Google Chrome turns 15 this month, and it's getting a makeover and some upgrades to mark the occasion.
This is significant because Chrome is used by billions of people worldwide, so every change Google makes can have a huge impact on the Internet and how those people interact with it. Even if you don't use Chrome or don't care for the way Google is updating it, you can count on any major change having a ripple effect across the web as users, publishers and hackers adapt.
While the changes Google is making this month aren't the most major we've ever seen, they will significantly change the look and feel of Chrome.
According to a Google blog post the venerable browser is finally getting a visual upgrade to fall in line with Google's Material You design language, which first debuted with Android 12 in 2021. It's also getting a new Google Search side panel, a revamped web store and a security upgrade intended to better protect you against phishing attacks.
There's a lot of little details to dig into, so let's dive right into all the new stuff we're getting to mark Chrome's 15th birthday.
Material You arrives on Chrome
The biggest change you'll notice in Chrome is the new look, which Google is rolling out to all users in the weeks ahead. This new look applies the Material You design language we first saw on Android devices across a redesigned Chrome. This means new color palettes, new themes, more legible icons and more.
Google pitches this as not just a cosmetic change but a usability upgrade, since you can set different color palettes for work/personal Chrome accounts to differentiate between them. The company also claims Chrome is getting better integration with major operating systems so it can more effectively respect your OS-level dark/light mode settings, which sounds like a win for 24/7 dark mode freaks like me.
New Search side panel
Perhaps the biggest new feature we're getting to mark Chrome's 15th birthday is a new Search panel you can call up that can do things like search the page, recommend follow-up searches and run searches on individual images to find their source.
You access this panel by clicking the three-dot menu icon in the upper-right corner of Chrome and clicking the new "Search this page with Google" option. Doing so summons a panel from the right side of the browser which appears to be the Chrome Side Panel, which users can already access by clicking the little side panel icon between your profile icon and the icon you click to manage Chrome extensions. Before this upgrade you could already access that side panel and set it to do things like list your bookmarks or browser history, and this new search functionality looks likely to make it a little more useful.
Incidentally, if you're participating in Google's Search Labs (which lets some users sign up to test Chrome features in development) you've likely seen this Google Search side panel before, since it's been in testing for a minute.
Google has also been testing different generative AI upgrades for Chrome in Search Labs as part of its SGE (Search Generative Experience), and users who opt in to test those features will see AI-generated links appearing in the Search side panel on eligible sites. Expect things like auto-generated lists of key points on a webpage you can click on to jump down the page, auto-generated lists of answers to questions that the page answers which you can click to jump right to the answer, etc.
By rolling out this new side panel and AI-powered in-page search functionality Google is making Chrome look a little more like Microsoft's Edge browser, which already offers a Bing side panel powered by ChatGPT you can access to do things like ask ChatGPT questions about the page, have it generate things based on the text and more.
New security features
Chrome is also getting some security upgrades that should make you a little safer around the web. Most notably, Chrome is ditching its policy of keeping local (that is, on your PC) records of bad sites to check against when you're browsing the web.
Until now Chrome would check every site you visited against a locally-stored list of known dangers, but the problem is that list is updated every 30-60 minutes.
According to Google that's too slow these days, since some phishing sites exist for 10 minutes or less. So instead, Chrome will now check every website you visit against Google's list of bad sites, which is updated at a much faster clip.
Chrome will also soon start giving you warnings when an extension you've installed is a potential threat. Google has upgraded it to display warnings when an extension is known to be malware, has been removed from the Chrome Web Store for policy violations, or is unpublished by its developer.
Chrome Web Store gets a glow-up
Google is also updating and renovating the Chrome Web Store with this update, decking the storefront out in Material You design language and adding new categories of extensions to peruse.
In addition to a fresh look and new categories like AI-powered extensions and an Editor's spotlight, the Chrome Web Store will offer a regularly-updated list of what Google calls "more personalized recommendations" for extensions.
All together these updates should give Chrome a fresh new look and feel, which I think it badly needs. They should also make it a bit safer and easier to use, which is a big deal for the billions using it worldwide.
Personally, I'm curious to see how the web changes in response to these shifts. We're seeing some astonishing uses of AI around the Internet, and as browsers like Chrome and Edge integrate chatbots capable of scanning pages and navigating or rewriting them for you I can't help but wonder how websites adapt to help (or hinder) them.