Fast forward: What's coming in future Chrome updates?

Every time Google updates its browser, it publishes release notes aimed at enterprises to highlight upcoming additions, substitutions, enhancements and modifications. Here's a sneak preview of what's coming.

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September 2019

Chrome continues to dominate the browser market, leaving rivals to swallow their pride and scramble for the leavings.

Now with more than 67% of the world's browser user share - a measure of browser activity calculated monthly by analytics vendor Net Applications - Google's Chrome has no peer. Rivals like Mozilla's Firefox fight over scraps while Microsoft has tossed in the towel and adopted Google's Chromium technology to remain competitive.

It's no surprise that when Chrome speaks, everyone listens, whether about each browser upgrade - something Computerworld tracks in the What's in the latest Chrome update? series - or about Google's plans for the future.

Every Chrome upgrade is accompanied by release notes aimed at enterprises that highlight some of the upcoming additions, substitutions, enhancements and modifications planned for the browser. We've collected the most important for this "Coming soon" round-up. Just remember that nothing is guaranteed. As Google pointedly notes, "The items listed below are experimental or planned updates. They might be changed, delayed, or canceled before launching to the Stable channel."

Chrome 78: Still on flags' you-know-what

"Many flags in chrome://flags will be removed in upcoming Chrome versions, starting with Chrome 78," Google said, stuck in this grove since at least Chrome 76. "As a reminder, flags should not be used to configure Chrome Browser because they're not supported. Instead, configure Chrome Browser for your enterprise or organization using policies."

Those words are identical to phrasing Google has used for months, leading to questions about its seriousness in expunging the option setters (which can be reached by entering chrome://flags in the browser's address bar).

The macOS version of Chrome 77 Stable listed 322 available flags, just 7 fewer than Chrome 76. So, there's been no real reduction thus far.

Chrome 78: Dipping a toe into DoH waters

Both Google and Mozilla have been thumping the DNS-over-HTTPS (DoH) drum as a way to better secure communications between browser and DNS (Domain Name Service) server. The browser pings a DNS server to determine the IP (Internet protocol) address of the destination website's domain (the part, for instance, before the .com or .org) and normally that traffic is transmitted in plain text, making it easily readable by someone monitoring a public Wi-Fi network. Criminals can even intercept bits flying between the browser and DNS server, then insert bogus addresses that steer the unwary user to a malicious site.

By transmitting DNS communication over an HTTPS connection - which is encrypted - crooks can't spy or spoof.

Beginning with Chrome 78, Google will run a trial where DNS requests from some users will automatically be switched to their DNS provider's DoH service if one is available. (Not all DNS providers offer a DoH resolver.)

But managed browsers - those joined to a domain or that have at least one active group policy - won't auto-upgrade to DoH. Enterprises will also be able to control the DoH experiment through a new policy, DnsOverHttpsMode, that will be in place for Chrome 78.

More information, including the short list of affected DNS providers, can be found here.

Chrome 78: Your password's showing, pal

According to Google, users of Chrome 78 and later will be notified "if their credentials are part of a known data breach."

Exactly how this will be done and based on what data are, at this point, unclear. Unlike Mozilla, which will add a similar feature to Firefox 70, set to launch Oct. 22, Google has not yet fleshed this out. (Note: Chrome 78 is to also debut on Oct. 22.)

Enterprises will be able to manage this notification with the PasswordLeakDetectionEnabled group policy. A bit more info about that policy is available here.

Chrome 80: RIP FTP

FTP, for File Transfer Protocol, is an ancient protocol that transfers files over an unencrypted connection. More telling, it's little used.

Beginning with Chrome 80 (likely to launch in late January), Google's browser will stop supporting FTP. (This is something Google's been working toward for ages.) Instead, IT administrators should steer their charges to a native FTP client.

Google's given FTP a short grace for those managing through group policies: Enable FTPProtocolSupport and FTP will be restored until Chrome 82 - figure that will debut in April - really kills the protocol.

Chrome ??: Chrome address bar searches return results from Google Drive

"In the future, users will be able to search for Google Drive files that they have access to from the address bar," Google wrote.

This has been Google's line for months, although now the firm says "in the future" rather than the earlier "soon," perhaps a sop to reality.

Google began testing integrations between Chrome and Google Drive for G Suite Business, Enterprise, and Enterprise for Education subscriptions back in March. Previously, Google ran a beta program but then shut it down in mid-June. Now it's reopened the preview.

"If you have G Suite Business, Enterprise, or Enterprise for Education, you can apply for the beta program," Google said, pointing interested users here. Participants must have admin rights to G Suite Business, G Suite Enterprise or G Suite Education Premium.

"This feature lets users in your domain using the Chrome browser search for Google Drive files that they have access to using the Chrome URL bar," the beta program page stated. "This goes beyond current functionality, which lets users search for Google Drive files that they have recently accessed."

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