Chrome looms over the browser landscape like a leviathan.
With more than 70% of the world’s browser user share – a measure of browser activity calculated by analytics company Net Applications – Google’s Chrome has crushed the competition. Rivals, from Microsoft’s Edge to Mozilla’s Firefox, survive on single-digit shares that seem liable to evaporate on short notice.
So, it’s no surprise that when Chrome moves, others feel the tremors. With each upgrade – something Computerworld tracks in the What’s in the latest Chrome update? series – and every time Google talks of future plans, opponents pay attention to hear what they may have to copy to stay competitive.
Every Chrome upgrade is accompanied by enterprise-centric release notes that highlight some of the additions, substitutions, enhancements and modifications slated for the future. We’ve collected the most important for this refresh of Computerworld‘s latest what’s-coming round-up.
But nothing is guaranteed, least of all software’s prospective features. As Google says: “They might be changed, delayed, or canceled before launching to the Stable channel.”
Chrome 86: Legacy Browser Support gets the hook
Google will pull the Legacy Browser Support (LBS) add-on from copies of Chrome 86 on which it’s installed.
LBS, now baked into Chrome, was designed so IT admins could deploy Google’s browser but still call up Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) when necessary to render intranet sites or written-for-IE apps. The add-on debuted in 2013, when Chrome’s share of 18% lagged far behind IE’s still-dominant 58%.
After integrating LBS into Chrome, Google decided the add-on was unnecessary and began a several-step process to eradicate the extension. After Chrome 85’s release on Aug. 25, for example, Google was to have removed it from the Chrome Web Store. (Google hasn’t done that yet, although the label “DEPRECATED” looms large on the add-on’s page.)
Chrome 86: More messing with the URL
Google plans to truncate what shows in the address bar starting with Chrome 86. Only some users will see the change at version 86’s debut, Google said, adding that “a full roll-out ((is)) planned for a later release.”
Under the scheme, a full URL like https://google-secure.example.com/secure-google-sign-in/ would show only as the registrable domain, example.com in the address bar.
Google argued that the move is “to protect your users from some common phishing strategies,” such as when criminals try to trick potential victims into clicking on links that at first glance look legitimate, but which are actually made to mislead. “This change is designed to keep your users’ credentials safe,” Google stated.
This will not be the first time that Google has tried to shorten what shows in the Chrome address bar. At several points in the past – most recently, in 2018 with Chrome 69 and Chrome 70 – Google has contended that stripping out parts of a URL, say the www, is a move worth making. Critics have blasted such proposals, saying that it eliminated cues some users relied on to sniff out deceptive sites.
Chrome 86: Bye-bye blacklist, other labels
Nineteen of Chrome policies will be renamed to drop the terms “blacklist” and “whitelist” that refer to barred and allowed actions, respectively. Also part of the renaming plan: “native” as in “native printing,” or local printing over an organization’s network (and one of Google’s recommended options for customers now using Google Cloud Print, which will stop working as of Jan. 1, 2021).
“Chrome will be moving to more inclusive policy names,” Google noted in its enterprise release notes. “The terms ‘whitelist’ and ‘blacklist’ will be replaced with ‘allowlist’ and ‘blocklist.'” Meanwhile, “native” will simply be dropped.
The 19, including URLBlacklist and ExtensionInstallWhitelist – which will be renamed URLBlocklist and ExtensionInstallAllowlist – will change with Chrome 86. Another eight, including DeviceNativePrinters (DevicePrinters and DeviceNativePrintersBlacklist (DevicePrintersBlocklist) will be transformed as of Chrome 87, which is due out on Nov. 17.
Google added 14 policy names to this change list after first mentioning it in July. The Mountain View, Calif. firm also told IT admins, “If you’re already using the existing policies, they will continue to work, though you will see warnings in chrome://policy stating that they’re deprecated.”
Discussions of technology terminology – “master” and “slave” regarding device communication were among the examples – have percolated for years. But this year’s protests over racism, inequalities and police killings of Blacks prompted calls for other changes from the likes of Apple and Microsoft, as well as Google.
In Apple’s style guide for developers, for example, under the blacklist/whitelist, the entry stated: “Don’t use. Instead, use an alternative that’s appropriate to the context, such as deny list/allow list or unapproved list/approved list.”
Chrome 86: Chrome says ‘Update,’ so do it
As of this version, Chrome will put the word “Update” inside a button-like element at the upper right-hand corner of the browser’s window. It’s the signal that Chrome has been upgraded in the background but requires a restart to finalize the refresh.
Chrome 86: Tab throttling
Chrome 86 will curtail the amount of power background tabs consume by throttling them to a maximum of only 1% of CPU time. And background tabs will only be allowed to “wake up” – to repaint the page, for instance – once per minute.
Administrators will be able to control this throttling with the IntensiveWakeUpThrottlingEnabled policy.
Note: In July, Google said tab throttling would debut in Chrome 85. But in late August, Google said tab throttling had just been added to Chrome Beta, signaling that it had yet to make it into Chrome Stable.
Chrome 87: More functionality for PDF viewer
Google plans to debut a new user interface (UI) for Chrome’s built-in PDF viewer in November’s Chrome 87.
Details are skimpy, even though the PDF changes were first noticed in March. Most importantly, when a PDF document is opened in Chrome, a toolbar will now appear. When Chrome 85 – the version released in late August – was told to display the toolbar (via a selection in the chrome://flags page), only a place holding message shows (“New PDF Viewer toolbar will appear here.”)
Google asserted that the new PDF viewer would also include a “two-up” view – two pages, shown side by side – the document table of contents and a mode to see added annotations.