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How To Get Access to Experimental Features on Your Chromebook (or Just in Chrome)

chromebook

Chromebooks default to the stable version of Chrome without any experimental features enabled. If you’re a geek, you can go out of your way to get the latest features before they roll out to everyone.

These tricks also work in similar ways in the Chrome browser on the desktop. Bear in mind that choosing to enable experimental features or using a more cutting-edge version of Chrome may result in crashes and other problems.

Tweak Hidden Flags

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Many features that aren’t completely done are included in stable versions of Chrome. They’re just disabled by default, so they won’t get in the way unless you go out of your way to enable them. You can enable or tweak them from Chrome’s hidden Flags page.

While flags are available in the stable version of Chrome, they aren’t necessarily stable. Some flags may cause problems if you enable them, while any flag may disappear at any time. Don’t get too attached to any one feature here!

To access the Flags page, open a Chrome browser window, type chrome://flags into the location bar, and press Enter. You’ll see the Flags page appear.

chromebook-flags

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From here, you can enable or tweak any flag you like. After changing a flag, you’ll be prompted to restart your Chromebook or Chrome browser. For example, you can currently enable the Supervised Users feature from here, giving you access to a complete parental control solution for locking down your Chromebook.

Choose Your Release Channel

Google provides several different release channels for Chrome and Chrome OS. By default, all users are on the Stable channel, which receives major updates every six weeks. This is the most well-tested and stable version of Chrome and is least likely to crash.

To test new versions of Chrome before they reach the Stable channel, Google provides two other channels — Beta and Dev.

The Beta channel is updated about every week and receives major updates every six weeks. You get access to the next version of Chrome more than a month before the Stable channel gets this version. Google says this channel provides “minimal risk,” but it still won’t be as stable as the Stable channel.

The Dev channel is more bleeding edge. It’s updated once or twice per week and “shows you what [Google's] working on right now.” The Dev version is literally a snapshot of what’s in development. It sees some testing, but will still have bugs. However, it gives you the latest software and shows you what Google is working on right at this very moment.

To choose a release channel, open the Settings page and click Help. Click the More info option and use the Change channel button to switch channels.

To revert to a more stable version of Chrome OS, you’ll have to use the same channel switcher and click the “Change channel and Powerwash” button afterwards. This wipes your Chromebook’s data, but thankfully most of your Chromebook’s data is likely stored online.

chromebook-change-release-channel

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On Windows, Mac, or Linux, you can choose a release channel by downloading the appropriate installer from the Chrome Release Channels page. If you want to revert to the stable version of Chrome, you’d have to uninstall your current version of Chrome and reinstall the stable version of Chrome from the main Chrome download page.

Dangerous: Use the Canary Build

Google also provides a fourth major release channel of Chrome, known as Canary. Canary builds of Chrome are literally the bleeding edge. Every single day, Google’s servers automatically build a Canary build from the latest Chrome development code and release it. These Canary builds see no testing at all before they’re released. A Canary build of Chrome may not run at all, or may have a large amount of crashes and bugs.

On Windows, Google makes Canary builds of Chrome run separately from the main version of Chrome. If you install Canary, it installs side-by-side with your existing version of Chrome, giving you a separate version of Chrome known as “Canary.” Canary also uses its own profile files. This makes it a good way to see what’s really new without messing with your current Chrome profile or installation. You can grab Canary versions of Chrome for Windows or Mac from the Chrome Canary page.

chrome-canary-icon

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On a Chromebook, only one version of Chrome OS can be installed at the same time. That’s why it’s much more difficult to enable Canary mode on a Chromebook. This isn’t recommended at all, as it will make your Chromebook extremely unstable. Reverting to a stable version of Chrome afterwards may not be easy. Still, if you’re interested, here’s how you’d do it:

First, enable Developer Mode on your Chromebook. This is the same thing you’d need to do to install Linux on your Chromebook. Log in afterwards and press Ctrl+Alt+T to open a crosh shell. Next, run the following commands in order:

shell

sudo su

update_engine_client -channel canary-channel

update_engine_client -update

Reboot your Chromebook afterwards. Again, we don’t recommend this unless you’re okay with your Chromebook becoming extremely unstable and possibly even unusable.

crosh-developer-mode-sudo


These tricks aren’t all for the faint of heart — especially Chrome Canary — but they make it possible to play with newer versions of Chrome and experimental features before other people gain access to them. If you’re willing to be a tester and file good bug reports — or you just value novelty more than stability — the unstable versions of Chrome may work for you.

Image Credit: sigckgc on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 01/6/14

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