Chrome gets acceleration, WebGL, Google Instant

Beta testers are closer to getting major new Chrome features, and dev-channel users get them now: WebGL's 3D graphics, Google Instant search, and some hardware acceleration.

On Windows, Chrome's omnibox gets Google Instant results when enabled through about:labs.
On Windows, Chrome's omnibox gets Google Instant results when enabled through about:labs. Also shown is the side tabs option. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Fulfilling a pledge to hasten the pace of Chrome releases, Google has issued its first beta edition of Chrome 7, but the big new changes in the browser come with a new developer-oriented release.

The new beta, Chrome 7.0.517.24, matches that of Tuesday's developer-channel release. That doesn't include too much directly visible to users--the about:labs feature for experimental options is one item--but it paves the way for major changes.

For a preview of those coming attractions, browser users should check the new developer version that's been cooking for weeks, version 7.0.536.2. The new features include the activation by default of the WebGL 3D graphics technology, an option for built-in Google Instant search results, and some hardware acceleration for some CSS transformations, a way of handling dynamic changes using the Cascading Style Sheets formatting standard.

"A lot of the work that's being done in 7.0 is largely not user facing and in some cases is a legitimate work in progress," said Chrome team member Anthony Laforge in a response to comments criticizing the version 7 release as insufficiently novel. "With our new release cycle and about:labs, I'd suggest you stay tuned, things are going to start moving quite fast."

On Macs, Chrome is getting an ability to show all tabs with an Expose-like feature.
On Macs, Chrome is getting an ability to show all tabs with an Expose-like feature. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

The first feature enabled through about:labs is a new ability to show all tabs through an Expose-like feature on Mac OS X and to show tabs vertically on the left side of the browser on Windows. Those who wanted a three-finger downward swipe on a Mac trackpad to jump to the bottom of a Web page, as Firefox does, will be disappointed to find that gesture activates the tab Expose view.

Also through about:labs, Windows gets an upgrade to the omnibox, the dual-purpose address and search bar, so it shows the search-as-you-type behavior of Google Instant. It's awkward at this stage--the omnibox drop-down covers the top search results--but doubtless it'll improve.

A lot more hardware acceleration is on the way, but don't necessarily expect it to arrive for Chrome 7. Mozilla and Microsoft, the top two browser makers, have been racing to build hardware acceleration into their browsers as well.

The about:labs mechanism, which parallels Firefox's about:config option as an easier way to change under-the-hood browser settings, will be getting more exercise in the future. One item coming to about:labs is 2D Graphics acceleration, for example. For now, about:labs changes require a browser restart.

The last time the beta version passed a major milestone was August 11 with Chrome 6. Google is aiming to release new versions every six weeks, roughly double the earlier pace.

The about:labs feature on Windows presents new experimental options for Chrome users.
The about:labs feature on Windows presents new experimental options for Chrome users. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET
 

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