07/02 Update below. This post was originally published on June 30
Despite recently dropping a bombshell on Microsoft, Google Chrome has been running into an increasing number of problems, both on Windows 10 and macOS. But potential Chrome quitters should listen up, because Google has quietly released its most compelling reason in years to keep using the browser.
Spotted by Windows Latest, Google has quietly released a new version of Chrome which looks set to radically reduce the amount of memory the browser needs to run. The benefit will be felt both by power users, who like to have lots of tabs open, and those with older computers who desperately need Chrome to become less of an infamous resource hog.
07/01 Update: Google’s Chrome redesign plans show no sign of slowing. Alongside the major internal changes detailed below, Android Police has spotted that Google is also quietly testing a fundamental redesign of Chrome that will bring tab switching to the browser on smartphones for the first time. A new tab button will open a cascading strip of browser tabs, allowing users to quickly switch between / close them. This looks set to work alongside the existing, if lengthy, current process of swiping down the whole browser window and scrolling between full-size vertical browser pages. For power users, in particular, this new system will be a productivity boon. To test it, you will need Chrome Beta, enter chrome://flags/#enable-conditional-strip into the address bar, enable the feature and restart. As a limited test, this is not yet showing up for all beta users, but expect availability to increase soon.
07/02 Update: This is a big month for Google’s Chromium core. 9to5Google has revealed that alongside its performance overhaul, the company will now integrate Steam support into Chrome OS with significant consequences. 9to5Google found the integration hidden under the code name ‘Borealis’, an Ubuntu-based distribution that “includes a pre-installed copy of Steam”. Adding Steam support alongside native emulation for Windows apps (including Microsoft Office), would make Chrome OS a powerful alternative to Windows 10. That said, Steam support would also compete with Google’s own Stadia cloud gaming platform, making it a risk for Google. I would argue this shows Google’s determination to finally break Chrome OS out of its education and business niche, in a power play to become a genuine Windows replacement. Alongside Apple’s recent announcement it is moving macOS to its own ARM-based silicon, the platform wars are clearly back and about to hit full throttle.
What brings about such a big change? It’s a technology called Segment Heap, which Microsoft introduced in its Windows 10 May 2020 update. Segment Heap optimizes memory management and Microsoft said early tests on Chromium-based browsers immediately saw memory consumption reduced by as much as 27%. Google engineers concurred saying: “Experiments with per-machine opting-in to the segment heap for chrome.exe suggests that this could save hundreds of MB in the browser.”
But the shock here is how quickly Google has got this working, with Chrome programmer Bruce Dawson revealing “This change made it into today’s Chrome Canary (Version 85.0.4182.0 (Official Build) canary (64-bit)… I can confirm that the segment heap is enabled.”
Chrome Canary primarily targets developers, so I would not advise you use it as your primary browser. That said, this is no either/or situation and those keen to discover the benefits of Segment Heap can run Chrome Canary alongside the standard version, keeping any essential tabs away from the developer edition.
But the most exciting aspect to all this is it’s just the start. Google expects memory savings to increase as code is optimized and, while it can come to all Chromium browsers, the biggest beneficiary will be Chrome as there are already leaner Chromium browsers (like Brave, which is happy to block ads by default) which are starting to gain traction.
One word of warning: the Windows 10 May 2020 update comes with a long list of known issues, so be sure to check these before installing it (Settings > Windows Update > Check For Updates). Despite this, the long term roadmap is very exciting and anyone tempted to quit Chrome might just want to stick around.
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