Since Chrome’s very first release, performance has been one of Google’s top priorities. But Google is against a competing force: Web developers. The Web of today is a more-complex, bandwidth-intensive place than it was when Chrome was first released, which means that—although Internet connections and the browser itself are faster than they’ve ever been—slow pages remain an everyday occurrence.
Google engineers have been developing “Never Slow Mode” in a bid to counter this. Spotted at Chrome Story (via ZDNet), the new mode places tight limitations on Web content in an effort to make its performance more robust and predictable.
The exact design and rationale of Never Slow Mode aren’t public—the changelog for the feature mentions a design document but says it’s currently Google-internal. But taken together, that design and rationale will ensure that the browser’s main thread never has to do too much work and will never get too delayed. They will also ensure that only limited amounts of data are pulled down over the network. This should make the browser more responsive to user input, lighter on the network, and a bit less of a memory hog than it would otherwise be.
Google is planning to change the way extensions integrate with its Chrome browser. The company says that the changes are necessary for and motivated by a desire to crack down on malicious extensions, which undermine users’ privacy and security, as part of the company’s continued efforts to make extensions safer. The move also means that popular ad blocking extensions such as uBlock Origin and uMatrix will, according to their developer, no longer work.
The plans, called Manifest V3, are described in a public document. Google is proposing a number of changes to the way extensions work. The broad intent is to improve extension security, give users greater control over what extensions do and which sites they interact with, and make extension performance more robust. For example, extensions will no longer be able to load code from remote servers, so the extension that’s submitted to the Chrome Web store contains exactly the code that will be run in the browser. This prevents malicious actors from submitting an extension to the store that loads benign code during the submission and approval process but then switches to something malicious once the extension is published. In a bid to discourage extensions from asking for blanket access to every site, Manifest V3 also changes the permissions system, so universal access can no longer be demanded at extension install time.
The problem for ad blockers comes with an API called webRequest. With the current webRequest API, the browser asks the extension to examine each network request that the extension is interested in. The extension can then modify the request before it’s sent (for example, canceling requests to some domains, adding or removing cookies, or removing certain HTTP headers from the request). This provides an effective tool for ad blockers; they can examine each request that is made and choose to cancel those that are deemed to be for ads.
The company’s browser will still be named Edge and should retain the current look and feel. The decision to switch was motivated primarily by compatibility problems: Web developers increasingly test their pages exclusively in Chrome, which has put Edge at a significant disadvantage. Microsoft’s engineers have found that problematic pages could often be made Edge compatible with only very minor alterations, but because Web devs aren’t using Edge at all, they don’t even know that they need to change anything.
The story is, however, a little more complex. The initial version of Edge that shipped with the first version of Windows 10 was rudimentary, to say the least. It was the bare bones of a browser, but with extremely limited capabilities around things like tab management and password management, no extension model, and generally lacking in the creature comforts that represent the difference between a bare rendering engine and an actual usable browser. It also had stability issues; crashes and hangs were not uncommon.
The rumors were true: Microsoft Edge is moving to the open-source Chromium platform, the same platform that powers Google’s Chrome browser. And once that is done, Microsoft is bringing Edge to macOS, too. In addition, Microsoft is decoupling Edge from the Windows update process to offer a faster update cadence — and with that, it’ll bring the new Edge to Windows 7 and 8 users, too.
It’ll be a while before any of this happens, though. There’s no code to test today and the first previews are still months away. But at some point in 2019, Microsoft’s EdgeHTML and Chakra will go away and Blink and V8 will take its place. The company expects to release a first developer preview early next year.
Obviously, there is a lot to unpack here. What’s clear, though, is that Microsoft is acknowledging that Chrome and Chromium are the de facto standard today, both for users and for developers.
Over the years, especially after Microsoft left the Internet Explorer brand behind, Edge had, for the most part, become a perfectly usable browser, but Microsoft acknowledges that there were always compatibility issues. While it was investing heavily in fixing those, what we’re hearing from Microsoft is a very pragmatic message: it simply wasn’t worth the investment in engineering resources anymore. What Microsoft had to do, after all, was reverse engineer its way around problems on certain sites.
In part, that’s because Edge never quite gained the market share where developers cared enough to test their code on the platform. And with the web as big as it is, the long tail of incompatible sites remains massive.
