Chrome 6: What made the cut--and what missed it

Google's next browser will synchronize your extensions and get other new abilities. But programmers pushed back plenty of other features.

Want the ability to print preview in Chrome? Me, too. But we'll have to wait, because it's one of the features that didn't make the Chrome 6 cut.

Typically in software development, there comes a point when programmers have to turn their attention from adding the fun new technology to making sure what's going to ship actually works. This point, called the code freeze, just happened for Chrome's sixth "milestone."

Google believes in continuously updating its browser, and given its steady encroachment on the turf of Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Mozilla's Firefox and its rapid ascension beyond Opera and Apple's Safari, it's hard to argue too hard with the approach. In June, Chrome climbed to 7.2 percent of worldwide browser usage from to 7.0 percent in May.

When trains leave the station frequently, you don't have to wait as long to catch one. But you still have to wait if you miss a train, and that's what's happened to some Chrome features.

Printing support has been one of Chrome's relatively weak points compared to other browsers that have been in the market for years longer, but Google's been working to catch up. Indeed, Chrome slipped a notch when an earlier change broke one feature, the ability to print only a selected portion of text.

For Chrome users on Windows, print selection is fixed in version 6. But for Mac and Linux users, print selection was bumped back to Chrome 7 because "printing is being reworked."

Print preview, a longstanding feature request, is getting closer. Although it was punted out of Chrome 6, work is under way... "UX [user experience] mocks for print preview have been created and approved internally. Implementation is in progress. Will not make M6 [Chrome milestone, or version, 6]...Targeting M7 now," according to the issue tracker.

Who caught the train?
Not everything missed the Chrome 6 train, of course. Some features set for delivery include:

• Extensions sync, so extensions on one machine are the same as on another used by the same person.

• A bug fix to speed up display of some Scalable Vector Graphics, an older graphics format seeing new life with efforts to improve Web standards.

• A consolidated menu button that merges Chrome's two earlier tool and page buttons into a single button.

• Synchronization of browsing history across multiple browsers so that, for example, Web pages visited once can be more easily revisited.

• Background image resampling to take better advantage of multicore processors and speed up page rendering when resizing images.

Who missed the train?
Also on many wish lists is the ability to put tabs along the side of the browser rather than across the top. This interface style devotes more vertical real estate to the job of showing a Web page while using the relatively abundant horizontal space of wide-screen displays.

But "side tabs" were pushed back to Chrome's 7. Again, though, the feature is under development. "You can try out side tabs on Windows by way of--enable-vertical-tabs [an extra command option that must be invoked when Chrome is launched], right-click on a tab and choose 'Use side tabs.' On Chrome OS go into the experimental menu," the issue tracker said.

Next on the list of bumped features slipping from version 6 to 7 is support for full-screen HTML5 video. The headline feature of the new version of Hypertext Markup Language is video that's built into Web pages themselves rather than relying on a plug-in such as Adobe Systems' Flash, and Google hopes to break the HTML5 video logjam with its WebM technology .

But Chrome can't yet play HTML5 video in a full-screen mode, a popular option for immersive entertainment. One complication with the user interface: avoiding something that could enable password-stealing interface. Here work has begun, but "there are many, many more patches" to be applied to Chrome before it's done, according to the tracker.

One of Google's most ambitious efforts to make the Web a more powerful foundation for applications is a project called Native Client that lets programs downloaded from the Web run securely and fast on a computer. Key to Native Client, or NaCl for short, is a process called sandboxing that restricts executing programs to a walled-off region of memory.

But Native Client apparently won't make Chrome 6 unless people specifically enable it with the present "--enable-nacl" launch option. One issue is making sure the sandbox works well not just on Mac OS X 10.6, but the older 10.5 as well.

"The new code allows for removal of the hole in the sandbox on Mac OS X 10.6. However, the hole is still required on 10.5. I am currently in the process of debugging everything on 10.5," according to an issue tracker post Tuesday. "I believe the decision was made to keep Native Client behind the --enable-nacl flag for M6. Since the M6 deadline was yesterday, I'm moving this issue out to M7."

Also punted yet again is a feature that enables a security feature that moves a process called "proxy auto configuration" to a separate computing process. Programmers initially wanted to build this into Chrome 3, but it wasn't put on the front burner. Evidently that's caused a bit of frustration, since one Chrome leader, Darin Fisher, tagged the work "StopPunting" in October 2009.

But of course, with Chrome, a new milestone arrives about once a quarter. Maybe next time.

 

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