Adobe Flash remains a popular attack vector for malware authors. In addition to a seemingly never-ending supply of security flaws, bad guys know that people who use Flash often ignore the updater's prompts. That leaves users in an even more tenuous position, since they're still vulnerable to attacks Adobe has already patched.
That's one big advantage to Google Chrome's internal Flash plug-in. Since updates are delivered silently in the background to users, the internal plug-in is always up-to-date. This keeps everyone as safe as possible, but Chrome offers one more way to protect its users: sandboxing. By running unfamiliar Web code in its isolated sandbox, Chrome can execute that code in a safe environment -- where it can't harm your operating system.
Back when Google first announced internal Flash, one of their stated goals was "to further protect users by extending Chrome's 'sandbox' to web pages with Flash content." According to revision 66022, Google is making good on their promise. Sandboxed Flash is now supported in the Chromium source code, and should be available to Windows users of Canary and Chrome Dev very soon. A quick look through the source code seems to indicate that Chrome can sandbox not only its own internal Flash plug-in, but also the traditional Adobe version -- as long as it's version 10.1.103.19 or better.
This is great news for Chrome users. It was already an incredibly difficult browser to exploit, and sandboxing Flash will add another layer of armor to its defenses.
With support for four different operating systems, three official build channels (four on Windows) and the Chromium open source browser all being worked on feverishly by Google, there's a chance that some updates aren't going to make much difference to you. The Chrome Beta 8.0.552.200 likely falls into that category. While the new build does include several fixes for other platforms (like mitigating a bug with NetNanny on Windows), the release is jam-packed with tweaks to Chrome OS.
Network and wireless-related code has received a lot of attention -- from retrieving your data plan from your cellular provider to 3G activation. Revision 65021 also mentions chrome:mobilesetup, from where you'll be able to activate and deactivate your connection. You can't, of course, fire up a Beta version of Chrome OS yet, but if you could you'd notice several minor interface tweaks and changes to wording. Missing icons have been added, the log-in screen now tells new users "Let's get started!" and "Shutdown" text has been changed to "Shut Down." These are the kind of granular changes you'd expect to see being applied just before taking the wraps off something, so maybe we're finally getting close to either the launch of the Chrome Web Store or Chrome OS itself -- or both!
As for changes that affect the rest of us, there aren't many. Among them: the Hunspell dictionary has been updated to the most recent version, and app tabs should now come to the foreground after you launch one from the apps section of your New Tab page.
There are many, many extensions currently available for Google Chrome in the Chrome Extension Gallery -- over 8,000 in fact -- from both third-party developers and from Google themselves. Yesterday, Google announced the addition of official Chrome extensions for Google Calendar, Docs, and YouTube.
The Google Calendar extension adds quick access to your upcoming events and lets you add new events directly from websites like Facebook. A green plus sign will pop up indicating that it's found an event, allowing you to quickly insert it into your Calendar with location information if it's detected.
Google Docs gets a Web Clipboard extension that allows you to copy and paste text and images to and from the Google Docs online clipboard, for use across multiple browser windows. Handy if you're a heavy Docs user, as Matthew mentioned in his previous coverage.
Last but not least, Google's got a YouTube Feed extension that keeps an eye on your favorite videos and notifies you when new videos are available in your YouTube homepage feed. It also brings the social elements of ratings, likes and uploads from your friends to Chrome with direct access straight from the extension. Great for avid YouTube users.
These official Chrome extensions and many more are available, of course, from the Chrome Extensions Gallery.
If you're old enough, you probably remember what a RAM disk is. Back in the olden days, to squeeze every last bit of juice out of your computer (usually for the purpose of playing Doom), you could load a program into a RAM disk -- a virtual drive made out of spare RAM. As I'm sure you know, RAM is a lot faster than your hard drive
Fast forward to today, and most computers have a lot of spare RAM. Unless you're editing large multimedia files, you're probably using only a fraction of your RAM. Why don't we use a little bit of it to speed up our surfing of the Web?
