File Under: Browsers

Google Chrome 6 Beta Is Right Around the Corner

The beta version of Google’s next browser is expected to ship soon, as the developer-channel release of Chrome 6 has just seen a code freeze. This is the point at which new features stop being added, and everything that’s already in the browser gets inspected, tested and tightened. We should expect Chrome 6 Beta within a few weeks.

Google’s browser is in an enviable position right now. It recently passed Safari in user share (according to StatsCounter) and it’s gaining on Firefox and IE. Also, in a market where raw speed is the most important metric, Chrome is enjoying a solid reputation as the one of the fastest — if not the fastest — browser on the scene.

Let’s take a look at what’s coming in Google Chrome 6 Beta. We downloaded the most recent dev-channel release of Chrome (6.0.466.4 on a Mac) to test all these new features.

New checkboxes in the syncing panel

Extension syncing — Google Chrome already lets you sync bookmarks and themes across multiple installations. Likewise, you can set up two or more instances of Chrome to run the same extensions. Read our previous coverage of this new feature. [An earlier version of this post inaccurately stated that history syncing was coming to Chrome 6, and it is not — apologies for the oversight, and thanks to reader Martey for pointing it out]

New menu button — Chrome has consolidated the menu button to the right of the URL bar. There used to be a Tool button and a Page button, but now it’s just a Tool button, and it contains the browser’s most-used menu functions. It exhibits similarities — functionally, not visually — to Firefox 4′s new Firefox Button.

Native PDF integration — Chrome 5 added built-in support for Adobe Flash, and version 6 adds similar support for PDFs. An in-browser PDF viewer will ship with the next browser. PDFs can be viewed, searched and navigated in a tab, just like a web page. The PDF experience is also sandboxed like any other app, keeping things secure. Printing isn’t quite there yet. If you’re running the dev-channel release, type about:plugins into the URL field to enable the Chrome PDF viewer.

UI changes — Aside from the new menu button, some additional polish has been applied to Chrome’s chrome. There’s a new green padlock icon in the URL bar to indicate a secure HTTPS connection, slight changes to default skin, and a less cluttered new tab page.

New menu button

Some much-awaited features were left on the drawing board, such as full-screen HTML5 video playback and a tabs-on-the-side option.

The current dev-channel release also shows no sign of Google’s Native Client technology, or its Web App Store — the mechanisms you’ll eventually be able to use to find and install popular apps — and those created by third parties — in your browser.

Install a web app? Google explains: “An installed web app could be separated visually from other tabs, could integrate better with the OS, and could be granted increased permissions.” Installed apps would be able to discern your location, store data on your local machine and use your camera, among other things. The installed apps would sit in your tab bar at the top of Chrome, where they’d look and behave like bookmarked web pages. Firefox has seen this coming, too: The next version of Mozilla’s browser will move the tabs to the top.

This app-friendly shift is a natural progression for the browser. App stores for our iPads and smartphones are leading us towards a more app-centric world, and advances in HTML5 and JavaScript have led to web apps that look and behave more like single-serving native applications. As the internet becomes a full-blown operating system — flush with APIs, storage clouds, public databases, connected sensors and ubiquitous Wi-Fi access points– the web browser is in a position to become the desktop for that operating system.

To get an early peek at installable Google apps, you’ll have to jump through some hoops of fire. Google Operating System has some instructions for the brave.

[Hat tip to Stephen Shankland, who noted the version 6 code freeze on CNET’s Deep Tech blog. There you’ll also find a comprehensive list of what Google left out of this beta cycle].

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