Through a fair bit of digging, we were able to obtain a copy of Borealis, which turned out to be another full Linux distribution. Unlike Crostini, which is based on Debian, Borealis is based on Ubuntu, another popular variety of Linux. Just like the existing Linux apps support, we believe Borealis will integrate itself with Chrome OS rather than being a full desktop experience. However, we found one key difference between Borealis and a normal installation of Ubuntu, as Borealis includes a pre-installed copy of Steam. This lines up with what we learned at CES 2020, when Kan Liu, Google’s director of product management for Chrome OS, shared that the upcoming Steam gaming support would be based on Linux. I am very curious to see how this will perform. My gut feeling is that they will position this more as an endpoint for Steam’s in-home streaming feature than as a way to play games locally on-device, since I don’t know of any ChromeBook with more graphical power than whatever integrated GPU Intel stuffs in their low-end processors.
Hidden deep in a blog post full of PR speak, Google has announced that it’s bringing Microsoft Office to Chrome OS through a partnership with Parallels. At Google, we recognize the modern way of working as being a cloud worker—on a browser and browser-based apps for the vast majority of the work day (you’re reading this in one, right?), untethered because the devices you use are mobile-friendly and cloud-native. We’ve long been saying that almost any business role can be a cloud worker, and COVID-19 has dramatically made this point. As a result, the Chrome OS team is working on new ways to make sure every company can benefit from the velocity created by supporting a cloud workforce. For example, our new partnership with Parallels brings legacy application support—which includes Microsoft Office desktop apps—to Chromebooks. More to come on this over the coming months. The Verge has more details on how, exactly, this is going to work, and the gist is that Parallels will be integrated with Chrome OS to allow Microsoft Office to run locally on the device. While Chrome OS has long supported Windows desktop apps that are streamed via the cloud through a Parallels Remote Application Server, this new partnership means the apps will run virtualized on Chromebooks instead. The new feature is set to be available this fall for Chrome Enterprise customers. Parallels Desktop will be integrated natively into Chrome OS, improving performance and enabling offline access for these applications on Chromebooks. It’s a surprising, but welcome move that will mean Chrome OS will be able to support both Android apps and Windows apps in the future. This is an interesting move, and I hope it will become available to regular, non-enterprise consumers, too.
Google has tried on and off for years to hide full URLs in Chrome’s address bar, because apparently long web addresses are scary and evil. Despite the public backlash that came after every previous attempt, Google is pressing on with new plans to hide all parts of web addresses except the domain name. A few new feature flags have appeared in Chrome’s Dev and Canary channels (V85), which modify the appearance and behavior of web addresses in the address bar. The main flag is called “Omnibox UI Hide Steady-State URL Path, Query, and Ref” which hides everything in the current web address except the domain name. For example, “https://www.androidpolice.com/2020/06/07/lenovo-ideapad-flex-5-chromebook-review/” is simply displayed as “androidpolice.com.” As I’ve said numerous times before, I like the idea of seeing if we can improve the way browsers how browsers display addresses – if we don’t try to improve because “that’s just how things are, we end up with garbage like the UNIX/Linux directory naming conventions. However, I don’t think Google doing this singlehandedly and one its own is a good idea; this should be a standards-based process, open to comments from everyone.
The state attorneys general investigating Google for potential antitrust violations are leaning toward pushing for a breakup of its ad technology business as part of an expected suit, people familiar with the situation told CNBC. Fifty attorneys general have been probing Google’s business practices for months, alongside a similar probe being led by the U.S. Department of Justice. Both the states and the DOJ are looking to file a suit against the internet giant as soon as within the next few months, the people told CNBC. Any corporate break up always depends on the details, but there’s no denying the large technology companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, and others have amassed such immense amounts of wealth and influence that they should definitely be either leashed, or broken up entirely – something the US in particular has a lot of experience with.
It seems Google has opened up a little bit about its Fuchsia operating system. A (I think) new ‘Overview’ page details what Fuchsia is, what it’s not, and what it’s intended to be used for. Security is obviously a primary goal of the operating system: Security and privacy are woven deeply into the architecture of Fuchsia. The basic building blocks of Fuchsia, the kernel primitives, are exposed to applications as object-capabilities, which means that applications running on Fuchsia have no ambient authority: applications can interact only with the objects to which they have been granted access explicitly. Software is delivered in hermetic packages and everything is sandboxed, which means all software that runs on the system, including applications and system components, receives the least privilege it needs to perform its job and gains access only to the information it needs to know. Google seems to want to make really clear that Fuchsia is diametrically the opposite of Android when it comes to updates. They don’t mince words here, and it might as well read “everything Android is not”: Fuchsia works by combining components delivered in packages. Fuchsia packages are designed to be updated independently or even delivered ephemerally, which means packages are designed to come and go from the device as needed and the software is always up-to-date, like a Web page. Fuchsia aims to provide drivers with a binary-stable interface. In the future, drivers compiled for one version of Fuchsia will continue to work in future versions of Fuchsia without needing to be modified or even recompiled. This approach means that Fuchsia devices will be able to update to newer versions of Fuchsia seamlessly while keeping their existing drivers. There’s more information about Fuchsia on the page, but the final paragraph should finally shed some light on that Google is definitely serious about the new operating system, and is intending to actually, you know, use it for stuff. Fuchsia’s goal is to power production devices and products used for business-critical applications. As such, Fuchsia is not a playground for experimental operating system concepts. Instead, the platform roadmap is driven by practical use cases arising from partner and product needs.
