Chrome 79: global media controls rolling out

Google is in the process of rolling out a new global media control feature in the company’s Chrome web browser for desktop operating systems. The company launched the feature initially for its ChromeOS operating system to provide users with better media management capabilities.

Depending on how you use Chrome, it may sometimes be difficult to control media playback. Say you like to play media in the background while you do other things in the browser. If you need to change playback parameters quickly, e.g. pause playback or skip to the next video or track, you need to activate the tab the media plays in to get access to the controls provided by the page.

Tip: check out our complete Chrome muting guide

Chrome 79: global media controls

chrome control media playback

When you play media in Chrome 79 or later, Chrome displays a new icon in the browser’s main toolbar. The icon is only displayed on media playback and hidden otherwise. Note that Google is rolling out the change currently and that it may not be visible right now on individual browser instances.

chrome media controls

A flag is available that turns the feature on or off. You control it in the following way:

  1. Load chrome://flags/#global-media-controls in the web browser’s address bar.
  2. Set the flag to Enabled to turn it on or Disabled to turn it off. Default sets it to whatever Google has selected for the browser.
  3. Restart Google Chrome.

A click on the icon in the Chrome address bar displays playback controls and information about the media. You get options to play/pause the media, use back and forward operations, or use skip functionality.

Multiple media items may be displayed at the same time in the interface if you started playback of multiple items. I ran a quick test on YouTube and Soundcloud, and Chrome displays options to control playback for both in the new UI.

control playback

For each media, Chrome displays the site and title at all times. For some, YouTube at the very least, it displays imagery next to that as you can see on the screenshot above.

Closing Words

I like the idea of using global controls for media in the web browser. It offers a quick way to pause playback or skip without having to switch tabs to do so necessarily.

Now You: What is your take on this?

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PocketTube offers better YouTube Subscriptions Management

YouTube’s subscription feature is a prime example of a feature that has been cut down to its very core to make it as simple as possible and at the same time almost entirely useless.

The Google-owned property removed the option to manage subscriptions in collections in 2015 and with it came the removal of nearly any subscription-related option such as sorting. It is nearly impossible to keep an eye on subscriptions if the count reaches two or even three digits using native functionality especially since subscriptions are barely highlighted anymore on YouTube’s homepage.

Extensions provide the only recourse to the dumbing down; we reviewed YouTube Subscription Manager for Chrome back in 2015 which restored management functionality.

PocketTube offers similar but more advanced functionality. The subscription manager is available for Chrome and Firefox, Apple iOS and Android, and as a web service.

Among the many features that it offers is native integration on YouTube, options to create groups and add subscriptions to groups, sort subscriptions or show last YouTube videos by group.

I looked at the browser extensions for this review.

youtube subscriptions manager groups

The extension adds a new entry to YouTube’s sidebar that is called Subscription Groups. The widget lists all available groups and may display the channels added to these groups. One of your first tasks is to create at least one group as you will notice otherwise that the “add to group” dialog displays nothing. The develop should consider adding info to the dialog if no group has been created to assist first-time users.

Once you have created your first group you may add channels to it. Just open any channel page on YouTube and click on the new “plus” icon next to the subscribe(d) and notifications options.

youtube groups

PocketTube displays all available groups and the selection of any adds the channel to that group. Groups can be sorted by date published, A-Z, subscriber count or custom sort order; the latter supports dragging and dropping channels to new positions.

The settings that PocketTube provides list an option to hide channels that you have added to groups from the general subscriptions listing. It is disabled by default though.

One of the best features of PocketTube is the ability to display all recent videos of a group on a new page on YouTube.  Instead of having to go through all subscriptions on YouTube, as the site offers no grouping option anymore, you can open videos from a specific group only; very useful. Videos are listed in order of publication starting with the most recent additions. A play all button is provided on the page to play all videos one after the other.

There is more on offer here though. You can add custom icons to collections to make them stand out more if you use multiple groups. Settings may be exported and imported for manual syncing but there is also an option to sync automatically using Google Drive.

Closing Words

PocketTube restores a much needed feature on YouTube and improves it significantly. It is ideal for users of the site who have a medium to large number of subscriptions and want better manageability of these channels. While it takes a moment to set everything up, it is relatively easy to do.

Now You: do you use Youtube’s subscription service?

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Google stops rollout of Chrome 79 for Android

Google has stopped the rollout of Chrome 79 for Android. The new stable version of the mobile web browser was released last week for supported desktop and mobile operating systems.

Shortly after the release of Chrome 79 for Android, users started to post on the official Chrome Help forum claiming that data available in Chrome 78 was not migrated to Chrome 79. According to Google, the new version rolled out to 50% of the entire userbase already.

