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11 Feb 12 More hardware acceleration in Chrome beta, dev gets latest JS

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The newly-minted Chrome 18 beta expands the scope of hardware acceleration in the browser to older computers, but it’s still not available to all. Meanwhile, Chrome 19 dev goes bleeding edge with JavaScript.

Released today, Google Chrome 18 beta for Windows, Mac, and Chrome Frame improves 2D Canvas support and introduces a software rasterizer. The new features are not yet available on Chrome 18 beta for Linux.

Basically, this means that games and animations based in the HTML5 Canvas tag ought to run faster and appear smoother. Google noted in its blog post announcing the changes that this was hard for them to implement because of the “numerous hardware and operating system configurations” that people use.

It’s complicated enough that to display 3D content on older computers or those running Windows XP, Google went out and licensed a software rasterizer called SwiftShader from TransGaming. SwiftShader only kicks on when Chrome’s built-in GPU acceleration doesn’t activate.

Adventurous types can see precisely what’s being accelerated by typing chrome://gpu into the location bar, or can force SwiftShader on by adding the–blacklist-accelerated-compositing and–blacklist-webgl flags to the browser’s command line.

Also updated today, the developer’s build of Chrome 19 (download for Windows, Mac, Linux) begins to support the latest version of JavaScript.

Code-named “Harmony” and not due until the end of 2013, Google has nevertheless decided to begin to support some of its components. These include Lexical scoping, weak maps, collections, and proxies.

Harmony support will not work by default; you must enable it by first going to chrome://flags in the location bar and activate “Experimental JavaScript features”. And of course, this is more for developers than for practical application. As few of the Harmony standards have been fully baked, not many sites will have implemented them yet. This continues to push Chrome’s reputation as an early adopter of many technical browser advantages, its lack of Do Not Track support notwithstanding.

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