YouTube is automatically deleting comments that contain certain Chinese-language phrases related to criticism of the country’s ruling Communist Party (CCP). The company confirmed to The Verge this was happening in error and that it was looking into the issue. “This appears to be an error in our enforcement systems and we are investigating,” said a YouTube spokesperson. The company did not elaborate on how or why this error came to be, but said it was not the result of any change in its moderation policy. But if the deletions are the result of a simple mistake, then it’s one that’s gone unnoticed for six months. The Verge found evidence that comments were being deleted as early as October 2019, when the issue was raised on YouTube’s official help pages and multiple users confirmed that they had experienced the same problem. Sure, an “error in our enforcement systems” that was reported six months ago. I just don’t believe very specific things like this – and the trigger words are very specific and require contextual knowledge – are implemented by error.
Following the recent rollout of the new Bedtime Reminders feature in YouTube for Android, Google has now started testing a new feature that will show search results from the web within the app. The feature was recently spotted by Reddit user u/TheMrIggs when he searched “open beer with knife” in the YouTube app. As you can see in the screenshots below, the results listed a couple of related videos, as usual, followed by a new “Results from the web” card featuring a recommended result from Google Search for the same query. There are already so many ads in YouTube, and now Google is clearly considering even adding web search results to YouTube. The next step Google is probably considering will be ads inside YouTube’s search suggestions. When I go to YouTube, I go there to watch videos – not to search the web. These attempts at “synergy” are common in the technology world, and they rarely seem to benefit the user.
There are two types of people in the world: tab minimalists who have just a few tabs open at a time and tab collectors who have…significantly more. For minimalists and collectors alike, we’re bringing a new way to organize your tabs to Chrome: tab groups. This feature is available now in Chrome Beta. It looks interesting, but since I keep strict tabs on my tabs, I rarely have more than 5-8 tabs open at once, so I don’t really need this feature. Any input from tab hoarders in the audience?
Google has made significant progress toward developing its own processor to power future versions of its Pixel smartphone as soon as next year — and eventually Chromebooks as well, Axios has learned. The chip, code-named Whitechapel, was designed in cooperation with Samsung, whose state-of-the-art 5-nanometer technology would be used to manufacture the chips, according to a source familiar with Google’s effort. Samsung has also manufactured Apple’s iPhone chips, as well as its own Exynos processors. Apparently, Google has received the first batch in recent weeks. This development process has been one of the worst-kept secrets in the industry, since Google pretty much admitted it was developing its own mobile SoC years ago.
Google is replacing some Android apps for Chromebooks with Progressive Web Apps (PWAs). A PWA is essentially a webpage that looks and feels like a traditional app. This will certainly be good news for many Chromebook owners. In some cases, PWAs are faster and more functional than their Android counterparts. PWAs also take up less storage and require less juice to run. When PWAs are a better option than Android applications, you know you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel. I really don’t understand why Google doesn’t just turn Chrome OS into a more traditional desktop Linux distribution – they’ll get better applications, better tooling, and better performance than shoehorning Android applications into Chrome or pretending a website is an application.
Google has been ramping up the Linux environment on Chrome OS lately, with features like microphone support and USB connections. For those of you who spend a lot of time in the command-line Terminal, Chrome OS 83 (currently in the Dev channel) has updated the app with new themes and customization options. The Terminal app on Chrome OS has changed very little since the Linux container was originally released — it’s a single window with text. However, the new version shipping in Chrome OS 83 offers tabs, pre-made themes, customizable colors and fonts for text, and even cursor options. To be honest, I’d rather have a proper, traditional Linux distribution than Chrome OS, but I guess these are welcome additions for those among us using the terminal on Chrome OS.
Google announced its decision to drop support for the User-Agent string in its Chrome browser. Instead, Chrome will offer a new API called Client Hints that will give the user greater control over which information is shared with websites. We’ve talked about this earlier this year, but I want to highlight it again since it’s very important this initiative doesn’t devolve into Google and Chrome shoving this alternative down the web’s throat. Deprecating user agent strings is a good thing, but only if the replacement is a collective effort supported by everyone.
Due to adjusted work schedules at this time, we are pausing upcoming Chrome and Chrome OS releases. Our primary objectives are to ensure they continue to be stable, secure, and work reliably for anyone who depends on them. We’ll continue to prioritize any updates related to security, which will be included in Chrome 80. Basically, Google wants to ensure the stability of Chrome and Chrome OS now that a lot of people are working from home due to the pandemic. Good call.
