claudio says :

    I get frustrated by Google’s bug handling as well. Taking Android as an example. There are open issues which are older than 2 years and are not even assigned to an engineer, somebody who would be responsible for it.
    Google’s answer in some issues is just something like “Android is a product which is not under control of Google”. Yeah, my ass.
    Google delivers excellent web-applications and has a great (possibly the best) sense of web-invention but when it comes to professionalism and customer-care they’re still using HTML 4.0.

  4. Tim says :

    Hmmmm. Chrome does have its issues, and I admit I’ve never tried to use their tech support… however, I find Chrome is less buggy than Firefox, which I’ve now given up on. The apps and extensions in Chrome seem to me to be the natural way forward for browsers, and Google have done to Firefox what Firefox did to IE a few years back.

    If the future is in The Cloud where end-users use a web browser as the software layer between The Cloud and the native PC / netbook / smartphone / games console / television OS, Chrome looks to be a long way ahead of the competition. I think Apple have missed as trick here – who wants Cloud services you need Apple only Apps to use properly? As for MS – all that work they put into fixing Vista and then getting W7 out asap really should have been spent on a streamlined Cloud ready PC OS and a better Mobile OS.

    BTW, Chrome is set up to sync via the Chrome servers, not via AD – all you need to is set it up in the options page, and you don’t need a Google email account. This makes more sense if users want their settings to be the same no matter where they log in, be it on their home PC or mobile device. I can get at my work bookmarks and all the saved website log-in info at home without having to use VPN or log onto the school’s terminal services. If full syncing happened both in AD and through the Google’s servers it’d probably lead to all sorts of messy problems. What Chrome does miss is easy user settings profile change. If I have two lots of settings I want to keep separate (i.e. bookmarks and extensions), I should be able to do this at the click of a single button, which currently can’t be done. And as connection settings are all taken from Windows’ proxy settings etc. they can still be managed through AD.

    • AngryTechnician says :

      I’m sure Google would love every user to sign up for a Google account to sync the settings, but they shouldn’t have to do that just to have it work like every other Windows program does. And I don’t want the same settings at home. At home I want auto-update enabled, and not have the Intranet as my home page. I don’t need the work bookmarks for internal web apps that don’t work offsite, and I can imagine some of my users could think of bookmarks they have at home that they DEFINITELY don’t want appearing on a work machine.

      In any case, syncing to the cloud and retaining the settings in AppData as well wouldn’t create any problems unless the sync algorithms were written by morons. The simple fact is that they can’t be bothered to implement it.

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