Developers too started to report the issue on the Chromium bug tracking site stating that the update to Chrome 79 would clear localstorage and websql.

chrome 79 android issue

While Chrome works fine when it comes to opening websites in the browser, it is applications that rely on WebView functionality that are affected by the bug. Some applications that are available on Google Play use the component to provide access to a website or web application, and these use local storage options such as WebSQL or localStorage to save user data locally.

In other words: any data that has been stored locally by the app, e.g. personalization and customization of the application, files, or credentials, are not loaded anymore. It appears that Google migrated data but forgot to include several key locations during migration. Further analysis revealed that the data is still there but that it is not loaded anymore by the applications.

One developer stated that encrypted login information from users was no longer available and that users who could not remember their login information could not access their accounts anymore according to Zdnet.

From a user perspective, it looks as if everything has been reset and that led to a high number of negative reviews for said applications on the official Play Store. Problem is, the anger, which is understandable, is directed against the wrong targets. Developers are not responsible for the issue but they face the consequences.

Google engineers are still discussing a solution for the issue. While it is possible to migrate data, it could potentially overwrite new data created by users since the update was performed.

Closing Words

Google stopped the rollout of Chrome 79 for Android and there is little that users can do currently. Those already upgraded to Chrome 79 face the bug and need to wait for Google to fix it. Whether that will result in a restoration of the data remains to be seen.

Now You: Are you affected by the issue?

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Google removes options to always show www in the Chrome browser's address bar

Google Chrome users who visit the sites www.example.com and example.com will only see example.com listed in the browser’s address bar going forward.

Google implemented a change in Chrome 76 earlier this year that removed the www-part of the web address from the browser’s address bar. Chrome cut the www-part by default in that version; Google engineers claimed that most users did not require the information.

This isn’t information that most users need to concern themselves with in most cases.

Here are two screenshots made in Chrome 79. The first shows how Chrome cuts off the www-part of the address (and the protocol as well), the second how the address looks like if displayed in its entirety.

ghacks chrome without www

ghacks chrome full address

At least some users felt that Google removed a vital part of a website’s address as www.example.com and example.com don’t necessarily load the same resource. While it is possible to double-click in the address bar to display the full URL, if it is cut by the browser, it is another step that users have to take to find out the full URL of a site.

Chrome users could restore the old status quo by modifying an experimental flag in the browser. The change would restore the www. part in the Chrome address bar so that it is displayed whenever a site (like ghacks) makes use of it.

It appears that Google removed the option in Chrome 79 which it released a few days ago. Going forward, Chrome users have no option to restore the www-part of a web address if it is used by a site in the browser using the experimental flag.

The only option that remains available is to install the company’s Suspicious Site Reporter extension for the browser which restores the information. Downside to installing the extension is that it gives Google permission to read the browsing history.

Popular Chromium-based browsers such as Vivaldi, Opera, Brave or Microsoft Edge have not implemented the change yet. It remains to be seen if they follow Google and keep the “trivial” part of the address hidden in the browser or if they create patches to restore the full information instead.

Closing Words

I dislike any attempt to “dumb down” a browser especially if there is no reason for doing so or at least an option for advanced users to restore functionality that I consider essential. Google may be right that most Internet users don’t understand the difference between www.example.com and example.com, but is that reason enough to remove the information?

What is gained by removing it other than a bit more space in the browser’s address bar?

Now You: What is your take on Google’s decision? (via Bleeping Computer)

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Google Chrome 79 Stable released with security improvements

Google released a new stable version of the company’s Chrome web browser on December 10, 2019. Google Chrome 79 is currently being rolled out globally.

Chrome users may run a manual update check to retrieve the update immediately; this is done with a click on Menu > Help > About Google Chrome. Chrome should pick up the new version automatically at that point,  Chrome version 79.0.3945.79, and install it. A restart is required to complete the update.

Chrome 79 comes with several security improvements that Senior Product Manager AbdelKarim Mardini highlights on the official Chrome blog.

Note that the majority of improvements are being rolled out over time, and that they are linked to specific settings in Chrome.

Leaked Password Checks

Google has integrated password checks into the web browser that check if usernames or passwords have been compromised in data breaches. The company started to integrate the password checker in Chrome in September 2019 and introduced the functionality for Google Accounts. The function was previously available as a standalone extension for the Chrome browser.

The main idea behind the feature is simple: Google collects information about leaked usernames and passwords and maintains a database. Chrome checks hashes against the database to find out if the used data has leaked previously.

