See Chrome's inner workings--and an Easter egg

Google's new browser shows a wealth of detail for programmers building Web sites or the open-source browser itself. And a mystery: what technology underlies the Easter egg?

Google's Chrome browser has as Spartan a user interface as possible, but the browser's Omnibox also turns out to be a window into a much more elaborate view of the browser.

That's because Chrome users can type several commands into the browser's address box to uncovers a wealth of nitty-gritty detail and an amusing Easter egg.

Google Chrome can display lots of detailed information, such as which plug-ins are running.
Google Chrome can display lots of detailed information, such as which plug-ins are running. (Click to enlarge.) CNET News

Firefox can be fine-tuned by typing "about:config" into its address bar, and other about: commands shed light on many details. Google followed suit.

Most folks won't care a whit, but the feature is notable for programmers--both those creating Web pages and those who might want to toy with Chromium itself, the open-source project behind Chrome. Programmers are a key audience for Chrome, which Google hopes will advance the state of the art in particular for Web applications.

One Firefox tool popular with Web developers is the Firebug extension, which permits detailed analysis of a Web site. Although Chrome lacks an extensions ability for now , right-clicking on Web page elements offers an "inspect element" option that reproduces some of Firebug's abilities.

Happy Easter
For you non-programmers, there's an Easter egg, too: type "about:internets" into the Omnibox. I'm not going to be a spoilsport by revealing what happens, but here's a hint: Ted Stevens.

Because I'm interested in browser user interface limits, though, I'm very curious what rendering technology is used to produce the Easter egg output. Feel free to offer your theories in the comments field below.

Among the "about" features:

• about:memory shows how much memory the browser--and any other Web browser--is using. Conveniently for Web developers, it also shows how much each Web site in a browser tab is using.

• about:stats shows a wide range of internal measurements such as the time taken to initialize Chrome, load Gears, or perform various operations while running JavaScript programs with Chrome's V8 engine. The page also carries the amusing note, "Shhh! This page is secret!"

Typing about:histogram into Chrome's address bar shows many performance details.
Typing about:histogram into Chrome's address bar shows many performance details. (Click to enlarge.) CNET News
• about:network tracks the detailed network activity of using a Web site.

• about:version shows details of what version of Chrome is running, along with the user-agent text that the browser reports when identifying itself to Web sites. Why "Mozilla" is in this string is a mystery to me, though perhaps it has to do with the way Chrome can use Firefox plug-ins; why "Mozilla" is apparently in the iPhone's user-agent text is even more a mystery.

• about:histograms graphs various performance measurements such as the time taken to autocomplete text users type into the browser.

• about:crash crashes the active browser tab.

With a little noodling around, I also found out that some of these services, but not all, can be retrieved with a different syntax. Try typing "chrome-resource://about/stats" for example.

One more tidbit for folks closely following Chrome: TG Daily uncovered a so-far hidden "themes" folder that's empty for now but that presumably could be used later to give Chrome different, well, chrome. Depending on how Google proceeds, this could be useful for adapting the browser to the native looks of Linux and Mac OS X, operating systems that Chrome will support later.

This is the error page that results from invoking the about:crash command in Chrome.
This is the error page that results from invoking the about:crash command in Chrome. CNET News

(Via Google Operating System and Tech-Pro.net.)

Click here for full coverage of the Google Chrome launch.

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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