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Google Chrome 8.0 Build; The Cool New Features

A new version of Google Chrome was unveiled 3 days ago. This has been an anticipated release that was supposed to include the introduction of a browser-based App and App Store but I guess they haven’t gotten there yet. If you are right on point with the latest version of Google Chrome, yours should read 8.0.552.215 beta.

I’d talk about the cool new features which I got from Techworld but first I’d make a note on how to ‘activate’ these features. Lest I forget, Google says there will be less of browser crashes with this upgrade

First of, for some reason I had problems installing it on my computer which I had logged with Google on the Google Systems blog on the 21st of August. I got a response on the 14th of September which didn’t solve the problem so I downloaded the Google Chrome Canary Build.

I had to restart my computer for this to work on my classic Google Chrome.

To activate the new features, close all Google Chrome windows, then here is the ‘technical’ part for Windows users:
Right-click on a Chrome shortcut from your desktop, select “Properties” and then append this text to the Target field: ” –enable-default-apps“. Of course, that’s without the quotation marks. Click “OK” to close the dialog and then open your Google Chrome. Viola!!

(you can click on the image to see a clearer picture)

The super cool thing is you can turn on the features below by typing about:flags in your address bar.

1. Instant web page loading and keyword search

Start typing the address or name of a site into the URL bar, and the Instant feature will guess which site you mean to visit (either based on which sites are ranked as most popular, or which pages you have saved in your bookmarks or history) and automatically load it, usually before you’re even finished entering it.

Type a word or term into the URL you want to search, and Instant will immediately load and display search results from Google.

This enhancement to Chrome’s URL bar can be convenient, but of course having a fast broadband connection and running Chrome on a speedy computer help make the experience “instant.” Otherwise, this background Web-page loading could slow things down, getting in the way of your surfing.

Instant is not enabled by default in Chrome and must be switched on under the about:flags tab.

2. Graphics hardware acceleration

Chrome 8 plugs in one of the latest must-have features of all major browsers: the ability to automatically off-load the processing of Web pages that are heavy on animated graphics and effects onto your computer’s graphics processor unit (GPU) chipset. Doing this speeds up the load time and performance of such sites.

This hardware acceleration is listed as “GPU Accelerated Canvas 2D” under about:flags, and which you need to manually switch on. For now, this feature works with only 2D animations and effects using the HTML5 Canvas element.

3. Support for WebGL

This is one of the few new features of the Chrome 8 beta enabled by default. Along with graphics hardware acceleration, the Google Web browser now supports WebGL, a cross-platform standard for rendering 3D graphics on the Web.

Based on OpenGL ES 2.0, WebGL has yet to become widely adopted (for now, Firefox is the only other major browser to support it), but maybe its inclusion now in Chrome could spur further use of it by Web graphics developers.

4. Tabs on the left side

Have you noticed that the resolutions of notebook screens on most of the recent models have grown wider? The Google Chrome developers have, so they included this experimental option that sets the tabs along the left side of Chrome’s interface.

“Side Tabs” functionality is not enabled by default in Chrome 8, so it must be turned on in the about:flags page. After you do this, you then must right-click on a tab and select “use side tabs.” Your tabs will then be re-oriented to the left side.

Cosmetically, the side tabs right now don’t look like “tabs” — it’s just a sidebar which lists the Web pages you have open. You can click on the name heading of opened Web pages and drag-and-drop them to reorder the descending order of this list.

In terms of practical usability over the default horizontal tab interface, we think it’s debatable whether the side-tab approach is better (i.e. faster, more convenient to use). And activating it actually doesn’t give your browser more vertical space to show web pages, the browser’s top border bar, which is where the horizontal tabs are normally set, still remains.

We’re guessing this side-tabs feature could come into more useful play in the upcoming Chrome OS when run on a tablet.

5. Passphrase encryption for syncing your browser data

If you like to take extra precautions with your personal Web browsing data that you’ve allowed Google to sync across multiple computers you use with Chrome, then this feature is for you.

It’s listed under the Chrome Options window under the “Personal Stuff” tab. Click the “Customize…” button listed in the “Sync” category, choose the “Encryption” tab, and you’ll then be able to enter a passphrase to encrypt your sync data (which includes your bookmarks, preferred browser settings, and extensions).

6. Browser settings in a tab

Google obviously wants to extend the tab interface motif to all aspects of the Chrome user interface, and this will include the way you adjust the browser’s settings. Instead of popping out a separate window, future versions of Chrome will open a tab which will list all of the settings of the browser you can adjust. (Chrome’s bookmark manager already sets itself off as a tab when you access it.)

We really like how this tabbed settings menu makes things easier and faster for you to doodle around with the back-end of Chrome. If you constantly tweak Chrome (as we do) and would like to keep the settings always open for convenience, turning on “Tabbed Settings” under about:flags is a must.

7. Printing to the cloud

The idea behind this feature is you’ll be able to print your documents, Web pages or images from Chrome to a Web-enabled printer. For instance, if you’re away from the office or home, you can remotely print a file from your notebook to your printer back in the office or home. Or, you can print to another person’s printer that’s accessible on the Web, which you have been granted permission to print to. (This summer, HP released a line of all-in-one printers that connect to the Web, and which will be compatible with Google Cloud Print.)

The Google Print service isn’t active yet, but its underpinnings show up in Chrome 8. After you activate it by manually enabling “Cloud Print Proxy” under about:flags, you then sign in with your Google user account.

8. Apps and a Web store

This is the big one. Google is already a strong contender in the app store business when it comes to their Android smartphone OS. Soon enough you’ll be able to download, for free or for a price and use apps within Chrome.

So well, there is a speculation that Google’s App store will open later this month. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and make sure that those fingers also clank on the keyboards.

I hope to share, in a future post, my concerns about Google and privacy.


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