Chrome’s 32nd version finally adds a small, but very useful feature that has been in the works for some time: an indicator for tabs playing audio! The announcement on the official blog mentions another couple indicators as well, for tabs accessing the webcam or casting content to a TV, but those are rather unlikely activities in a browser compared to listening to music or video. In my experience though the indicator is not full-proof: it works flawlessly with native video players (and most-likely audio), to the extent of live syncing with the audio playback, so when a video segment has no audio, the indicator fades out and returns as soon as the audio track is back! Also very helpful: the audio indicator replaces the favicon for pinned tabs. On the other hand, the indicator doesn’t work at all when the player uses Flash – I suppose this was the reason why this feature was delayed for so long, until someone finally gave up trying to support Flash and shipped a version for native playback only. At least for Flash videos on YouTube you can still fall-back to its own in-tab arrow indicator.
This version will also bring a new user-interface in Windows 8, Metro-mode – nothing exciting from the images presented, Chrome didn’t spend any time trying to come up with new ideas to match Metro style, relying on the same boring windows as the classic desktop mode. Another minor Windows-related update is that the browser now supports opening and closing drop-down lists using the
More useful should be the security enhancements when downloading files, a feature that was available in the dev. channel two versions ago. Speaking of this, there are a number of security-related changes in this version, such as:
- Installing extensions for Windows users will be restricted to the Chrome Web Store to prevent malware and other issues. This will not affect developers, who will still be able to test their extensions locally before publishing;
- There are some hints at better protection for locally saved passwords, specifically a ‘master password’ required to reveal passwords in settings, for now only available behind a flag on Mac OS X;
- Starting with this version, PDF files can be opened only in the secure built-in PDF Viewer, opening in Adobe Reader will be disabled by default. This is a step in the planned phase-out of the NPAPI plugin architecture in Chrome;
- Continuing the policy introduced in the previous version for extensions, Chrome will start warning users about sites using weaker security keys, with a size less than 2048 bits. The same security policy applies to Google’s sites, who from now on will use both the more secure 2048-bit key size, and ‘forward secrecy’.
Some of the other experiments and interface changes introduced are:
- The Omnibox no longer remembers typed URLs if these were mistyped and the resulting address didn’t exist;
- The UI for Global Commands Keyboard Shortcuts has been improved to make clear which shortcuts work when the browser has focus;
- A new user interface for the translate feature is being tested under another flag, replacing the big bar across the top of the browser window with a subtle bubble popping up in the Omnibox, next to the Star button.
Chrome 32 also brings a substantial list of new features and improvements for developers:
- The Dev Tools started supporting CSS Pretty-printing;
- A new internal page called chrome://thumbnails displays the thumbnails for the most visited sites on the New Tab Page, intended mainly for debugging purposes. Another internal page, chrome://app-list, lists the 4 most recent used Chrome Apps, though its purpose remains somewhat unclear;
- HTTP Client Hints is available for testing under a flag. It’s one of the possible solutions to the issue of responsive images, and more: basically it provides a standard mechanism for the browser – the Client – to send information to the server about the capabilities of the device, so that the server will then offer the best suited image format and resolution;
- And maybe the most important of all, the ability to debug over USB, enabling developers to control and debug Android apps with Chrome’s Dev Tools!