It seems Google Chrome is getting a minor makeover later this year, and if you’re riding the browser’s development channel on Ubuntu1 you can opt-in to try the new look out now.

I’ll get to the “how to” part in a moment. First I ought to show you a few screenshots of what it is you’ll be opting in to.

As UI changes go, the one Google’s cooking up isn’t overly radical on Linux — at least, not to my sensibilities. If you’re the sort of person who fears UI changes — and if we’re honest they don’t always make things better — you can kind of relax.

Here’s a screenshot to show you what the normal version of Google Chrome 115 (Dev) looks like out-of-the-box on Ubuntu 23.10:

Chrome as is currently looks on Ubuntu
Chrome as it currently looks on Ubuntu

Here’s what the same versions looks like when all of the “Chrome Redesign 2023” flags are enabled:

Chrome as it may soon look on Ubuntu

Subtle, huh?

Tabs are more curvaceous (first time I’ve ever used that word in a blog post, I think); the ‘new tab’ button and the ‘search tabs’ menu gain backgrounds (thus more visual prominence); and (my favourite tweak) the toolbar finally gives icons some room to breath.

The omnibox (aka address bar) is thicker, and the font-size for web addresses (and any queries you type inside of it) smaller. A new “options” icon replaces the traditional padlock motif beside a URL. This is to indicate that you can click the icon to access cookie settings, permissions etc.

More pronounced changes are on show in the main menu thanks to the (re)introduction of (new) menu icons, and more liberal use of padding/margins. The main menu, context menus, and other in-Chrome pop-overs (like the Search tabs UI) also now use rounded corners.

Tab bar dividers are a lighter colour than previously, and hovering over a background tab now shows a rounded rectangle accent rather than, as before, an outline of the full active tab shape.

The Redesign Sings with ‘Chrome Colours’

Redesign + colours = win

The Chrome Refresign comes to life the moment you add a spot of colour — which is easy.

Google added new customisation options to Chrome recently, including “Chrome Colors”. This latter feature lets you pick from a fairly wide selection of colour pairs to prettify Chrome’s chrome with, or you can use the included colour picker to pick out a hue/shade/tone from whatever is on screen.

I went for a light teal (I think — I am colourblind) and I think the Chrome Refresh 2023 UI looks a heck of a lot better with a coloured window title, as the screenshot above shows.

How to Enable the Chrome Refresh 2023

Experimental features, ahoy

Want to try these changes yourself? You can — all you need is the latest Google Chrome unstable build.

If the official Google Chrome repo is configured on your distro (it gets set up when you install Chrome on Ubuntu using the official DEB or RPM packages) you can install the google-chrome-unstable package. This does not replace the stable version; dev builds can be run alongside stable builds.

Then, to enable the Chrome Refresh 2023 look:

  1. Go to chrome://flags/#chrome-refresh-2023 in a new tab
  2. Change ‘default’ to ‘enabled’
  3. Go to chrome://flags/#chrome-webui-refresh-2023 in a new tab
  4. Change ‘default’ to ‘enabled’
  5. Restart the browser as prompted

To “undo” the changes repeat the steps above but change “enabled” to “default”.

There are also changes planned for Google Chrome’s omnibox (aka address bar) and NTP — though these are in varying stages of usefulness right now. Search for “CR23” and “NTP” in chrome:flags to explore the proposals — just be aware not all are wired to use ‘real world’ data yet, so YMMV.

‘Refresh’ not ‘Redesign’

The flags for these UI changes use the word “refresh” and that’s spot on. A major redesign of Chrome this is not. Instead, Google designers are giving the browser — still the world’s most popular, fyi — a quick spruce to bring it up to date with the “Material You” design aesthetic it uses on Android.

Could Google have bigger changes in the pipeline than the ones previewed here? Yes – such is the nature of development! As such nothing showcased in the post should be thought of as final until Google announces the changes formally and they make their way to stable builds.

What do you think of the refresh — too little? too much? just right? Let me know in the comments.

h/t Dominic

1You don’t need to be on Ubuntu – these flags work on Windows, macOS, and Chrome OS too — but this is an Ubuntu blog so naturally I’m going from that angle

design google chrome