08 December 2014

What’s new in Chrome 40

Despite the round number, this version of is relatively light on updates. The most important are aimed at developers, as highlighted in the official announcement. Service Workers are likely the most relevant long-term, a new API enabling web applications to use functionality normally reserved for native apps, like rich offline experiences, periodic background syncs and push notifications. You can read a more comprehensive description of the technology in this introductory article on HTML5 Rocks. Unfortunately, support is currently limited to browsers using the Blink rendering engine (Chrome on desktop and Android, ) and ; without a commitment from on Safari, service workers will have a limited impact on the development of mobile apps.

Another small feature specific to Android is the ability to specify a theme color for websites. Because it’s only supported by Lollipop and Android is notoriously slow to update to newer versions, it will take a long while until this is relevant for day-to-day usage.

Security-wise, version 40 will completely disable support for SSLv3, after this outdated encryption method has been used in several recent attacks.

Chrome 40 Mute tab context menuA minor UI update that will nevertheless please a lot of users is Audio Tab Muting, a natural extension of the audio tab indicator introduced last year in version 32. After enabling the flag ‘Enable tab audio muting UI control’, users will be able to mute a tab playing sounds from the context menu – very helpful if something starts playing in the background while you’re listening to something else!

Another tentative update for this version is the new bookmark manager. Rumored for a couple of months under the name of Stars, it was announced officially last month, but the rollout has been slow and there’s no definitive date when it will become live for the majority of users. The initial feedback has been mostly negative, users complaining about the image-centric design and lack of functionality for power users, people managing hundreds and thousands bookmarks. Personally I didn’t get a change to test it, I was probably never included in the random test group. Turning the flag ‘Enable Enhanced Bookmarks’ on and off doesn’t seem to have any effect in my Chrome installation. My guess is that the feature has been postponed even more while developers are making some much-needed changes.

Here’s what I don’t need:

  • A Tumblr-like wall for showing off my bookmarks.
  • Scrolling through a loooooong list of folders, or page of bookmarks, to find stuff and rediscover older things.
  • Several clicks through menus or screens to perform any kind of bookmark operation.
  • Manual sorting only. Newly added bookmarks and folders should stay in alphabetical order, if that’s the setting I chose before.

Chrome’s new Bookmark Manager satisfies none of these things. They’ve updated the styling of the UI and the presentation of bookmarks – see card layouts and quicksand animation. Basically they made it prettier without enhancing any functionality.

Perry Butler

Finally, this versions adds another set of tweaks for error pages, for example: certificate debugging information for SSL errors, a new error page for missing Internet connection and a clearer page when the system clock setting is interfering with security certificates.

Update: the iOS version of Chrome received significant updates this time around. The biggest and most noticeable is the new look based on Material Design. I haven’t had the time to explore the new design thoroughly, but it doesn’t seem very impressive or different from the old look. Other updates include optimizations for iOS 8 and larger iPhones and Handoff support on OS X Yosemite.

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