Browsers save a lot of data to the hard drive. Every image, so that you don't have to download it every time you visit a page, is saved to the hard drive. That's when you experience the 'grind' of loading (or reloading) a tab that you haven't looked at recently -- the browser is loading data from the hard drive.
With a RAM disk, you can make the browser always load from memory. This speeds up the entire browsing experience by a significant margin. The browser starts in a flash, switching between tabs feels faster, and page load times can be reduced by 20% or more!
To get started, you need Dataram's excellent RAMDisk software. It's free, unless you want to create RAM disks over 4GB in size (which you really don't need to do).
Once that's installed, you need to configure your RAM disk. Size-wise, 500MB should be fine -- and make it a FAT32 partition. Click 'Start RAMDisk' at the bottom.
Click through to the Load and Save tab and enable Load Disk Image at Startup and Save Disk Image on Shutdown; the default filenames are fine. You don't need to enable Autosave. If any warnings are generated, don't worry about it -- just click OK.
Now, head over to My Computer (Start > Computer) and note the drive letter of the new RAM disk. Double click it and create a new folder called BrowserCache -- in other words, you are creating E:\BrowserCache (where 'E' might be another letter).
Finally, it's time to move your Firefox or Chrome cache onto the new RAM drive.
- Close all open Chrome tabs and windows
- Right click your Chrome shortcut (the one you use to open the browser), select Properties
- In the Target window, move your cursor to the end of the path, after chrome.exe
- Type --disk-cache-dir="E:\BrowserCache" (it might be D: or F: or...) Make sure there is no trailing slash
- Click OK
- Click the shortcut to launch Chrome
- Type about:config into the address bar, accept the warning ("I'll be careful, I promise!")
- Right click > New > String
- Type browser.cache.disk.parent_directory into the box and press OK
- Type the path of your BrowserCache directory -- E:\BrowserCache (where 'E' might be another letter); press OK
- Close all open Firefox tabs and windows
- Open the browser again
Benchmarks & conclusions
Measuring the real-world improvement of a RAM disk is tricky. Using the Chromium Benchmarking tool, I found that page load times were reduced by around 20%. Shutting down and restarting the browser is also a lot quicker.
I found it hard to measure the performance improvement of tab switching. I think tab content is still loaded from the operating system swap/page file, which is still stuck on the hard drive.
If you have any other tips for speeding up the browser cache, leave a comment!
Once you've installed the extension, just highlight text on a Web page and press the webclip icon in your browser actions area. You'll see an OAuth dialog the first time, but from then on clips will be added directly to a document called 'webclips'. The extension even uses Chrome's notification system to tell you when your text has been successfully saved. As you can see in the screenshot, details about the source are saved as well. The page title, URL, and date of your capture are all inserted before your copied text.
Webclip has a lot of potential. With the addition of support for more than just text -- say images or rich formatting -- and the ability to save to more than one webclip doc, it would be a killer extension for Google Docs users who browse with Chrome.
I thought the Web had gotten over the irritating conception that omitting vowels from domain names somehow makes them sound cooler. Alas, LinkPeelr proves me wrong.
Domain name aside, this is a handy service. You feed it with a shortened URL, click Peel, and you get to see where it leads. A nice feature is the ability to easily repeat the process. This is handy in case a shortened URL points to another shortened URL, which only then points to the actual destination. In this case, all you do is simply hit Peel again, and LinkPeelr reveals the destination once more.
I took Download Squad's URL and shortened it with goo.gl, and then I took the goo.gl URL and shortened that with bit.ly, and LinkPeelr worked as advertised. It was very fast, too.
Perhaps more useful than the site itself is its Chrome extension. After installing it, you can hover over any shortened URL and get a nice-looking tooltip with its destination. I say "nice-looking" because it's not styled as a default Windows tooltip; they've applied their own formatting, and it's rather swanky. The only niggle I've experienced with the add-on is that it truncates URLs that are too long, which it really shouldn't do.
