File Under: Browsers

Chrome 7 Shows Off Hardware Acceleration, ‘Tabpose’

Google’s Chrome web browser will soon gain hardware-accelerated graphics — the latest trend for web browsers that has already shown up in early builds of Internet Explorer 9 and Firefox 4.

Hardware acceleration allows the browser to offload intensive tasks like image scaling, rendering complex text or displaying scripted animations to your PC’s graphics card. It has the benefit of freeing up the PC’s main processor and speeding up page load times.

Today’s faster graphics cards have created a new playing field for hardware acceleration. Microsoft has been trumpeting IE9′s accelerated capabilities since the first developer preview was released, and Firefox 4 will also take advantage of the new technology. Both of those browsers should be released before the end of this year.

Chrome 7, which is currently available in developer build form, is the latest browser to take advantage of hardware acceleration. Chrome’s tightly sandboxed rendering model — which prevents web pages from interacting directly with the OS — means that hardware acceleration is a little more difficult for Google than it is for IE or Firefox.

Of course it may be some time before any of these features make it to the stable release of Chrome. Chrome 5 is currently the shipping version and Chrome 6 — which features a considerably revamped interface — is currently in the beta channel. Thus far Google has not confirmed any release dates for Chrome 6, nor when Chrome 7 will move to beta status.

But If you’d like to test the early builds of Chrome with hardware acceleration, you can do so now. Grab the latest developer build of Chrome 7 and launch it from the command line with the new --enable-accelerated-compositing flag.

As with Firefox, the hardware acceleration features in Chrome are only available in the Windows version.

Hardware acceleration isn’t the only new trick up Chrome’s sleeve. The Mac version of the browser is also experimenting with something Google calls “Tab Overview” or Tabpose. Tabpose is similar to Mac OS X’s Expose; it allows you to visually pull back and see all your tabs as thumbnails and quickly switch between them.

Some early reports have compared Tabpose to Firefox 4′s new Panorama tab organizer, but Firefox’s version is considerably more sophisticated, with extra features like drag-and-drop organization and the ability to group tabs and switch between groups. If you’ve used both Panorama and Tabpose, the differences are obvious.

In fact, in the build we tested Tabpose was pretty bare bones, lacking even rendered thumbnails of the pages, let alone info bars, bookmark tools or other planned features.

Tabpose showcases another new feature in the development builds of Chrome: the ability to turn on Google Labs experiments. Just like in Gmail, the Labs experiments are interesting features created within Google that are meant more for niche tasks or hardcore geeks than the general audience. Some of them will eventually become real features, but for now they are just for testing.

So far, Tab Overview is the only experiment available for Mac, but the new about:labs page sets the stage for Chrome to add more experimental features in the future, and it sure beats launching Chrome from the terminal with loads of flags (which still works if you happen to prefer that method). Given that there are some 100 flags (or switches, as Google calls them) that you can throw at Chrome as it’s starting up, eventually the About:Labs page could become a very crowded place.

Windows users can head to About:Labs to activate a tabs-on-left experiment, which, as the name implies, shifts your tabs to a column view on the left side of your browser window, much like what Opera has offered for some time.

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