08 February 2012

What’s new in Chrome 18

Unlike the previous version, I haven’t seen many changes in 18 until later in the development cycle. Frankly I used the Canary variety a lot less these past weeks because of some incompatibilities with apps like Docs and Maps, which would stop responding right after the initial loading phase.

Google Chrome 18 unified settings pageMost of the changes this time around were related to standards support – like CSS Filter Effects – and new features for developers. The single most important visual update users are bound to notice is a redesigned ‘Settings’ page: the three sections present until now have been merged into a single interface, although the more advanced options are still one extra click away, at the bottom of the page ‘Under the Hood’. Apparently grey is the color of choice for this part of Chrome, there is no trace left of the light blue from before. Extensions are listed on a separate tab and have received only a minor update: the ‘Remove’ button has been replaced by a small trash-can icon only visible while hovering and with a nice animation. If you prefer the old design, you can restore it by activating the flag ‘Disable new settings and extensions web-ui’.

Another smaller update, probably borrowed from Chrome OS, is that the ‘New Tab Page’ now displays your Google profile picture in the top right corner as long as you are signed in with that account. On the other hand, an older experiment started in version 15, displaying the bookmarks in a screen on the new-tab page, has been discontinued and the corresponding flag removed from the internal experiments page.

Google Chrome 18 network actions predictor internal pageSpeaking about chrome://flags/, it now lists all available experiments for all operating systems, with a label indicating if they can be enabled for this installation. Until now you could only see the experiments relevant for your operating system. Some of the new flags with the most support across operation systems include:

  • Enable MediaStream’ turns on the experimental support for WebRTC, a proposed set of Web standards for real-time communication;
  • Aggressive history URL scoring’ lets you tweak how many suggestions you receive in the omnibox autocomplete from the browser history;
  • Better session restore’ enables better recovery from crashes or after browser restart by restoring session cookies. You can read a more detailed discussion about the feature on the Chromium developer forum;
  • Enable Tab Browser Dragging’ (Windows-only) doesn’t seem to do anything new, since you can already drag tabs and create windows out of them.

Last but not least, there is also a new internal page, chrome://network-action-predictor/. As far as I can tell, this lists the data Chrome uses to predict and auto-complete what page you intend to load based on what you are typing in the omnibox. I would think I had a larger list than this, but probably the fact that I use apps very often greatly reduces the amount of typing in the omnibox – other than for search, of course.

Update: Now that the stable version has been released, it looks like the redesigned ‘Settings’ page didn’t make the cut. It is still available, but only if you enable the flag called ‘Enable Uber page (settings, extensions, about/help)’.

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