Chrome users may control the functionality under Settings > Sync, or by loading chrome://settings/syncSetup directly in the browser’s address bar.

Google notes that the feature is being rolled out gradually to all signed in Chrome users as part of the Safe Browsing protections.

Better Phishing Protection

Google improved the company’s Chrome browser’s phishing protection in Chrome 79. One of the main improvements moves phishing protection from a 30-minute update interval to real-time on desktop versions of Chrome.

Google implemented this to counter attacks that tried to evade detection.

However, some phishing sites slip through that 30-minute window, either by quickly switching domains or by hiding from our crawlers.

The feature is being rolled out to Chrome users who have “Make searches and browsing better” enabled. The setting is available on the chrome://settings/syncSetup page; downside to activating the option is that visited URLs are submitted to Google.

Another phishing-related improvement is an extension of the browser’s predictive phishing protection. Already enabled since 2017 for Chrome users who have Sync enabled, it is now protecting Chrome users who don’t use sync.

Now we’ll be protecting your Google Account password when you sign in to Chrome, even if Sync is not enabled. In addition, this feature will now work for all the passwords you store in Chrome’s password manager. Hundreds of millions more users will now benefit from the new warnings.

Google makes no mention of dependencies in the announcement.

Closing Words

Google Chrome 79 gets new security features but the majority of features depend on certain settings in the browser that some users at least may consider problematic.

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Share Clipboard content between desktop and mobile Chrome versions

Google continues its work on integrating cross-platform features in the company’s Chrome browser. Users of the web browser may use the browser’s “send to” functionality already to push webpages to other devices and Chrome instances that are connected to the same Google Account.

Starting in Chrome 79, Google integrated a new experimental feature in the browser to push Clipboard content to other devices. The feature is not enabled by default and Chrome users need to activate several flags in the browser before it becomes available.

chrome clipboard sharing feature

Note: Experimental flags may come and go at any time. Some are integrated natively in Chrome, others removed without warning.

Here is how to set this up:

  1. Make sure that Chrome 79 or later is used.
  2. Make sure that Chrome Sync is enabled (via Menu > Settings).
  3. Load chrome://flags in the web browser’s address bar.
  4. Search for Clipboard.
  5. Enable the following three experimental flags:
    1. Enable receiver device to handle shared clipboard feature
    2. Enable shared clipboard feature signals to be handled
    3. Sync Clipboard Service
  6. Restart the Chrome browser.

When you right-click a selection in Chrome after the restart, you will notice a new “Send Text To” option followed by other Chrome instances / devices. Note that you need to be signed in with the same Google account in all devices and that synchronization needs to be enabled.

chrome send to clipboard

A notification is displayed if Clipboard content is shared using the new feature. The Clipboard sharing feature uses Chrome’s synchronization functionality to push Clipboard content to other devices.

Google is not the only company that is working on improving sharing functionality between a user’s devices. Microsoft introduced a cloud clipboard in the company’s Windows 10 operating system recently. Check out our tutorial on configuring the Clipboard History in Windows 10.

Closing Words

Whether Google will enable the feature by default in Chrome remains to be seen. The information that is copied and submitted is encrypted. Some users may prefer to use the new Clipboard sharing functionality over traditional methods, e.g. by using email or text files on USB devices, or note syncing extensions like Papercuts.

Chrome users who don’t sign into the browser or don’t use the browser’s sync feature cannot use the new functionality.

Now You: Do you make use of Clipboard sharing? (via Techdows)

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Google is bringing a Tab Strip to Chrome for Windows and Linux

If you have used the Microsoft Edge web browser, classic or new, you may have stumbled upon the browser’s Tab Strip feature. Just click on the arrow icon on the tab bar to display thumbnail images of the sites and resources open in the browser.

It appears that Google is attempting to bring a similar feature to the company’s Chrome web browser. Already in Chrome OS, Google engineers are working on introducing Tab Strip functionality in the Chrome browser.

The feature introduces an option in the Chrome browser to display a strip of tabs. While it is unclear yet how it would be activated by the user, it is likely that Google is adding an icon to the browser’s tab bar to activate and deactivate the Tab Strip view in the browser.

The following screenshot shows the Tab Strip in the Microsoft Edge web browser.

edge tab strip

The arrow icon next to the plus icon in the Tab Bar displays and hides the Tab Strip interface. When activated, it pushes the activate site down as it needs room to display the thumbnails. Edge users may use drag and drop to change the order of tabs or jump to any open site with a click on the tab.

The video that is embedded below demonstrates how the Tab Strip looks like in Chrome OS.

