Chrome's Canary reveals UI refresh

The changes to browser tabs and other top-of-window elements are the first in two years; they have been rolled out only for the Windows version of the browser so far.

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Google has introduced the first changes to Chrome's UI (user interface) in two years, focusing on the shape of the browser's tabs and other top-of-window elements.

Available in "Canary," the rawest version of the browser, and so far only for Windows, the tweaked UI is hidden behind an experimental setting. To see the UI, users must type chrome://flags in the address bar, then search for UI Layout in the resulting page of optional settings. Once UI Layout has been located, change the setting from "Default" to "Refreshed" and restart the browser.

The most noticeable change currently displayed is to the tabs, which have dispensed with an earlier trapezoidal form for a rectangle with slightly-rounded upper corners. The active tab has also been slightly brightened from a very light gray to a plain white, making that most important tab stand out more than before.

Chrome's address bar - some at Google still refer to it by its oldest name, "Omnibox" - has also been rounded, replacing its flat left end with a curve.

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The standard Canary UI.

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Chrome's "Canary" build reveals UI changes almost certain to make their way to the Stable build. Among the most noticeable: Tabs are near-rectangles, not trapezoids.

Although the changes may seem minor, Google's designers have pegged the tabs as crucial to the UI.

"The key elements when you think about our Core UI are the tabs and icons," wrote Google visual designer Sebastien Gabriel in a long and detailed 2016 post about Chrome's previous overhaul. Gabriel also asserted that the redesign two years ago was to "bridg[e] the gap between our new design language on mobile and our aging desktop visuals," a process that has continued.

Other already-implemented alterations include a vertical separator at the right end of add-on icons, followed by a user's image pulled from an associated Google account, assuming the user has logged in to Chrome.

According to Ron Amadeo of Ars Technica, who reported Monday on the Chrome UI redesign, more changes have been revealed in internal Google documents found within the Chromium bug tracker. (Chromium is the open-source project, staffed by Google engineers, that cranks out the foundations for the Chrome browser.) Amadeo highlighted several, including a shift of the new-tab button - a "+" symbol in Windows - from the right to the left of the address bar.

Computerworld found those documents, but they were locked to unauthorized users, hinting that the documents were assumed to be safe from prying eyes simply because they were harbored in the bug tracker labyrinth, but were locked down after Amadeo or others discovered them.

It's unclear when the UI elements exposed in Chrome Canary will appear in the stable build of the browser. Canary is now at version 68, which is not slated to make it to production-quality until late July.

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