Google ships Chrome 18, patches bugs and boosts hardware acceleration

For two days this month, Chrome's share trumped Internet Explorer's

Google yesterday patched nine vulnerabilities in Chrome and boosted the speed and reach of the browser's hardware acceleration with the launch of version 18.

According to the company, Chrome 18 enables accelerated Canvas 2D on Windows and Mac machines with compatible graphics processor units (GPUs), and expands support for the WebGL 3D standard to older systems.

Canvas 2D acceleration has been part of earlier builds of Chrome, but this is the first time that Google has turned it on in a "stable" version of the browser.

Google last refreshed Chrome seven weeks ago on Feb. 8. 2012. Google generates an update to its stable channel about every six to eight weeks, a slightly more flexible schedule than rival Mozilla's strict every-six-weeks tempo.

Three of the nine vulnerabilities patched today were rated "high," the second-most dire ranking in Google's threat system. Five were marked "medium" and one was tagged "low."

Google paid $4,000 in bounties to six researchers for reporting the same number of bugs, and handed another $8,000 to four investigators who uncovered flaws that were patched by Google engineers before Chrome 18 made it to its final milestone. The three remaining vulnerabilities in the nine were uncovered by Google's own security team.

The search firm has paid more than $210,000 to outside researchers from its bug bounty and hacking challenge accounts this year. The latter, dubbed "Pwnium," laid out $120,000 to two researchers at the CanSecWest security conference earlier this month.

Chrome 18 also included the new Adobe Flash Player 11.2, which featured patches for two critical vulnerabilities in the popular media software. Chrome is the only browser to bundle Flash Player.

Flash Player 11.2's most prominent feature -- a new background update mechanism for Windows PCs -- is not applicable to the version integrated with Chrome, since the browser uses its own silent update service to deliver fixes for the oft-exploited and -repaired plug-in.

Per its usual practice, Google blocked access to its bug tracking database for the just-patched vulnerabilities to prevent outsiders from gleaning information that could be used to build exploits.

The enabling of hardware-accelerated Canvas 2D -- a function within HTML5 -- will speed up rendering in Web applications, including games, Google said in a blog post Wednesday.

And WebGL support has been extended to systems with older GPUs and drivers in Chrome 18, said Google, courtesy of a licensing arrangement with Canadian company TransGaming, whose SwiftShader software rasterizer kicks in on machines not able to use WebGL, such as PCs running Windows XP.

Adobe also licenses SwiftShader.

Chrome 18 users can enter "chrome://gpu" in the address bar -- sans the quotation marks -- to see a summary of what hardware acceleration standards their PC or Mac supports.

Internet metrics company Net Applications said earlier this month that Chrome accounted for 18.9% of all browsers used in February, keeping it in third place behind Firefox (with 20.9%) and Microsoft's Internet Explorer (52.8%).

Rival measurement company StatCounter, however, currently puts Chrome at 30.8% for March so far, with IE at 34.8% and Firefox at 25%.

On two days this month -- both Sundays, when more people are likely to use their home computers than a work machine -- StatCounter's numbers showed Chrome's share was higher than IE's .

Microsoft has disputed StatCounter's claim , arguing that the Irish analytics firm's data is inaccurate because it doesn't account for the sparse numbers from countries like China, and doesn't eliminate the "pre-rendered" pages Chrome loads but that a user may never view.

Chrome 18 can be downloaded for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux from Google's website. Users running the browser will be updated automatically through its silent service.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer , on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is .

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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