Google Chrome 100 Trips Up Websites That Can’t Rank High Enough

Google Chrome browser icon on Android

Google’s Chrome browser on Android

Stephen Shankland

Google on Tuesday released Chrome 100, an iteration of the dominant browser that can trigger websites that weren’t written to handle three-digit version numbers. This is an issue that, although rare, also affects people using Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Edge.

The problem arises because developers sometimes try to adapt their websites to particular browser versions, such as removing features that won’t work on older versions. Browsers share their version number through a short textual description called a user agent string, but website scripts sometimes only extract two of the three digits from the version number.

Problems can include websites not working at all or displaying a popup mistakenly indicating that your browser is outdated. Problems using Chrome, Firefox, and Edge have been reported on sites such as Mercedes-Benz, a license plate renewal tool in Ontario, Canada, IMB Bank in Australia, and the Space Resource Organization in India. Some sites built with the Duda Website Builder Tool also showed issues, according to Chrome’s bug tracker. Although Duda fixed the issue before Chrome 100 shipped, several other sites are still affected.

Software that breaks over time is nothing unusual. Programmers make mistakes, software foundations like iOS and Windows change every year, engineers update Internet communication standards, and online services change their programming interfaces. With billions of Chrome users, however, this ticking of the Chrome version update clock is a widespread problem worldwide.

The browser version number problem resembles the Y2K problem 22 years ago, when software that only recorded the last two digits of the year was discontinued when 1999 became 2000. A similar problem occurs in 2038 when a 32-bit number that some computers use to count seconds from January 1, 1970 is no longer big enough.

Mozilla warned of similar issues for Firefox, which is expected to hit version 100 on May 5. Firefox includes a list of “workarounds” that can fix issues like the version number issue with specific websites. Microsoft Edge, now based on Google’s open-source Chromium browser base, may also experience issues.

Until the 1990s, when software was updated by issuing new floppy disks or CD-ROMs, updates and new version numbers were rare. But Google changed all that in 2008 with the release of Chrome, adopting a quarterly update cycle that brought new version numbers every three months. Mozilla’s Firefox followed suit, and since then Chrome has moved to an even faster cadence of six weeks and now four weeks.

The idea, increasingly common in the software world, is that it is easier for software developers and users to manage many small changes than infrequent and disruptive revisions. In effect, the software becomes a continuously updated project that can respond to security issues more quickly and deliver new features as they are completed.

This means that consumers often pay less attention to version numbers. Software subscriptions have contributed to this trend, encouraging people to constantly pay to use software instead of opening their wallets only when a new version is released.

Chrome 100 also fixes a series of security flaws and refreshes the browser icon with simpler, brighter colors and a better stylistic fit with Android, iOS, macOS, Chrome OS, and Windows.

Additionally, Google on Wednesday released Chrome OS 100, the Chrome variant that powers Chromebook laptops. It includes a new tool for launching apps and searching, functionality for creating animated GIFs, and expanded voice dictation capabilities.