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Google to resume Chrome releases on April 7

Google today said it will resume Chrome releases in two weeks and plans to make good on the multi-week suspension by skipping a version.

Chrome 81, the upgrade that was previously slated for a March 17 debut, will instead launch in two weeks, on April 7.

In the meantime, Chrome 80 will receive at least one more update – at some point next week, Google said – with fixes for vulnerabilities and what the search firm called “critical” issues. Releases of the Beta, Dev and Canary channels, which contain builds of decreasing polish and stability, either have already resumed or will this week.

Google suspended Chrome releases on March 18, citing “adjusted work schedules” but clearly blaming the COVID-19 pandemic and its massive overturning of business and personal conduct.

On March 10, for example, Google recommended that all North American employees work from home. Later, Santa Clara County, where Google’s HQ is located, was one of several that told residents to “shelter-in-place.”

Chrome 82 was canceled by Google to make up for the time lost by the suspension. That upgrade was to appear April 28.

Instead, the features and other work done on Chrome 82 during its stretches in the Dev and Beta channels will be rolled into Chrome 83, now slated to launch May 19. That’s three weeks earlier than its original June 9 date.

The schedule for Chrome 84 and beyond – shown here – has been accelerated by three weeks through at least Chrome 88, the first upgrade of 2021. “[Chrome 84] and beyond dates are still subject to change,” Google warned on the calendar, adding, “We will share a future update on the timing of the [Chrome 84] branch and releases” in the announcement of release resumption.

Rival Microsoft had followed Google’s lead by halting releases of its Edge browser – built on the same Chromium codebase as Chrome – two days later.

Although the Edge team had not made a similar announcement Thursday as of 2:30 p.m. ET, Microsoft will resume Edge releases at some point, probably on a cadence similar to Chrome’s.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Google Smart Lock: The complete guide

Think fast: How many times a day do you pick up your phone to look at something? Unless you live in the tundra or have far more self-control than most, the answer probably falls somewhere between “quite a few” and “more than any sane person could count.” Assuming you keep your device properly secured, that means you’re doing an awful lot of unlocking — be it with your face, your fingerprint, or the code you tap or swipe onto your screen.

Security’s important, but goodness gracious, it can be a hassle.

Thankfully, there’s a better way. Google Smart Lock provides a variety of options for keeping your Android phone unlocked in preapproved, known-to-be-safe circumstances. It’s an easily overlooked but incredibly useful feature that lets you create a sensible balance between security and convenience. And once you set it up, it’s simple as can be to use.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to turning Google Smart Lock on and taking full advantage of everything it can offer.

Google Smart Lock: The Android options

On any reasonably recent Android device, you can set up Google Smart Lock to keep your phone unlocked in certain trusted situations but to require your PIN, pattern, password, or biometric authentication at all other times. It’s the best of both worlds, in other words: effective Android security without unnecessary annoyances.

To activate Google Smart Lock on Android, you’ll first need to have a PIN, pattern, or password set for your phone (which you should already have, regardless!). Then, in Google’s version of Android:

  1. Open the Security section of your phone’s settings.
  2. Tap “Smart Lock.”

On Android phones where the manufacturer has made modifications to the operating system, the Smart Lock section may be located in a different area of the device’s settings. On Samsung phones, for instance:

  1. Open the Lock Screen section of your phone’s settings.
  2. Tap “Smart Lock.”

However you get there, once you’ve opened the Smart Lock section, you’ll be prompted to put in your PIN, pattern, or password — and you’ll then see a list of available choices:

On-body detection: Fire up this option, and your phone will remain unlocked whenever you’re holding or carrying it — so long as you’ve already unlocked it once. That way, if you unlock your phone to use it and then put it back into your bag or pocket while walking around, you won’t have to unlock it again the next time you pick it up. Anytime your phone is set down or not in motion for more than a moment, it’ll require authentication again.

Trusted places: Perhaps the most useful Google Smart Lock element, this option allows you to set specific locations — by business name, street address, or manual map placement — at which your phone will never put up a lock screen or require authentication (in theory, at least; the function can sometimes be a bit finicky and require occasional fine-tuning). You’ll obviously want to be selective about what places you choose, but configuring this to recognize somewhere like your home can be a helpful way to avoid authentication where it’s generally not needed but keep your phone secured in all other areas.