Because many web developers work on Macs, where they don’t have access to Edge, testing for it became even more of an afterthought. Hence Microsoft’s efforts to bring Edge to the Mac, 15 years after it abandoned Internet Explorer for Mac. The company doesn’t expect that Edge on Mac will gain any significant market share, but it believes that having it available on every platform will mean that more developers will test their web apps with Edge, too.
Microsoft also admits that it didn’t help that Edge only worked on Windows 10 — and that Edge updates were bound to Windows updates. I was never quite sure why that was the case, but as Microsoft will now happily acknowledge, that meant that millions of users on older Windows versions were left behind, and even those on Windows 10 often didn’t get the latest, most compatible version of Edge because their companies remained a few updates behind.
With this move, Microsoft also plans to increase its involvement in the Chromium community. That means it’ll bring to Chromium some of the work it did to make Edge work really well with touchscreens, for example. But also, as previously reported, the company now publicly notes that it is working with Google and Qualcomm to bring a native implementation of the Chrome browser to Windows 10 on ARM, making it snappier and more battery friendly than the current version that heavily relies on emulation.
Microsoft hopes that if it can make the compatibility issues a thing of the past, users will still gravitate to its browser because of what differentiates it. Maybe that’s its Cortana integration or new integrations with Windows and Office. Or maybe those are new consumer services or, for the enterprise users, specific features that make the lives of IT managers a bit easier.
When the rumors of this change first appeared a few days ago, a number of pundits argued that this isn’t great for the web because it gives even more power over web standards to the Chromium project.
I share some of those concerns, but Microsoft is making a very pragmatic argument for this move and notes that Edge’s small market share didn’t allow it to make a dent in this process anyway. By becoming more active in the Chromium community, it’ll have more of a voice — or so it hopes — and be able to advocate for web standards and bring its own innovations to Chromium.
You’re browser is probably the most complex piece of software running on your computer right now. That means switching out engines is anything but trivial. The company isn’t detailing what its development process will look like and how it’ll go about this, but we’re being told that the company is looking at which parts of the Edge experience to keep and then will work with the Chromium community to bring those to the Chromium engine, too.
Microsoft stresses that it isn’t giving up on Edge, by the way. The browser isn’t going anywhere. If you’re a happy Edge user today, chances are this move will make you an even happier Edge user in the long run. If you aren’t, Microsoft hopes you’ll give it a fresh look when the new Chromium-based version launches. It’s on Microsoft now to build a browser that is differentiated enough to get people to give it another shot.
Google is promising to punish sites that offer what the company calls “abusive experiences.” Chrome 71, due for release in December, will blacklist sites that are repeat offenders and suppress all advertising on those sites.
The behaviors deemed abusive cover a range of user-hostile things, such as ads that masquerade as system error messages, ads with fake close boxes that actually activate an ad when clicked, phishing, and malware. In general, if an ad is particularly misleading, destructive, or intrusive, it runs the risk of being deemed abusive.
Chrome already takes some actions against certain undesirable website behaviors; it tries to block popups, it limits autoplay of video, and it blocks certain kinds of redirection. These measures have been insufficient to prevent misleading or dangerous ads, hence Google taking further steps to banish them from the Web.
Websites that auto-load videos with sound may soon be a thing of the past — or, at least, your days of having to put up with them could be. That’s because Google is testing a new option that lets users permanently mute a website within the Chrome Browser. Noisy websites have long been a pain. Chrome introduced an indicator to flag guilty tabs a couple of years ago — it had… Read More
Working in tight niches occupied by the behemoths of the Internet world is hard; doing it as a startup without external funding is even harder. The 35-strong team of Vivaldi, the spiritual successor to Opera, is doing exactly that: two years after the first public beta and eight months after the release of version 1.0, the Web browser has about 1 million users—but it still isn’t turning a profit.
Vivaldi, which was envisioned by the Opera Software co-founder and former CEO Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner, is catering first of all to power users and the tech-savvy lot. The team, however, has high expectations for their product and hopes it will have a broader appeal over time in order to start actually making money.
More is more
In case you haven’t heard about Vivaldi before, it’s a Chromium-based “non-conformist” desktop Web browser that goes in the opposite direction to the mainstream. While the major players like Chrome or Firefox are stripping the browser to its bare essentials, Vivaldi offers more and more integrated features and customisation options.
Google is currently making a concerted effort to make its Chrome browser faster and leaner. The company announced a project to bring down memory usage earlier this month, for example. But it also quietly started work on some other optimizations recently, too, that add up to making Chrome on Windows run about 15 percent faster than before. Starting with the Chrome 53 release of 64-bit… Read More