What's in the latest Chrome update? More new tab page customization, in-browser Google Drive search

With Chrome 78, tab hover text arrives, users have more options to tweak the new tab page, and yes, forced dark mode is possible. Business users get the ability to search Google Drive from the Chrome address bar.

pcw chrome primary
Rob Schultz

Google on Tuesday rolled out Chrome 78, the latest version of its world-dominant browser, that included patches for 37 security vulnerabilities, new customization options for the new tab page, and search integration with Google Drive.

The Mountain View, Calif. firm paid out $58,500 in bug bounties — up 41% over September's Chrome 77 — to researchers who reported some of the flaws. Three were ranked "High," the second-most-serious category in Google's four-step ratings, but none was tagged as "Critical," the topmost rating. Two of the three High-ranked vulnerabilities were submitted by Man Yue Mo of Semmle, a San Francisco security company, in return for $35,000 in reward money.

Chrome updates in the background, so most users only need to relaunch the browser to finish the upgrade. To manually update, select "About Google Chrome" from the Help menu under the vertical ellipsis at the upper right; the resulting tab shows that the browser has been updated or displays the download process before presenting a "Relaunch" button. Those who are new to Chrome can download the latest for Windows, macOS and Linux from here.

Google updates Chrome every six to eight weeks. It last upgraded the browser September 10.

New new tab page options

Google continued to make progress in a slow process of, if not overhauling the new tab page, then at least upping the customization quotient.

Chrome 77 introduced backgrounds to the browser, giving users several image collections — landscapes, seascapes, geometric patterns and such — and letting them upload one of their own to fill in the previously plain new tab page. (The image is not like a skin, à la Firefox, but appears only on the new tab page.)

The newer Chrome 78 keeps that but also adds more options when the user flips some bits. After typing chrome://flags in the address bar and pressing Return or Enter, search for two settings:

  • Chrome Colors menu
  • NTP customization menu version 2

Set each to "Enabled" and relaunch Chrome 78.

In the lower right of the new tab page, click on the pencil icon to see and set the new options for colors and on-page shortcuts.

At some point, Google will switch this on for everyone, eliminating the need to set flags; it hasn't said when, however.

Search Google Drive from Chrome's address bar

A long-promised feature — comprehensive search of Google Drive — will also come to Chrome 78, even though it may not be immediately available.

"Rolling out in the coming weeks, users will be able to search for Google Drive files that they have access to from the address bar," Google wrote in its accompanying Chrome-in-the-enterprise documentation. "Their input will search through both titles and document contents, and the most relevant documents based on their history will appear."

There's a big caveat: It's available only to users of G Suite Business, G Suite Enterprise, or G Suite Enterprise for Education. "This behavior is on by default and can be controlled with the 'Google Drive search suggestions' setting in the G Suite admin console," wrote Google.

Google, like other software makers, often distributes its work in stages, rolling out new features and functionality in waves so that if problems pop up, those issues don't impact everyone.

Google also wrapped up work bringing Legacy Browser Support (LBS) into Chrome with version 78. Starting with Chrome 74, Google began deconstructing a long-available add-on and putting it inside Chrome. Configured by IT personnel, LBS automatically opens Internet Explorer 11 (IE11) when links clicked within Chrome lead to websites, web services or web apps requiring Microsoft's browser or its ActiveX controls. Administrators can deploy the baked-in LBS support and manage it using group policies or Chrome Browser Cloud Management's User Settings.

Tab hover, progress on passwords and, of course, who can forget dark mode?

Chrome 78 now puts text boxes at the pointer's position when the user hangs it over any tab. Dubbed "tab hover cards," the aides are particularly helpful when the browser's tab bar is overloaded to the point where there's no room for distinguishing labels.

chrome 78 tab hover cards IDG

Tab hover cards pop up in Chrome 78 when the user suspends the pointer on an inactive tab (in this case, the middle of the three tabs). The box tells users what's on that tab.

Elsewhere, Google moved closer to finalizing work on in-Chrome notification of exposed credentials. Originally intended to ship in this version (Chrome 78), the feature was pushed to Chrome 79 instead. Exactly how Chrome will notify users that a username/password pair has been revealed by a data breach has not been explained, but the tool has not been activated in Chrome 78. (Rival Mozilla just introduced password alerts in Firefox 70, the version that launched Tuesday.)

Even though it hasn't been switched on by Google, users of Chrome 78 can do so: After accessing the chrome://flags page, find and set Password Leak Detection to "Enabled." That will turn on the feature; to verify, users should call up Settings and look under Autofill > Passwords for the toggle marked "Check password safety." If the toggle is in the on position, Chrome should tell you when it detects that a data breach-revealed password has been used.

chrome 78 check password safety setting IDG

Chrome 78 is supposed to warn users when they type in passwords that have already been blown by a data breach, but the feature requires a trip into chrome://flags. The toggle shown here is how the alert system is controlled from then on.

(Computerworld's spot testing of leaked-password detection in Chrome 78 returned iffy results. Entering the password of one of the accounts that Google said had been compromised caused a pop-up to appear, carrying the message "A data breach on a site or app you use exposed your password. Chrome recommends checking your saved passwords now." But other accounts that Google lumped in the same compromised category did not trigger the warning.)

Another not-quite-ready feature, dubbed "Force Dark Mode," can be enabled by those who can't get enough dark mode. Rather than wait for websites to support an operating system's dark mode — the sudden fascination with flipping light to dark — Chrome will invert every website. From the chrome://flags page, locate Force Dark Mode for Web Contents and set it to Enabled. (This option has seven switched-on options; experiment to find a preference.) Relaunch the browser, and the web will be turned inside out, or at least go dark.

Chrome's next upgrade, to version 79, is slated to debut on or about Dec. 10. That refresh will be the last one for 2019.

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