30 March 2012

What’s new in Chrome 19

A little more than 6 weeks between releases this time, but it’s end of life for the Canary version 19, so let’s see what the user-facing changes are. Following the trend from the previous version, when extensions have been integrated in the ‘Settings’ page - a.k.a. the Uber page - it now incorporates ‘History’ and ‘Help’ / ‘About’ as well. There is not much to say about ‘History’, it’s basically the same design introduced in version 17 only in a new location. The ‘About’ page in web format looks unfinished for now: it can’t check for updates so it hasn’t replaced the usual modal dialog yet. On the other hand it has two handy links for help and reporting issues, the latter being buried under two levels of menus until recently – it should be much more visible here. Google Chrome 19 webUI About page inside Settings

Probably the more important feature update you’ll see in Chrome 19 is a new menu on the New Tab page listing the tabs from ‘Other devices’, taking advantage of the ability to sync open tabs. It’s an easy way to continue your browsing seamlessly across several devices, probably including smartphones. The only thing missing, if you ask me, is the ability to restore multiple tabs at once, even better the entire session. Going at it one by one may be fine for less than 5-10 tabs, but after that it becomes tedious.

Google Chrome 19 tabs from other devices
The ‘Other devices’ menu in action: in the foreground a smaller Chrome 17 window with two open tabs; in the background Chrome 19 and the open menu listing the same tabs.

Other changes to the New Tab page include a new button for the ‘Web Store’ in the grey strip at the bottom – redundant at best, since there is already a link to the store in the Apps section – and the ‘Suggested’ card. For this you will need to turn on a flag, ‘NTP Suggestions page’. The result is not that great, I get the impression that it’s simply an extension of the ‘Most visited’ list with frequently visited addresses. I would prefer to be able to choose the number of pages on the ‘Most visited’ tab, another one under a different name feels confusing, a poor solution.

For web developers, the new version finally introduces support for the CSS calc() property (prefixed unfortunately), available for some time in both Firefox and Internet Explorer 9.

Speaking of flags, as usual there are a couple of new ones. Most of them are aimed at testing new developer tools (‘Enable Developer Tools experiments’) or experimental CSS and HTML features (‘Enable Shadow DOM’, ‘Enable <style scoped>’ – you can read a good description of Scoped CSS on CSS-Tricks, ‘Enable CSS Regions’). A couple are related to SPDY, the experimental networking protocol is promoting instead of HTTP, enabling newer versions of the protocol. The flag with the most visible impact for average users should be ‘Chrome To Mobile’, which allows you to send page URLs and offline copies to Chrome on your mobile device. You can expect a lot more improvements here, since Chrome is now available on Android devices as well in beta form. Again a move to improve the transition between devices and form factors – as long as you use the Google account and products everywhere, at least.

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