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By Bruce Sussman
Fri | Nov 15, 2019 | 10:35 AM PST

Massive problems with Google Chrome led to debilitating outages where time, business, and likely money, was lost.

What happened in Chrome outage and crashes?

ZDNet has a good handle on the symptoms users were seeing. You can imagine why some security teams thought it could be a cyberattack:

According to hundreds of reports, users said that Chrome tabs were going blank, all of a sudden, in what's called a "White Screen of Death" (WSOD) error.

The issue was no joke. System administrators at many companies reported that hundreds and thousands of employees couldn't use Chrome to access the internet, as the active browser tab kept going blank while working.

In tightly controlled enterprise environments, many employees didn't have the option to change browsers and were left unable to do their jobs. Similarly, system administrators couldn't just replace Chrome with another browser right away.

The outages impacted customers using the Chrome browsers running on Windows Server "terminal server" configurations, which many organizations use.

Chrome outage and crashing: how did IT teams react?

The Google Chrome Support Forum is full of comments that reveal what it was like for IT teams trying to figure out a problem that lasted for up to two days. One person wrote:

"I'd say its safe to say we are running out of ideas here. As a last resort we may try a re-install of Chrome, but I am wary of causing our users to lose settings, bookmarks, passwords and such. At this point I'm even wondering if a downgrade is possible. If anyone has any insight, we could use some help."

And another put it like this:

"We have tried to do what was suggested earlier, and disabling GoogleUpdate task scheduling, removing elevation and update services, deleting the files, etc. - seemed to work. For an hour, then we see the exact same issues across the board. Google needs to step in here, at least acknowledge."

You get the idea. Trying to figure out what was happening—and why—was an exercise in frustration. However, now we know what happened.

What caused the Google Chrome outage and crashing?

Then, as requested by many in the Chrome help forum, Google did step in and share some knowledge. It was a problem with something called WebContents Occlusion. You can read about it here.

In plain English, it was an effort by Google engineers to reduce the resources Chrome uses in certain situations and to help your laptop or Android device run longer:

"We believe that bringing these optimizations to occluded tabs would help reduce battery usage and jank (for Chrome and other apps running on the same machine)."

Jank, by the way, is, "Perceptible pause in the smooth rendering of a software application's user interface due to slow operations or poor interface design," according to Wiktionary.com

Google started experimenting with this feature for several months now in Chrome Canary and Chrome Beta releases. And for the last month, it had been in use among one percent of Chrome users with no significant issues.

"However, this week, Google decided to test it in the main Stable release, so it could get more feedback on how it behaved," ZDNet says.

And now we know.

The Chrome team pushed out a fix to affected versions.

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