Changing the User Agent, a New Google Chrome Feature

Changing the user agent of a browser is sometimes helpful if you’re visiting a site that doesn’t work well in your browser or if you’re a developer and you want to test a site. Until recently, changing the user agent required installing an extension, opening about:config or adding a command-line parameter.

Now that browsers started to include powerful developer tools and even Internet Explorer has a built-in user agent editor, Chrome added a similar feature. It’s only available in Chrome 17 (Dev Channel / Canary) right now.

Here’s how to change the user agent:

1. open the Developer Tools (Ctrl+Shift+I on Windows/Linux, Command – Option – I on Mac OS X)
2. click the “settings” icon at the bottom of the window
3. check “override user agent” and select one of the options (Internet Explorer 7/8/9, Firefox 4/7 for Windows/Mac, iPhone, iPad and Nexus S running Android 2.3). You can also select “other” and enter a custom user agent.

{ via François. Thanks, Venkat. }

Now Google Chrome Adds Support for Native Client Apps

Almost three years after its announcement, Native Client is almost ready for prime time. It’s enabled in Chrome 14, which is now in beta and will reach the stable channel in less than a month.

Native Client is a very complex framework that allows browsers to run native compiled code in a sandbox. Google’s goal is to “maintain the OS portability and safety that people expect from web apps”, while allowing developers to use their preferred language. Right now, the only supported languages are C and C++ and Native Client only works in Chrome for Windows, Mac and Linux.

“Native Client apps live on the web platform, so you don’t need to create separate versions of your app for each operating system. Rather than relying on OS-specific APIs, Native Client apps use Pepper, a set of interfaces that provide C and C++ bindings to the capabilities of HTML5. This means that once you’ve ported your code to Native Client, it will work across different operating systems, and you only need to maintain one code base. Today Native Client supports the Pepper APIs for 2D graphics, stereo audio, URL fetching, sandboxed local file access (File API), and asynchronous message passing to and from JavaScript. In future releases we will be adding support for hardware accelerated 3D graphics (OpenGL ES 2.0), fullscreen mode, networking (WebSockets and peer-to-peer connections), and much more,” informs Google.

Google announced that developers will be able to upload their native apps to the Chrome Web Store once Chrome 14 hits the stable channel. In the meantime, Chrome 14 users can try the examples from this gallery: a pi generator, a sine wave synthesizer and John Conway’s Game of Life.

NaCl (Native Client) + Pepper -> a lot of games, business apps, educational apps, image editors and virtual machine software running inside your browser. Suddenly, Chromebooks are no longer that limited.

No More Offline Gmail in Google Chrome

Chrome 12, the upcoming version of Google’s browser which is likely to be released today, removes a useful feature: the built-in Gears plugin. While most Google services dropped support for Gears and removed offline access, Gears is still being used in Gmail. Google no longer maintains Gears, which is now legacy software, and focuses on implementing offline support using HTML5.

But why remove Gears support without implementing the features using HTML5 first? Google says that you’ll only need to wait for a few weeks or you can still older versions of Firefox, Internet Explorer and mail client such as Thunderbird or Outlook.

“The new Gmail Offline capability is targeted for delivery as a Chrome browser web app this summer. As we move the Gmail Offline capability to a Chrome web app, we will deprecate the Google Gears-based Gmail Offline. This coincides with the version 12 release of the Google Chrome browser which no longer supports Gears. As a result, Google Gears-based Gmail Offline will no longer work with the Chrome browser as of Tuesday May 24, 2011. Google Gears-based Gmail Offline will continue to work in Internet Explorer 8 and Mozilla Firefox 3.6,” explains Google.

It’s not the best thing to do after convincing users to switch to Chrome and use Web apps, but it’s just a temporary issue. If the HTML5 offline Gmail wasn’t ready to be released, removing Gears from Chrome could have been delayed.

{ via François }

Google Toolbar 8, Powered by Google Chrome

After Google released Chrome, Google Toolbar’s development slowed down. That’s because Google Toolbar is no longer the primary vehicle for adding browser features and Google mostly focused on improving Chrome.

Google Toolbar 8 is a completely new version of Google’s add-on that was available as part of Google Labs. “Google Toolbar 8 is actually built and runs on top of the Google Chrome Frame platform. This means that Toolbar 8 will run more like a web app in that it can be customized and updated much more frequently and easily. It also means that Google Chrome Frame is installed at the time of Toolbar 8 installation,” explains Google.

The new version of Google’s toolbar only works in Internet Explorer right now and it doesn’t include all the features that are currently available in the latest public version. Google included some new features: buttons for the most visited sites, Google Dictionary integration and Google Instant. “Google Toolbar displays up to seven of your most visited sites as buttons. Click on a button to go directly to its site. When you download the new Google Toolbar your toolbar will display buttons for Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Youtube, Google News, Google Reader and Google Tasks by default.”

