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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December 2019

Chrome dominated the browser market throughout 2019, starting the year by generating more than two-thirds of global browser activity and ending November at almost exactly the same place.

Rivals like Mozilla's Firefox fight over a diminishing dish of scraps while Microsoft simply surrendered to the search giant by adopting Google's Chromium technology to power Edge.

What's true for consumers also holds for the corporate world: Chrome rules. So when Chrome makes changes, everyone pays attention, whether the latest are in the most recent browser upgrade - which Computerworld tracks in the What's in the latest Chrome update? series - or are slated to show up in the next version, or the one after that.

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

Chrome 80: Freeze, tabs! And we mean it this time!

To reduce the browser's memory usage and its impact on notebook batteries, Chrome 80 will automatically "freeze" tabs that have been in the background for five or more minutes. "Frozen pages are not able to run any tasks," said Google.

Some tabs won't be frozen - Google cited those playing audio - and website developers can opt out of freezing. More information on that can be found in this document.

Once a user makes a background tab active, it's thawed so it reacts to input.

Enterprise IT administrators will be able to disable tab freezing with the TabFreezingEnabled policy.

(Previously, Google claimed that tab freezing would make it into Chrome 79, the version launched Dec. 10. It was unclear why the feature had been bumped from 79 and instead slated for 80.)

Chrome 80: Control over granular sync

Enterprise IT admins can enable or disable each type of synchronized data - ranging from History and Themes to Open Tabs and Passwords - just as individuals can do in the browser's Settings > Manage Sync.

"In Chrome 80, this control will also be an enterprise policy, so that admins can control the sync types across their organization," Google wrote in the enterprise release notes published after Chrome 79 launched.

The SyncTypesListDisabled policy has not yet been added to the Chrome list, posted here.

Chrome 80: Tabs by the bunch, or group

Tab groups should begin rolling out to users with early-February's Chrome 80 and then finish with March's Chrome 81.

"Starting in Chrome 80, some users will be able to organize their tabs by grouping them on the tab strip," Google said. "Each group can have a color and a name, to help your users keep track of their different tasks and workflows. A wider rollout is planned for Chrome 81." Chrome 81 is set for release on March 17.

Tab groups are just what they say they are: an organizational trick to lump together multiple tabs, each lump designated by color and name.

Users of Chrome 79 can dabble now with tab groups by entering chrome://flags in the address bar, pressing Enter or Return, finding the entry Tab Groups and setting it to "Enabled." Chrome must be relaunched for it to take effect. Using right-clicks and the menu choices that then appear, users can create groups, then assign tabs to or remove tabs from those groups.

Chrome 80: Begone, external add-ons

The new BlockExternalExtensions policy will let administrators stop external extensions from being installed in the browser.

(External extensions are those browser add-ons not retrieved and installed from the Chrome Web Store. They include extensions created by third-party software vendors to link browsers to their wares, as well as add-ons that IT wants to distribute throughout the company.)

When enabled, BlockExternalExtensions will not block kiosk apps or add-ons provided by policies, Google said.

The policy has not yet been added to the Chrome list.

Chrome 81: Full-page warning about TLS 1.0 and 1.1

The current Chrome, version 79, includes a disabled-for-now warning about the obsolete TLS (Transport Layer Security) 1.0 or 1.1 encryption. Google plans to switch on that pop-up alert starting Jan. 13, 2020, a point about mid-way between the releases of Chrome 79 and 80.

In March, Chrome 81 will add to the pressure by replacing the pop-up with a full-page interstitial warning that interrupts the attempt to reach the destination site.

IT admins can disable both warnings - in Chrome 79 and later, and in Chrome 81 - with the SSLVersionMin policy. Setting that policy to "1" allows Chrome to connect to TLS 1.0- and 1.1-encrypted sites sans alerts.

The SSLVersionMin policy will work until January 2021.

Chrome 81: Sharing the clipboard

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

Chrome must be installed on both ends of the sharing, the user must be logged into the same Google Account and the browser's sync must be enabled on each device or PC.

Administrators will be able to control the feature with the SharedClipboardEnabled policy.

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