With the arrival of Chrome Canary on Windows, Google began pushing their own open/closed source (ajar source?), bleeding-edge version. New Canary updates still don't arrive as often as Chromium builds, of course -- the buildbot generates as many as one per hour. Interestingly enough, however, Canary currently now sits at a higher version number than Chromium -- 9.0.574.0 to Chromium's 9.0.573.0.
If you're running both browsers side-by-side, you'll also notice some differences on the about:flags page. Chromium is missing both Native Client and speculative pre-rendering -- a new experimental feature in Canary which attempts to speed browsing by predicting which links you're likely to follow and loading pages in the background. The fact that actual features are being bolted on to Canary first is more of an indication of a change in direction than the version number, which Google has asked us to ignore anyway.
The question, then, is whether Chrome is going to go the way of Android. Most Android development happens behind closed doors, with Google choosing to make the source code available when they feel a new release is ready to go. That's a stark contrast to the way Chromium development had been running, but could the fact that Canary is a step ahead indicate that Chrome is moving in the same direction?
We'll have to wait and see, but with Chrome OS devices due out soon, it's certainly a possibility.
Yesterday, Google delivered a major update to Chrome Beta users, bumping the version to 8.0.552.28. The changelog for this release is a doozy, and runs down loads of security updates, UI tweaks, and plumbing for features which are still coming soon (like Cloud Print and password sync).
You'll also find plenty of new experimental features on the Chrome Beta about:flags page. The big addition, however, is the arrival of the built-in PDF viewer. Chrome's viewer currently offers a major advantage over Adobe Reader when it comes to security -- sandboxing -- which helps prevent malicious PDFs from successfully attacking your computer.
Dev channel users should also have an update ready this morning -- which brings a new version of the internal Flash plug-in.
Google Chrome 9 has arrived for Dev channel users, and while the list of changes in 9.0.570.0 is a lengthy one you're not going see any major differences. Not just yet, anyway.
A number of the updates lay the groundwork for features that will be "coming soon." There's been a lot of work focused around Cloud Print, for example. Google Instant integration has also been tweaked, and a number of small UI issues have been touched up. The extension system received a lot of attention, with tweaks being made to both the filesystem and sidebar APIs.
Based on his discussions with developers who are building Web apps for Chrome, prevailing sentiment is that the Chrome Web Store will now open some time in early December. While some devs remain optimistic that a mid-November launch could still happen, Google has already missed launch targets -- casting severe doubts.
Interestingly, Kafka also mentions that some developers report receiving monetary "encouragement" directly from Google -- one individual acknowledged receive a $15,000 check. The Chrome Web Store remains enough of an enigma that these delays won't adversely affect it -- but we'd sure like to get a look at it.
Here's hoping the beta launch happens before the year is out.
AOL has been busy re-tooling itself ever since head honcho Tim Armstrong took the reigns, and one area that has received a lot of attention is social networking and content discovery. Lifestream is, perhaps, AOL's biggest social app, and now there's a second: Offsite.
Currently, Offsite is available as an extension for Google Chrome. Once installed, simply click the icon in your Omnibar (or the folded-over page corner in the top left) to load the Offsite overlay. The page you're currently viewing slides down and to the right, with relevant tweets taking the left column and related posts from other websites appears at the top (image after the break). A stream of trending topics is also shown, and Digg, Twitter, and AOL Mail sharing buttons are provided. Offsite also displays the page's "heat index," giving you a vague idea how popular it is right now.
Unlike AOL Lifestream for Chrome, Offsite loads in a flash. While it's handy in its current state, I'd like to see the sharing options tweaked. Facebook should be an option, and support for other email providers (and even the good old mailto:) would be a welcome improvement.
I'd also like to see this implemented as a bookmarklet so that users of other browsers can use Offsite -- which shouldn't be hard, given the nature of most Chrome extensions.
The Offsite header bar
First spotted in the Canary build a few days ago, password sync is now available to Dev channel users and enabled by default. I'm still not certain the sync is actually active, though, as my Canary builds on three machines still seem to be running password stores that are noticeably out-of-sync.
