All about Google Chrome & Google Chrome OS

29 Dec 12 Google Chrome Browser Cracking Down on Extensions

The Windows version of Google Chrome is one of the most widely used browsers. And Google is now tightening restrictions on browser extensions that install themselves without full notification to users.

This may be frustrating for companies that bundle browser extensions with their standard user download packages. But it will make the Chrome browser more secure and set a positive security example for browser extensions generally. And for the IT community at midsize firms, this is a welcome development.

Browser extensions have become an all too popular vector for malware exploits. This makes better protection of browsers good news for all users–not just individuals using a browser to surf the Internet, but companies that depend on the open Web to reach out to customers.

Google ChromeAsk Before Installing

As Seth Rosenblatt reports at CNET, Google Chrome for Windows will now require most browser extensions to get explicit user acknowledgment and permission before the extension can be installed. Two new features in Chrome 25 will enforce the new rules.

The only extensions exempt from the new requirement are those that come directly from the Chrome store, and are thus under the Google aegis.

According to Peter Ludwig, Chrome product manager, the previous policy of allowing silent installation of third-party extensions had been “widely abused” to install extensions “without proper acknowledgement from users.” Henceforth, third-party extensions will be disabled by default. A notification box will say that an extension has been installed and give the user the option of enabling it.

Another feature in Chrome 25 will make this protective functionality retroactive. Existing third-party extensions will be disabled, with a prompt allowing users to re-enable them.

In Line With Mozilla

The new protective functionality brings Chrome into line with Mozilla Firefox, which already requires notification by third-party add-ons. The move may be unwelcome by some companies and other organizations that have incorporated browser extensions in their uploads. But comments on the CNET piece were strongly supportive of the move.

IT professionals at midsize firms have a strong stake in measures that strengthen browser security. Browsers are users’ doors to the open Web, an environment that allows midsize firms to compete on an even playing field.

The mobility era is already posing a challenge to the open Web, as app-ification and walled gardens make the full Web harder to reach. The continued availability of safe, secure browsers is a key protection against the fragmentation of the Web and dominance by large vendors. This makes the latest Chrome for Windows protections a very good move for midsize firms.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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04 May 12 Google Drive For Chrome OS: Mobility and the Cloud

Google Drive is now being integrated with Google’s lighweight, essentially mobile-oriented Chrome operating system. This could be crucial to the future of both products. But more important, it underlines the symbiotic relationship between mobility and the cloud.

Talk about “thin clients” and remote storage has been around for years. But it is no coincidence that it finally began to catch on at the same time as mobile use takes off. And while the mobile trend has been largely consumer-driven, it has broad implications for IT at midsize firms. Most business computer use is by “consumers” of IT services. Mobility has impacted them in much the same way that it has impacted the general consumer public.

Overcast DayA Local Disk in the Cloud

As reported by Stephen Shankland at CNET, Google Drive is being incorporated into the lastest release of the Chrome operating system (version 20.0.1116.0). The integration was announced in a Chrome blog post.

For the Chrome OS, it is a critical step. The browser-based operating system achieves compactness at the price of a limited file-management system. And until now, the only way to make files saved on Chrome available elsewhere was by taking a fairly clunky user action, such as emailing a document to yourself.

Now, anything done through the Chrome OS will be integrated automatically and seamlessly into Drive’s cloud. Said Chrome OS product manager Scott Johnston, “It’s as if you have a local disk, but it happens to be stored in the cloud.”

Multiple Devices and the Cloud

The Chrome OS is not “mobile” in the same sense that Android is, designed specifically for smartphones and other very small mobile devices. But it is tailored for compact “Chromebooks,” which are certainly mobile in the sense of being carried along by their owners and used in various places.

More broadly, mobility goes along with having and using multiple devices. And therein lies a tale about data storage. So long as computer users typically worked on just one machine, storing data locally was simple, practical, and convenient. Having a work computer and a home computer didn’t really change this, since little data was shared between them.

But once the typical user has several devices, and wants to share data, whether personal music or work contacts, freely among them, the local-storage paradigm goes out the window. A local drive on one device is effectively “in the cloud” for all the other devices. So storage may as well really be in the cloud.

This mobile cloud paradigm does not just apply to consumers. For better or worse, it applies to IT as well. Mobile devices have come to work, and workplace computing access has gone on the road. Both trends mean that a midsize firm’s data can no longer be assumed to reside on local disks or even a local network.

For IT managers at these firms, it means some additional data management and data security headaches. But for the firms, it means greater flexibility. In any case, the symbiosis of mobility and the cloud is a fact of contemporary IT life.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Become a fan of the program on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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27 Apr 12 Chrome for Android Soon to Exit Beta

Google’s Chrome for Android browser could soon complete beta testing and go into general release. This move could mean an end to the “app era” for mobile devices. A capable browser tailored to Android devices could give mobile computing (at least Android mobile computing) the flexibility we associate with the wired Internet.