In software development, and especially Google’s development cycles, there’s usually a point where the developers “eat their own dogfood” or use their own work, before letting normal users try it. It seems that Google’s long-in-development Fuchsia OS may finally be reaching this “dogfood” stage. And yet, we’re still no closer to what, exactly, Fuchsia is going to be for.
Google is planning to move its British users’ accounts out of the control of European Union privacy regulators, placing them under U.S. jurisdiction instead, sources said. The shift, prompted by Britain’s exit from the EU, will leave the sensitive personal information of tens of millions with less protection and within easier reach of British law enforcement. Brexiteers getting what they wanted and deserve.
With Google Takeout, you can download your data from Google apps as a backup or for use with another service. Unfortunately, a brief issue with the tool last November saw your videos in Google Photos possibly get exported to strangers’ archives. How does this even happen? Too bad companies like this have armies of lawyers and obtuse terms of service to hide behind – since software is a special little butterfly that isn’t held to the same standards as any other product we use – so nobody will ever be held accountable for this.
A couple of weeks back, Google redesigned the search results for its desktop website. According to the firm, the new layout was meant to mimic the ordering of search results on the mobile version of the website. Most significantly, the changes allowed the inclusion of favicons next to display results and the removal of color overlays. This meant that advertisements and traditional search results were displayed inline with little to distinguish between the two. And now Google is backpedaling. As a DDG user, this thing kind of passed me by, but upon checking Google, I have to say I agree that this feels so off. You’d think adding favicons to search results wouldn’t make a big difference, but it really does – and not for the better.
When we first launched Chromebooks, devices only received three years of automatic updates. Over the years, we’ve been able to increase that to over six. Last fall, we extended AUE on many devices currently for sale, in many cases adding an extra year or more before they expire. This will help schools better select which devices to invest in and provide more time to transition from older devices. And now, devices launching in 2020 and beyond will receive automatic updates for even longer. The new Lenovo 10e Chromebook Tablet and Acer Chromebook 712 will both receive automatic updates until June 2028. So if you’re considering refreshing your fleet or investing in new devices, now is a great time. Eight years is a decent amount of time, especially since most Chromebooks are quite cheap – so this longevity is really good value. I only wish Google were this dedicated to Android, too.
Google intends to deprecate the user agent string in Chrome. According to the proposal, the first step is to deprecate the “navigator.userAgent” method used to access the User Agent string, suggested to start in March with Chrome 81. This change won’t have any visible effect for most people, and websites will continue to work completely as normal. However, web developers will be given explicit warnings in the Chrome development console that retrieving the User Agent string is no longer a good idea. Next, with the release of Chrome 83 in June, Google will begin to freeze, or stop updating, the User Agent string with each update to Chrome. At the same time, Chrome will also “unify” the information shared about your device’s operating system, for example meaning that two computers on slightly different Windows 10 updates should have the same User Agent. This will eliminate one more potential fingerprinting method. Finally, beginning in September’s Chrome 85 release, every Chrome rowser running on a desktop operating system, such as Windows, macOS, or Linux, will report the exact same User Agent string, eliminating all possible User Agent fingerprinting. Similarly, Chrome 85 will unify the User Agent on mobile devices, though devices will apparently be lumped into one of a few categories based on screen size. User agent strings have long outlived their usefulness, and today only serve to artificially restrict browser access in the stupidest of ways. I’m obviously not comfortable with Google spearheading this effort, so I’m counting on a lot of scrutiny from the web community and other browser makers.
Of course, that was also a very different time. In 2010, Wi-Fi wasn’t nearly as ubiquitous as it is today. Tethering was something I would only do under the most urgent of circumstances, given my (rooted) phone’s measly data plan allowance. The Chromebook was here, but the world wasn’t quite ready for the Chromebook. In 2019, a public space, restaurant, or even a shopping center without free Wi-Fi is basically unconscionable. Tethering using your smartphone is easier and more practical than ever. Connectivity is all around us, and technologies like Bluetooth and mesh networking have made our lives the most wire-free they’ve been since, well, wires were a thing. We live in a world where the Chromebook, and Chrome OS, should be thriving. But increasingly, it looks like Google’s cloud-first laptop platform has hit a dead end, and I’m not sure there are many available detours that can get it back on track. I haven’t yet used Chrome OS for any appreciable amount of time other than a short stint after getting it running on my Surface Pro 4 – a fun side project – but a good Chromebook has been on my list for a long time. I gave my aunt one a few years ago, set it up, and never heard any tech help question from her ever again – the device has been rock solid, zero issues, and she loves it. A radical departure from her Windows laptop before that, for sure, which was a support nightmare. In any event, I find it difficult to say anything meaningful about the linked editorial, since I simply lack the long-term experience as a user of the platform. I do think Chrome OS’ slowing development – if that is actually taking place – might simply be because the platform has grown up, has found its niche, and is content settling there. I don’t think Chromebooks have it in them to truly break into the wider PC market, since Windows and Apple PCs have that pretty well locked down.