Hot on the heels of the final release of Chrome 17, Google has updated Chrome Beta to version 18. Its headline new feature is improved 2D graphics performance in HTML5 and a software rasterizer to enable older machines to display content rendered using newer, unsupported technologies such as WebGL.
Chrome 18 Beta also sees improvements to the PDF plug-in, plus fixes a number of issues such as full-screen performance under Windows and startup issues in Red Hat Enterprise 6.
Most Windows and Mac users should start to see major performance improvements from certain web apps and websites thanks to support for GPU-accelerated rendering for 2D Canvas content. Because of the wide variety of hardware configurations out there, the Chromium development team has taken a conservative approach to this new technology, enabling just a few features and keen to hear feedback from anyone who encounters performance issues as a result of the tweaks. To see what new features are supported by your system, type chrome://gpu/ into the URL bar.
Because many computers with older drivers and graphics systems aren’t natively capable of displaying certain technologies such as WebGL, Google has licensed a software rasterizer, SwiftShader from TransGaming, for use in Chrome. While acknowledging that performance won’t be as good as for those without graphics that natively support the newer technologies, Google claims that SwiftShader, will improve things for those running older OSes, including Windows XP. It will automatically kick in on older systems where native support from the GPU isn’t forthcoming.
Other tweaks are more minor; those people using the PDF plug-in will now find two new options for rotating PDF files clockwise and anti-clockwise using the context menu, perfect for documents that have been scanned in horizontally.
Google Chrome 18 Beta is available for download now for Windows, Mac and Linux. Note, installing this will switch your copy of Chrome to the beta channel. You won’t be able to switch back to Chrome 17 without first uninstalling Chrome 18 and then downloading and installing Chrome 17 afresh.