Trusted devices: If you’d rather have Google Smart Lock recognize a Bluetooth pairing, this next option’s for you. It empowers you to tell your phone to skip the lock screen anytime it’s connected to a specific Bluetooth device — say, your car’s audio system or your gym headphones — when you know the phone will always be in your control.

google smart lock android 2020 JR Raphael/IDG

You can add any Bluetooth device that’s been paired to your phone as a trusted device and then let it keep your phone unlocked whenever it’s connected.

Voice match: This one’s in the midst of being phased out, but on older Android phones, you might still find an option for it. At this point, that option will typically just take you to a screen where you can configure your phone’s voice activation system to let you interact with certain Google Assistant functions without having to unlock the device — but it won’t actually keep your phone unlocked, as the other Smart Lock functions will. And it won’t be around much longer.

Trusted face: This final option is only likely to be present if you own a really old Android phone — and even then, quite honestly, you probably still won’t want to use it. Android’s 2011-era facial recognition system was never entirely consistent, reliable, or secure, for that matter. It’s been replaced with more modern and effective face unlocking mechanisms that exist as their own standalone entities and are not connected with the Smart Lock brand.

With the other Smart Lock options, though, you can achieve a sensible balance of security and convenience — and at the end of the day, that’s only going to help you keep your information safe while keeping your sanity intact.

This story was originally published in December 2018 and updated in March 2020.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Microsoft mirrors Google move, shelves Edge upgrades

Microsoft last week followed Google’s lead, telling customers that it was suspending releases of its Edge browser.

Citing “current global circumstances” rather than outright naming the COVID-19 pandemic and its upturning of, well, virtually everything, Microsoft said it would not upgrade the current Edge 80 to the next version, Edge 81.

“As the situation evolves,” Microsoft said, it will inform customers of other changes, and presumably when it will resume Edge refreshes, through the Microsoft Edge Dev account on Twitter.

Google made a similar announcement March 18, telling Chrome users it had stopped upgrading the browser a day after it was due to shift from version 80 to 81.

Google didn’t say COVID-19 triggered the decision either, asserting that the “adjusted work schedule” was to blame. Both decisions were, of course, clearly caused by the pandemic and its disruptions, including vast numbers of company employees sent home to work there.

(In a tweet, Paul Kinlan, the lead for the developer relations team at Google, ticked off several specific reasons for the suspension, including “lower productivity, worry about asking ecosystem to change, being able to respond quickly when there’s an issue.”)

It wasn’t a surprise that Microsoft followed Google in halting browser upgrades. Both Chrome and Edge, after all, rely on the Google-led open-source Chromium project for their core technologies. “We are making this change to be consistent with the Chromium project, which recently announced a similar pause due to adjusted schedules,” wrote Kyle Pflug, principal program management lead, in the Friday post.

Like Google, Microsoft told users that it will continue to service version 80 of its browser with security updates. The Redmond, Wash. company did just that Thursday, when it refreshed Edge to build 80.0.3987.149; that build included fixes for the same vulnerabilities cited by Google when it patched Chrome 80 the day before.

Mozilla has not said if it would maintain its every-four-week schedule of upgrading Firefox, which last month accounted for far less browser share than Chrome but more than Edge. The next update, to Firefox 75, is expected April 7.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Google suspends Chrome upgrades as COVID-19 impacts software schedules

Google has stopped upgrading its Chrome browser and its Chrome OS operating system because of the COVID-19 pandemic and has not said when it would resume refreshing either.

“Due to adjusted work schedules at this time, we are pausing upcoming Chrome and Chrome OS releases,” Google said in a short statement posted Wednesday to its Chrome releases blog. “Our primary objectives are to ensure they continue to be stable, secure, and work reliably for anyone who depends on them. We’ll continue to prioritize any updates related to security, which will be included in Chrome 80.”

