Saturday, January 4, 2014

Capture the flag

So, just before the holiday break, I received a help desk request concerning a certain website freezing the entire PC and only within the Chrome browser.  Odd, indeed.  And during my research I was introduced to the power of chrome flags!  These handy dandy resources can be accessed typing chrome://flags into the Omnibox where you would normally type other website addresses. Depending on how geeky you are, what you see next may seem overwhelming. It's a list of a hundred or so "experiments" that can affect your Chrome browsing experience. But be warned they are experimental:

See I told you!  But in all seriousness, after playing around a bit and enabling or should I saw disabling GPU compositing on all pages  and Threaded compositing seemed to take care of the freezing issue when that special site was visited.

Now many of these "experiments" are for programmers and coders to test the tools of their trade.  But some can even enhance or even change you browsing experience for the better.  One in particular could revolutionize education forever!  Now that's a phrase I don't use lightly.  By turning on Enable Offline Cache Mode you are now able to browse the Internet when you have connectivity as always, but here's where it gets interesting.  If you encounter a blip in your Internet access or worse an outage you can continue to read the pages you visited - even if you shut down and restart Chrome!

So, how is this revolutionary you ask?  It doesn't seem to matter how long the outage or how long chrome or even your computer are shut down.  Those pages remain accessible.  That flight to your next conference doesn't offer wi-fi - but you spent the whole night on your laptop, doing research for an upcoming article or paper? Power up your device (once the stewardess gives the ok) and there's all your research!  As long as you remembered to take the document you were authoring offline - your good to go!

Take this a step further to today's students.  There is still a major socio-economic digital divide, even in this great country of ours.  Perhaps your school has gone 1-to-1 or BYOD?  Suddenly students without connectivity at home are left in the digital darkness.  Not so with this handy flag!  As long as it is enabled, any research they do when they are connected at school or the local library remains in their cache and can be accessed even when they have no Internet!

Now granted, I have not fully tested this!  I have no idea how big the cache is and how much data can be stored there. Although, there is probably another flag that can tell me! Also, I have noticed anything behind a login screen is not accessible (since typically you get logged out when you loose connectivity).  It also does not work for embedded content.  Those are the caveats.  But anything with a full url seems to work.  Dig deep into a blog and those pages will be there.  Research at CNN and Techcrunch.  Yup, still available!

It's not perfect and you're free to harp on the drawbacks.  Hey, I didn't write the code you won't hurt my feelings.  But thanks to Google Chrome and Enable Offline Cache Mode - Ubiquitous Universal Access for All just made one giant leap forward.

Hmmm, wonder what some of those other nifty flags do!  Only one way to find out!  I'll keep you posted .

Got a comment, suggestion or favorite flag of your own? Leave me a note below!

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