Launched on the 1st of August, Google Chrome 15 has already graduated from the Canary channel, closely sticking with the six weeks release cycle. Let’s see some of the features available starting with version 15:
A new ‘New Tab’ page
Launched as an experiment a while back, the revamped ‘New Tab’ page will become the default starting with Chrome 15. In addition to the features already available in version 14, there is now a separate screen for bookmarks, replacing the bookmarks toolbar, which is no longer shown on the new tab page. The links are displayed in tiles similar to the ‘Most visited’ screen, but smaller and with no preview of the site, only a favicon. Overall it’s a good idea to make bookmarks more visible, but I think the implementation still needs a lot of work to become user friendly. It has already gone through some major changes in the six weeks Chrome 15 spent in the Canary channel, so maybe the finalized version will have solved some of the issues. The main problem I see right now is that the bookmarks screen is limited to 18 links and the user cannot see if there are other more, nor can he access them without deleting some of the visible bookmarks. Fortunately you can easily go to the full bookmark manager by clicking on any of the links on the right ‘Manage bookmarks’ or ‘Show all’. The tiles also don’t have the context menu usually associated with bookmarks and the only way to remove them is to drag a link, which will cause a new button to appear on the lower right side: ‘Remove from Chrome’.
Further work on Profiles
Profiles has also seen a couple of iteration in Chrome 15, playing around with the icon set, on the surface at least. At some point the browser displayed the avatar associated with your profile on the top right corner, like the spy in incognito mode. Right now the avatar icon is only shown when you have more than one profile. To better distinguish between windows belonging to different profiles, on Windows 7 the avatar is overlaid on the taskbar tile.
New options and experimental features
- A new internal page called chrome://media-internals/ tracks the active audio streams, bringing a long-standing user request a little closer to reality: finding tabs responsible for unwanted noise. Unfortunately Flash isn’t covered here (yet?) and the messages displayed on the page are not something an average user would understand or be able to use.
- New sync options are available as command line flags under chrome://flags/: you can now sync open tabs and search engines.
- If you already set up sync through a Google account, you can take advantage of another flag that enables auto-login on Google sites using the sync credentials. The browser will still ask for confirmation from the user before logging in via an infobar at the top. Personally I couldn’t get this feature to work, even after disabling LastPass, which could interfere with the login process; maybe because I don’t save any passwords in the browser?
- Another direction for development explored through flags is the downloads UI. Right now the ‘experimental new UI’ doesn’t do much: with the flag enabled downloads will no longer trigger the familiar bar at the bottom, instead they will silently run in the background. Not such a good idea, since users will probably assume the download hasn’t started and click the link again and again, ending up with multiple copies of the file on the hard drive.
- I was a little disappointed to see a command-line flag was actually removed, specifically the experiment with compact navigation. It wasn’t perfect – none of the experimental features are – but I actually used it from time to time and it had great potential.
- If the Canary version keeps informing you that is has recovered from a crash, even though you closed the browser normally, you are actually witnessing a new feature at work: if the browser hangs during shutdown it will automatically crash itself after 45 seconds. The beta and dev versions have similar switches, albeit they wait longer before “committing suicide”: 10 minutes for dev and 20 for the beta channel.
P.S. I’m pretty sure this is actually a sneak preview of Chrome 16, but I’m mentioning anyway, because it’s a very nice change: extensions are now part of the ‘Settings’ page. The old location chrome://extensions/ still works stand-alone, but I think it makes more sense to have extensions together with the rest of the options; they are much easier to find here, especially for new users.