The “adjusted work schedule” clearly referred to the disruption caused by the pandemic, including a six-county “shelter-in-place” order for California’s Bay Area. Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., 39 miles southwest of San Francisco, is located in Santa Clara County, one of the six under lockdown.

On March 10, Google recommended that all North American employees work from home.

According to a now-outdated Chrome release schedule, Google was supposed to upgrade the browser to version 81 on Tuesday, March 17. Chrome OS was to shift to version 81 on March 24. Google had both on a metronomic schedule that delivered new features every six to eight weeks.

Also on Wednesday, Google updated Chrome 80 — the version that debuted Feb. 4 — to build 80.0.3987.149, which contained fixes for 13 security vulnerabilities. The nine that Google called out in a separate post were all rated as “High,” the second-most-serious threat ranking in a four-step scoring system. Only one of the nine noted a bug bounty amount — $8,500 — and five other bug listings said that a cash reward would be determined later.

Four of the nine described vulnerabilities were reported to Google by Yue Mo of the San Francisco-based Semmle Security Research Team. Three of the remainder were discovered by members of Google’s own Project Zero group.

Google did not offer a timetable for resuming Chrome and Chrome OS upgrades. The next in the two product series were slated to release April 28 (Chrome) and May 5 (Chrome OS).

It was unclear if the Chromium project had also paused, although code commits were still landing Wednesday. If the Google-led, open-source Chromium did halt new work, then Chrome (and the other browsers that rely on Chromium) would not be able to progress in any case. Microsoft, which in January released a revamped Edge built atop Chromium, may have to follow Google’s lead and limit its browser to security updates, too.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Google plugs for Chrome when Edge accesses search firm’s services

Google has posted warnings and alerts targeting Microsoft Edge on several of its services’ websites, including the Chrome Web Store add-on market, Google Drive, Gmail and the company’s default search page,

It’s not uncommon for Google to flag rival browsers with messages that recommend a user download Chrome to access the search company’s services. In the past, while it was building its now-dominant position in the browser space, Google targeted Mozilla’s Firefox and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) with such pop-ups. At times, rival browser makers have also countered Google with similar you-should-really-switch-from-Chrome tactics.

All such efforts rely on detecting the browser user agent, a string embedded in the HTML header that identifies the browser, its specific version and the operating system under which the browser runs. (Some analytics companies, such as the California-based Net Applications, use browser user agents to divine which browsers or operating systems are most used to go online.)

In the latest campaign, Google marked the Chrome Web Store – the official outlet for all Chrome browser add-ons – with a “Google recommends switching to Chrome to use extensions securely” message when the site was accessed by Edge. (The Chromium-based Edge can install and use any of the add-ons, also called “extensions” by Google, hosted by the Web Store.)

It’s unclear what Google means by the message, or how Chrome’s use add-ons are any more secure than Edge.

edge google warning 3 Google

Google slapped this ‘recommendation’ on the Chrome Web Store when Edge accessed the add-on market.

At other Google services’ sites, including Google Drive, Google Docs, Gmail and the search page, users of Edge see a different message. At Google Docs, for example, the pop-up reads, “To use Docs offline, upgrade to Chrome.” Meanwhile, the site displays a message that reads, “Switch to Chrome for Windows.”

(Although Edge on Windows 10 encountered all the above Google-contrived pop-ups, Edge on macOS only received the message on the Chrome Web Store site.)

edge google warning 2 Google

Even the Google search site pitches Chrome at Chromium-based Edge users.

Google was explicitly targeting Edge with these messages. Two other browsers, Opera and Brave, also built from the same Chromium codebase as Edge – or Chrome, for that matter – did not show any recommendations or other messages when they were steered to the same sites: the Chrome Web Store, Google Drive, Google Docs, Gmail and (Like Edge, both Opera and Brave are able to install and use the add-ons in the Chrome Web Store.)

That Google took aim at Edge makes sense: In January, Edge accounted for 7% of all browser activity for the month, while Opera was pegged at just 1.4%. (Brave did not register on Net Applications’ tally.) Of the Chrome rivals that also rely on Chromium, Edge is easily the biggest threat – and at that, really not all that big – to Google’s control of the browser market.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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