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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February 2020

Chrome rules the browser roost, leaving rivals scratching for chickenfeed to stave off starvation.

Now with 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 equal. Meanwhile, Mozilla's Firefox, Microsoft's Edge and Apple's Safari eke out single digits, while a host of others fight over even smaller scraps.

It's no surprise, then, 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 what's-coming round-up. Just remember, 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 81: Full-page warning about TLS 1.0 and 1.1

The current Chrome, version 80, warns users about obsolete TLS (Transport Layer Security) 1.0 or 1.1 encryption via a "Not Secure" alert in the address bar and a pop-up offering more information after a click. (Google switched on that pop-up alert around the middle of last month.)

In March, Chrome 81 will add a full-page interstitial warning that interrupts the attempt to reach the destination site.

IT administrators can disable both warnings with the SSLVersionMin policy. Setting that policy to "tls1" allows Chrome to connect to TLS 1.0- and 1.1-encrypted sites sans alerts.

The SSLVersionMin policy will work until January 2021, Google has said.

Chrome 81: 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 81, Google's browser will by default no longer support FTP. (This is something Google's been working toward for ages.) Instead, IT admins should steer their charges to a native FTP client.

Customers can re-enable FTP support using the —enable-ftp command line flag or by enabling the FtpProtocol feature via the —enable-features=FtpProtocol flag. (For the latter, type chrome://flags in the address bar, press Enter or Return, then search for "Enable support for FTP URLs" and change the option at the right to "Enabled.")

Chrome 82: Share the clipboard

Users will be able to share clipboard content between personal computers and Android devices with this version of Chrome.

(The feature was supposed to debut in mid-March with Chrome 81, but has been pushed to the follow-up, set to ship April 28.)

Chrome must be installed on both ends of the sharing, the user must be logged into the same Google Account and sync must be enabled on each device or PC. Administrators will be able to control the feature with the SharedClipboardEnabled policy.

Chrome 82: Clamping down on risky downloads

Starting with Chrome 82 - it arrives April 28 - the browser will warn users when executable files begin their downloading from a secure page (one marked as HTTPS) but actually transfer their bits over an insecure HTTP connection. "These cases are especially concerning because Chrome currently gives no indication to the user that their privacy and security are at risk," Joe DeBlasio, a software engineer on the Chrome security team, wrote in a Feb. 6 post to a company blog.

As of Chrome 83, the version scheduled to release June 9, Google will drop the hammer, barring those executable files from downloading.

Over several more versions of the browser, Google will first warn, then block, additional file types, including (in order) archives such as .zip; "all other non-safe types, like .pdf and .docx; then finally image files, such as .png. For example, Chrome 83 will institute warnings for archives (and Chrome 84 will block them), while Chrome 84 will alert users about .pdfs with Chrome 85 blocking them.

Chrome 84 is to release Aug. 4; Chrome 85 debuts Sept. 15.

"This gradual rollout is designed to mitigate the worst risks quickly, provide developers an opportunity to update sites, and minimize how many warnings Chrome users have to see," added DeBlasio.

By Chrome 86 (an Oct. 27 appearance), the browser will be blocking "all mixed-content downloads," DeBlasio concluded.

Enterprises and other organizations managing Chrome can disable this future blocking on a per-site basis using the InsecureContentAllowedForUrls policy.

Chrome 83: Chrome apps no more

Last month, Google spelled out the close-out of the Chrome app concept, putting browser versions - and thus dates - to the final days of the once-lauded, now-defunct notion.

(This has been a while in coming, what with Google originally saying in 2016 that Chrome would reject running apps by early 2018.)

As of Chrome 81 (launch date, March 17) the Chrome Web Store will not accept new Chrome apps.

Two versions later - Chrome 83, a June 9 launch - and Chrome won't support apps on Windows, macOS or Linux. But as Google almost always does, it will offer a grace period to managed browsers in business. "If your organization needs extra time to adjust, a policy will be available to extend support until Chrome 87," Google wrote here._

Chrome 87 is scheduled for release Dec. 15.

(Instead of Chrome apps, Google has taken to pushing "Progressive Web Apps," which, ironically or not, share many of the characteristics of a Chrome app, except they're supposed to work on any device through any standards-compliant browser.)

Chrome's add-ons - also called "extensions" - are different; they're not apps per se and so are unaffected by the shutdown.

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