All tabs open in the web browser are displayed with thumbnails when users activate the Tab Strip functionality. Since thumbnails use a wider area than tabs, scrolling is available to go through the list of open sites and resources in the browser.

It is furthermore possible to drag and drop tabs to reorder them just like it is the case in Chrome’s Tab Bar (and any other browser’s for that matter).

The visualization may improve use on touch-enabled devices and help users locate tabs quicker.

Google did not reveal when the new functionality will land in Chrome; it is likely that it will be introduced behind a flag that users need to enable to activate the functionality.

Closing Words

While I’d like to see options to scroll the tab bar in Chrome, as the browser still becomes unusable when too many tabs are opened, it is clear that the Tab Strip would offer users some resource as it supports scrolling. Chrome users who cannot identify tabs anymore could use it for navigational purposes.

Now You: Would you use the Tab Strip if it lands in Chrome / your browser? (via Caschy)

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Free Firefox and Chrome memory with Auto Tab Discard

Auto Tab Discard is an add-on for the Firefox and Chrome web browsers that frees up memory that the web browsers uses by discarding inactive tabs. Discarding in this context means that the tabs are unloaded but kept open in the browser.

Web browser users who keep multiple tabs open in the browser of choice may notice that memory use increases with each tab that gets opened.

Both Google and Mozilla have developed systems to unload tabs in low memory situations, but these solutions are not as efficient as those provided be extensions.

We reviewed numerous in the past including Sleep Mode for Firefox or Lazy Load Tabs for Chrome. Most Firefox extensions that used to work in the browser were not updated when Firefox 57 was released.

Auto Tab Discard

discarded tabs firefox

Auto Tab Discard runs automatically in the background. The default setting unloads tabs after 600 seconds of inactivity if the number of inactive tabs exceeds six tabs.

Tabs are not discarded when they meet certain criteria, e.g. when media is playing or form changes have not been submitted. Additional discarding conditions are listed in the options. The following conditions need to be enabled manually:

  • When a tab is pinned.
  • When there is no Internet connection and tabs have not been cached.
  • When it is allowed to display desktop notifications.
  • When computer is not in idle state.

One of the strengths of the extension is that it provides lots of customization options. You can change the unloading interval or number of inactive tabs required as well as criteria that prevent or allow tabs and sites to be discarded by the extension.

Sites that match criteria are not discarded but there is also an option to add sites to the whitelist to prevent that they are unloaded by the extension. Discarded tabs are retained even across sessions; they remain discarded until activated by the user.

Information such as the scroll position or text inside text fields is retained by the extension and loaded when a site becomes activate again. JavaScript and other code is not run anymore when tabs are discarded.

auto tab discard

The automatic discarding of tabs is a useful feature but the developer has added options to run the processes manually as well. A left-click on the extension icon displays options to discard the active tab, all other tabs of the browser window, all tabs in other windows, or all other tabs.

The menu has options to whitelist the active site permanently or for the browsing session.

Note: Extensions are not permitted to run on internal pages and some other pages (e.g. https://addons.mozilla.org/). Firefox users may disable the restrictions for non-local-sites on about:config by manipulating the preference extensions.webextensions.restrictedDomains.

Other options provided by the settings include changing the default action of a left-click on the extension icon, or to disable the opening of the FAQ page when the extension has been updated.

Closing Words

Auto Tab Discard is a useful extension for Firefox and Chrome that may be used to free up memory automatically or manually by discarding tabs.  The extension may be useful in situations where the browser starts to feel sluggish, even if enough memory us available

Now You: do you use extensions that help you free memory?

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Use AI to determine whether a text is generated or real in Chrome

GPTrue or False is an extension for the Google Chrome web browser that uses AI to determine the probability of texts being genuine or generated by AI.

Update: it is also available for Firefox.

The capabilities of AI have increased significantly in recent years. From humble beginnings — anyone remember Little Computer People on the Commodore C-64 — to AI that is writing pop songs, the generation of deepfakes, or AI that writes text automatically.

It may not always be possible to determine whether text or other content has been generated by an artificial intelligence or by a human.

GPTrue or False is a Chrome extension that may be used to detect whether text is generated or written by humans. The extension is based on GTP-2 and may provide probabilities for texts generated with Open AI’s with higher accuracy. It works with any text that you want to analyze but the outcome may not be as accurate.

To use it, you’d simply install the extension in Google Chrome or another Chromium-based web browser that supports Google Chrome extensions. The installer adds an icon to the Chrome address bar that you interact with.

determine articles fake true

A click on the icon reveals how the extension works. You need to select at least 50 words of text on the active page, click on the extension icon and then on the “determine realness” button to have it analyzed.