At this point, there are really only two pieces missing from the Chrome sync puzzle: tabs and search engines, both of which would be extremely handy (so how about it, Google?).
No worries, however, with the Spot extension for Google Chrome. Just click the magnifying glass icon and start typing something you remember about the page and Spot quickly returns a list of matches. Just click a result to be taken to the tab. The results list is also keyboard-navigable for those who eschew excess mousing.
Spot's developer also says he's working on integrating Chrome history and bookmarks in future versions.
Download Spot for Google Chrome
Being able to specify custom servers right in the browser might not be a big deal on other operating systems -- where you can already do that in your network settings. On Chrome OS, however, it could provide an easy way for parents to lock their child's netbook in to the OpenDNS FamilyShield to block inappropriate content (for example).
I'm sure there are other applications for this as well -- testing, for example. Want to run GoogleDNS in Canary against your ISP's servers in Chromium to see how they perform side-by-side? Go for it!
...Or maybe your favorite site won't load, or an outdated copy of a page you're working on keeps loading when you refresh (I'm looking at you, MTS). If it's your DNS servers at fault, you could quickly pop a new server into Chrome, reload, and off you go.
Sure, you could achieve the same result using a proxy server, but why bother if the functionality is built right into your browser?
If you weren't keeping tabs, Chromium 8 was only released two weeks ago. Yep, two weeks. There have been a couple small visual tweaks that you'll notice right off the hop, the first being a promo panel for the Omnibox (image after the break). Also now on board: password sync support, which is enabled by default.
I'm curious, Download Squad readers. Does the version number in Chrome still mean anything to you at this point? To me, it really doesn't. There are five versions: Stable, Beta, Dev, Canary, and Chromium. Wherever they are in their evolution, that's what matters to me.
As always, you can download the latest Chromium build for your OS here.
If you're like me, you may have tried to force Google Chrome's password into action already. It's been possible to add passwords to sync for quite some time via a command line switch, though I found that Chrome would simply spin its wheels once you tried to log in to your account after adding the switch.
As of this revision on October 21, password sync was officially enabled by default -- though it didn't work for me in Chromium yesterday. Tonight, however, an update was pushed to Chrome Canary (8.0.561.0) and password sync now appears to be fully functional.
Those of you running Canary, head to your wrench menu and check your Personal Stuff tab. You should see passwords listed among the sync data choices -- and it should already be checked if you have everything set to sync.
Google Chrome is all about speed -- even its development cycle. It's only been two weeks since Chromium was bumped to version 8, and they're already trying to close the v7 Beta book and deliver the next version.
Google's Jason Kersey put out a call to the Chromium-dev group for developers to begin wrapping things up. The goal: push Chrome 8 to the beta channel by next week. He goes on to ask the team to zero in on blocker bugs so that they can be resolved quickly.
So you just hunkered down to read a glorious thousand-word epic about why the Web loves cats -- only to find yourself staring at hundreds of comments which ruined your reading experience with their harshness. If only you'd had some sort of filter for your browser which could hide those sections so you could read in peace!
There's shutup.css, which automatically blocks comments on every site it supports -- but for Chrome users, Comment Blocker is a much more flexible option. It not only blocks comment sections on most sites, but it also allows you to whitelist or blacklist URLs -- either individually, using the black and white buttons above, or by creating filter patterns in the Comment Blocker options.
Among the more recent additions is support for background apps, which have actually been part of the Chromium source code for a while now. Unlike the Chrome Apps you may have tried already (like those for Gmail, Docs, and Calendar), background apps can function continuously even though you don't have them open in a tab.
Recently, background app support was added to about:flags. In the current Chromium snapshots (and in the Chrome Dev Channel and Canary), enabling the feature now adds an additional option to your Under the Hood settings -- check the box to enable background apps and run them at startup. Google's choice of "system start" is a nod to Chrome OS, where background apps will likely be the equivalent of system tray apps on your current operating system.
... And don't get your hopes up about that learn more link. Currently, it points to a non-existent page, which isn't surprising considering the Web Store isn't open yet.