This would be a blow to the re-emerging walled garden model of captive consumers, along with the firms building those walled gardens. And a mobile environment more like the wired Internet could mean new freedom for midsize firms. Freedom for consumers also means freedom for firms seeking to reach those consumers.

big sky countrySwatting Bugs

As reported by Stephen Shankland at CNET, Google’s Sundar Pichai, senior vice president for Chrome and Apps, outlined expectations for Chrome for Android in a recent interview. The interview coincided with the release of the second beta version. According to Pichai, Chrome developers are still working on bugs and stability. But the mobile version of Google’s browser is expected to be ready for general release in “a matter of weeks.”

The initial beta version was released in February, and drew positive reviews. Chrome will be available only for Android 4.0, better known as Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS). At this point few ICS phones have entered the marketplace, but Google obviously expects that to change.

Leapfrogging Apple and Facebook?

Browsers are such a familiar and established technology that we can forget their central importance in providing full access to the Internet. But the limitations of mobile-device browsers have caused the mobile environment to develop thus far in a quite different way.

The mobile world is dominated by apps. These are typically small programs that support only one activity and only on one site. This is great news for the app’s provider–the user is much less likely to click away to some other site.

Thus, apps support a walled-garden model of online experience. Apple has built its entire iGadget experience around a walled-garden model, while Facebook is promoting a walled-garden model even for the wired Internet.

With Chrome for Android, Google is challenging this walled garden and seeking to encourage full access to the open Internet, even for mobile devices.

If consumers accept this invitation, midsize firms stand to be major winners. The walled-garden model, promoted by giants like Apple and Facebook, shuts midsize firms out. At best, they can reach consumers only on terms dictated by the walled garden’s owner.

For midsize firms, an open Internet for mobile devices will open new channels that IT managers at those firms can offer to marketing and other departments seeking to interact directly with consumers, not limited by the narrow confines of apps and walled gardens.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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24 Feb 12 Chrome Password Generator: Google’s Way of Gently Reminding Users to Use …

It seems Google doesn’t think you should trust users with their passwords. Google has started developing a new feature, the Chrome password generator. And it is a good point to consider. While the IT crowd is smart with their passwords, end users have proved over and over that they’ll choose convenience over security, regardless of the obvious consequences. So, perhaps they’re on to something here, and it might help you manage the end-users in your midsize business.

The Good and the Bad

Google’s long-term plan is to couple a “browser sign-in” feature, meaning you would sign in upon opening Chrome, with OpenID for Web pages. However, they’re aware that it will take time to get hosts to sign on, so they have another plan in the meantime. Google’s current project is to use heuristics to detect when you are on a page that allows you to register an account. When you begin the registering process, there will be an icon in the password field that you can click on, which will generate a random, strong password managed by the Password Manager, according to ZDNet.

The feature only works with Chrome, obviously, and only works with new passwords when you sign up for an account on a Web page. Google notes that they may, in the future, ask users to change their passwords with this feature, but fear it might only annoy some users. But wait, what if you need to use your password outside of Chrome? Google thought of that, apparently, and will establish a site to retrieve and “potentially export” your passwords.

Chromium LogoGoogle isn’t discounting the flaws of this plan. As noted in their Chromium blog, the feature won’t work for sites that have auto-complete turned off. Because of that, Google notes that users won’t be protected against 40 to 70 percent of phishing pages. Google’s tentative idea to combat this is to have users log in to the browser again upon visiting a Web site like this. Google also notes that their storing users’ passwords to every applicable site will make them a higher-value target, but argue “that won’t change much” and therefore apparently believe they can handle it.

Benefits to Business

You can’t really deny that end-users are, in general, quite lazy with their passwords. They either choose ones that are ridiculously easy to remember, reuse passwords for different sites, or both. Indeed, a SplashData report confirmed that many users are still using painfully weak passwords, as discussed in a previous infoboom article. This, in turn puts your company’s network at risk. Any business-related information your end-users handle could be compromised if their passwords are stolen or cracked. Since it generally seems users will use easy-to-remember passwords no matter what you tell them, a feature like this has the potential to be well received. However, this is only a benefit if your midsize business uses Chrome or plans to switch. Although unlikely, if there isn’t much keeping you with your current browser other than maintaining consistency, this might be an argument to switch. That is debatable, as one major browser always seems to set the trend for others, depending on who comes out with said feature first.

That said, if other browsers do follow suit, you might reap the benefits of Google’s idea anyway. While it will require some polishing, and some users might rebel, something like the Chrome password generator might be the only way to handle end-user password safety, since there is little you can do short of assigning passwords yourselves. On the scale that Google will be doing it, this would likely take more time than it is worth for you when you could be focusing on more strategic IT issues.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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