What’s New in Chrome 10?

Google Chrome 10 is ready for primetime and it comes with a surprising number of new features. Here are some of them:

1. The Options dialog is now a web page that opens in a new tab. Chrome has one less modal dialog and the new Options page is better suited for netbooks. Another advantage is that each section of the Options page has a permalink that can be bookmarked.

Even if Chrome doesn’t have too many customizable settings, there’s a search box that lets you quickly find an option. Try searching for “cookies” and you’ll notice that Chrome finds settings that aren’t immediately obvious.

2. You can now change the default page zoom value. Go to the Options page and select “Under the hood” (or paste chrome://settings/advanced in the address bar) and change the “page zoom” value. The default value is 100%, but you can pick values like 120% or 144%, which are useful if you want to connect your computer to a TV.

3. The same section of the Options page lets you change the minimum font size. Click “customize fonts” and choose one of the values that are available for the minimum font size.

4. Synchronize passwords and use them from any computer, as long as you can install Google Chrome. The new option is not enabled by default and it requires your confirmation before saving your passwords to your Google Account. There’s even an extra security feature that lets you choose a custom encryption passphrase, so that your passwords are safe even if someone guesses your Google Account password. For advanced features and cross-browser functionality, try LastPass.

5. Reorder the apps from the new tab page using drag and drop. This option was available for the frequently visited pages and you can now use it to change the order of your favorite apps.

6. A new version of V8, Chrome’s JavaScript engine, includes a better compilation infrastructure codenamed Crankshaft. “By using aggressive optimizations, Crankshaft dramatically improves the performance of compute-intensive JavaScript applications – often by more than a factor of two! This will give users a faster and more responsive experience loading web pages and applications built with complex JavaScript.”

7. Chrome 10 comes with hardware acceleration for Web videos. “Traditionally, web browsers relied entirely on the CPU to render web page content. With capable GPUs becoming an integral part of even the smallest of devices and with rich media such as video and 3D graphics playing an increasingly important role to the web experience, attention has turned on finding ways to make more effective utilization of the underlying hardware to achieve better performance and power savings. There’s clear indication that getting the GPU directly involved with compositing the contents of a web page can result in very significant speedups. The largest gains are to be had from eliminating unecessary (and very slow) copies of large data, especially copies from video memory to system memory. The most obvious candidates for such optimizations are the <video> element and the WebGL canvas, both of which can generate their results in areas of memory that that CPU doesn’t have fast access to,” explains Google.

Test GPU acceleration for videos at YouTube’s HTML5 site. Adobe Flash 10.2 also added full GPU acceleration for videos and YouTube is one of the sites that support this feature, so you can compare Flash 10.2 videos and HTML5 videos to see which version uses less processing power.

8. Chrome 10 for Windows finally sandboxes the built-in Adobe Flash plugin. This is one of the reasons why Google decided to bundle the plugin with Chrome.

9. If you didn’t like Gmail’s notification feature because it didn’t work when you closed Chrome, you’ll find it much more useful when Gmail’s app adds support for background pages, a feature that’s now available in Chrome. “Apps and extensions that use the new background feature can continue to run in the background — even if the user closes down all of Chrome’s windows. Background apps will continue to run until Chrome exits. The next time Chrome starts up, any background windows that were previously running will also be re-launched. These windows are not going to be visible but they will be able to perform tasks like checking for server-side changes and pre-emptively loading content into local storage,” explains Google.

When you install the first app or extension that supports backgrounding (like this one), Chrome adds a new icon to the system tray (Windows and Linux) and a new entry in the context menu of the Chrome icon from the Dock (Mac). The new icon and context menu entry let you go to a background app, open the task manger or the options page.

9 Things to Try in Google Chrome 9

Google Chrome 9 is now available, two months after the previous release and two weeks later than Google’s self-imposed deadline. Here are 9 features you should try in this new version:

1. WebGL is now enabled by default in Google Chrome and you can try the 3D web apps from Google’s gallery. Don’t miss Body Browser, a Google Earth for the human body, and the WebGL Aquarium.

2. Google Instant is now integrated with Chrome’s address bar, but this feature is not for everyone because it automatically loads web pages as you type. It’s disabled by default, so you need to enable it by checking “Enable Instant for faster searching and browsing” in the Options dialog.

3. Cloud Print can be enabled from Options > Under the hood if you use Windows. This features lets you print from devices that can’t communicate directly with printers. The first two applications that use Cloud Print are the mobile versions of Gmail and Google Docs.