The extension adds the outcome of the analysis to the actual page. Text and color indicate the probability that text is real or computer generated

The analysis itself is quick and I did not run into any technical issues during tests. It takes a second or two to return the result to the page.

The extension works well with Open AI computer generated text that uses GPT-2. You can use the system to generate texts on the Talk To Transformer page.

text is fake

The extension returns low “realness” probabilities for these generated texts. If you use the extension to check texts generated by other algorithms / AIs, you may notice that it is not nearly as accurate when it comes to those.

Closing Words

GPTrue or False is an interesting extension for Google Chrome that predicts whether texts that you have it analyzed are computer generated or written by human beings. The extension works well if the text is generated using GPT-2 but falls short if it is generated using other AIs/algorithms. It would become more useful if the developer would turn it into a universal detector.

Now You: What is your take on computer generated texts?

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Use the LeechBlock NG extension for Firefox, Chrome to block distracting websites while you work

Have you ever found yourself browsing social networks or video streaming sites when you were supposed to do something else?

It happens to the best of us. I always find such websites distracting and avoid them for a good part of my day. If you have a hard time ignoring videos of cute cats or discussions on Twitter / Facebook, you may need a bit of help to get things done and avoid wasting time.

Use LeechBlock NG for Firefox, Chrome to block distracting websites while you work

There are some measures that people take to become more productive. I’ve seen a couple of my friends going offline for days at a time from social platforms to concentrate on their projects. While I think it is a bit drastic, I can understand that they want to devote their efforts in something that’s actually worth it. But just like when you’re on a diet and are tempted to snack, the temptation to chat with your mates, or binge watch some shows is quite difficult to overcome. You need to have a bit of control.

Recently, I came across an add-on for Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, which might help in such situations. It’s called LeechBlock NG. Now don’t mistake it for some internet filtering software that blocks inappropriate content. It’s a productivity tool and works quite well.

Tip: take a look at Undistracted for Chrome as well as it offers similar functionality.

Its primary purpose is to block websites of your choice. Click on the shield icon of the extension, to open its menu. There are 4 buttons here: Options, Lockdown, Override and Statistics. What do these do?

Options

There are six block sets here, each of which act as individual rule sets. So, you can block some websites in Block Set 1 with custom settings and use Block Set 2 with different websites and settings and so on.

You can optionally give each block set a name, like Social or Multimedia, or Gaming. The large text box is used for entering the domain names of the websites that you wish to block. I recommend blocking the top level domain of the website, e.g. Facebook.com or Twitter.com.

LeechBlock NG for Firefox

The timer boxes allow you to set the time when the sites should be blocked, for example 0900-1700 (9AM to 5PM). Optionally, you can set a time limit to block the sites, like once every few minutes for every hour/day.

LeechBlock NG also lets you customize the days when it should block the websites. The default setting is set to weekdays but you can modify these. If you need to get homework or a project done on the weekend, you may want to include the days in the blocking of sites.

The How to Block section basically lets you configure what should happen when a blocked website is accessed. The options are fairly simple:

So, what happens when you try to access a blocked URL? That depends on what you chose in the “How to Block” section. The default page shows you a warning that “The page you’re trying to access has been blocked by LeechBlock.” It also mentions the URL you tried to access, and displays the time when the page will be unblocked.

LeechBlock NG in effect

There are three optional color filters that you can use instead of the blocking page: grayscale, invert and sepia. There are a lot of other options that you can configure in the General Tab (including an override option).

Lockdown

This is similar to the regular blocking, but instead of waiting for the schedule to begin, it locks down the block set immediately. You can set how long to block the sites by specifying hours and minutes, e.g. you could input 2 hours if you want to block the sites for 120 minutes while you buckle down and work.

The extension lets you lockdown all block sets or just the ones you wish to. Hit activate Lockdown and you are good to go.

Override

To use this, you have to first define the Temporary Override settings from the General tab under the Options screen.

Statistics

This is just for your reference, and you can use it to view the start date and time, time spent since start, time spent per week/day, time left in limit period, and the lockdown end time. You can reset one or all block set statistics by hitting the restart button.

Closing Words

Sometimes I get carried away when I come across interesting devices, games, deals, etc, and end up spending more time than I should reading about those. Maybe this add-on will help me to become more efficient. I think it could be useful for students who’re preparing for exams or office workers working on projects/meetings.

Remember this, don’t blame the add-on if you end up bypassing the blocks that you set. It’s more of a reminder for you to concentrate on the task that you wanted to focus on as you can easily bypass its protections, e.g. by using a different browser.

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