4. Chrome supports WebP files. WebP is a new image format created by Google whose main advantage is that it offers better compression. “Our team focused on improving compression of the lossy images, which constitute the larger percentage of images on the web today. To improve on the compression that JPEG provides, we used an image compressor based on the VP8 codec that Google open-sourced in May 2010.” Here’s an example of WebP image.

5. Right-click on an extension button next to the address bar and select “Hide button”. When you change your mind, go to Tools > Extensions and click on “Show button” next to the corresponding extension.

6. Create desktop shortcuts for your web apps: right-click on an app in the new tab page and select “create shortcut”. You can also add shortcuts to the Start Menu and the Quick Launch Bar if you use Windows.

7. Launch web apps in a new window. Right-click on a web app and select “open as window”.

8. Install extensions that add custom menu options to images. For example, install Clip It Good to upload any image from a web page to Picasa Web Albums.

9. Install extensions that use the Omnibox API to associate keywords with new search engines. For example, install the DOI Resolver extension and type doi 10.1205/096030802760309188 in the address bar. The extension added a new search engine and associated it with the keyword doi.

Chrome’s New Sad Tab Page

The latest Chromium builds include a new sad tab page that replaces the famous “aw, snap!” message with “he’s dead, Jim!”. The message continues: “Something caused this page to be killed , either because the operating system ran out of memory, or for some other reason. To continue, press Reload or go to another page.” To see the page, just type about:kill in the address bar after opening a new tab.

“He’s dead, Jim!” is a catchphrase used by Leonard H. McCoy, a character from Star Trek. “The line has entered popular culture as a general metaphor, with uses as diverse as descriptions of an unresponsive electronic circuit, an example of how to add an audio file to function as an alert sound in a computer system, and an illustrative quote regarding how to know if one’s opponent has been destroyed in an action hero game.”

Here’s the old sad tab page:

{ Thanks, Chen. }

Google Chrome and the Beginning of Time

A recent Chromium build updated the message used for the “clear browsing data” section. The most impressive option lets you “obliterate the following items from the beginning of time”. It’s less boring than “clear browsing data from this period: everything”, but users may need to use a dictionary and to get a sense of humor.

In other news, the tabbed settings page is now the default option in Chromium and this feature will probably be enabled in Chrome 10. The new settings page comes with a search box that lets you quickly find an option (this feature would be much more useful in Firefox, Opera or Internet Explorer) and a default page zoom option.

Google Chrome to Drop Support for H.264

Chromium’s blog informs that Google Chrome will drop support for H.264 in the coming months and will only support WebM (VP8) and Theora codecs.

We expect even more rapid innovation in the web media platform in the coming year and are focusing our investments in those technologies that are developed and licensed based on open web principles. To that end, we are changing Chrome’s HTML5 <video> support to make it consistent with the codecs already supported by the open Chromium project. Specifically, we are supporting the WebM (VP8) and Theora video codecs, and will consider adding support for other high-quality open codecs in the future. Though H.264 plays an important role in video, as our goal is to enable open innovation, support for the codec will be removed and our resources directed towards completely open codec technologies.

Google decided to pick sides, much like Mozilla and Opera, in an effort to encourage developers to use WebM. Right now, the only important website that uses WebM is YouTube, Google’s video sharing service. Internet Explorer, Safari and iOS devices are unlikely to support WebM, while hardware acceleration and Flash support are expected later this year.

John Gruber thinks that “this is just going to push publishers toward forcing Chrome users to use Flash for video playback — and that the video that gets sent to Flash Player will be encoded as H.264”. He also finds it ironic that Google Chrome bundles Adobe’s proprietary Flash plugin, which is a great software for playing H.264 videos.

VP8 has a long way to go before becoming the codec of choice for Web videos and Google decided to make it more popular by dropping support for the competing codec from its browser. Last year, Andy Rubin said that sometimes being open “means not being militant about the things consumer are actually enjoying,” but that’s not the case here.

Google Chrome Voice Search

Voice Search is a Google Chrome extension that lets you search using your voice. It’s not developed by Google, but it uses an experimental Chrome feature called form speech input. The feature is enabled by default in the dev channel builds, but it can be manually enabled by adding a command-line flag.

“Voice Search comes pre-loaded with the following default services: Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo and Wolfram|Alpha. You can also add your own user-defined search engines. It also integrates a speech input button for all websites using HTML5 search boxes. This extension requires a microphone. Speech input is very experimental, so don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work. Also, try to speak clearly for best speech recognition results,” suggests the author.

Speech recognition is limited to English and it doesn’t work very well, but this extension is a good way to test a feature that will be enabled in the future Chrome releases. If you have a website, it’s quite easy to add support for speech input, but it may take a while until Google’s Speech Input API specification becomes a standard and all browsers implement it.

{ Thanks, Silviu. }