Google launched its Chrome browser in 2008. At the time it was fast, secure, stable and a minimalistic alternative to Microsoft’s beleaguered Internet Explorer and Mozilla’s bloated Firefox. However, Chrome was also criticised for lacking any extensions or customisation options. So, slowly Google rolled out extensions, theme support, and even Web Apps. Although we have covered extensions in the past, in this article I will focus primarily on those that help make your browsing experience smoother.
1. AdBlock Plus
AdBlock Plus was for the longest time one of the most installed extensions for Mozilla Firefox. When Google finally started allowing extensions for Chrome, many users cried out for AdBlock Plus to port an extension over to Chrome.
The extension is fairly simple to use: install it, pick a “filter list“, add any whitelisted domains and you are good to go.
Ads are blocked on every website that is not listed in your whitelist and it even blocks ads within YouTube videos.
I will leave it to your judgment to decide whether it is appropriate to use ad blockers on the web.
Most websites and blogs have a Twitter “Tweet” button or a Facebook “Like” button, however what happens if you want to post the contents of that site to a Tumblr blog or Reddit it? If you find yourself in a situation like this, I would recommend installing the Shareaholic extension.
This extension places an icon on your Chrome toolbar that lists your chosen social media and other links allowing you to share, email, print and save the blog post or article that you are reading.
You can login to your own Shareaholic account and tweak the services that are visible on your Chrome browser.
3. Mega Buttons
A large majority of Chrome’s features are buried within the about:plugins, about:flags, about:extensions and other pages. The Mega Button extension places a large green button on your Chrome toolbar that allows easy access to all these and more features.
While the extension is useful, unless you know what each icon refers to, it can be a little difficult to find the right link.
The links (in order) refer to the following features:
This extension simply converts “unclickable” URLs and Email addresses into clickable ones.
Websites and blogs will often post links such as:
In some cases, they decide not to turn the link into a hyperlink. This extension automatically generates a hyperlink out of the unclickable links. Simply install it and restart your browser for it to work.
This is another extension that is very simple but immensely useful.
Some sites have Email addresses to contact the sites owner, usually these are in the format:
If you click on the Email address it automatically opens a compose window within your default Email client. Unfortunately, most computers have their default Email client set to their desktop client, such as Outlook. After installing this extension, when you click on an Email link, it will automatically open your default email account.
Bonus: Greasemonkey Scripts
On Firefox, Greasemonkey is an extension that allows users to install scripts that make on-the-fly changes to the HTML content of a web page immediately after it has loaded. Unfortunately, Greasemonkey is a Firefox only extension, however most of the scripts that work with Greasemonkey on Firefox also work on Chrome. Furthermore, there is no need to install the Greasemonkey extension. All you have to do, is head over to http://userscripts.org/ and click “Install” on any script you wish to install in Chrome. Some of the scripts will not work correctly, but most do.
Chrome: Adblock Plus—the ad-blocking browser extension that does exactly what the name implies—has just updated on Google Chrome with significant improvements, and is now basically on par with the quality of the Firefox version. More »
It might only be a couple of years old and its extension interface might not be quite as powerful as Firefox's, but in terms of developers, big-name publishers, and sheer numbers, Chrome already has a very healthy ecosystem of add-ons.
When you factor in Chrome's exclusive selection of Web apps, it's even possible to say that Chrome has a wider variety of extensions -- or at least until Mozilla launches its Open Web Apps later in the year.
Still, as always, the problem with add-ons is finding the right ones. You have thousands of add-ons to choose from, and only a handful that are actually worth using. First-time users haven't got a snowball's chance -- unless they read this list of must-have extensions!
But this list of extensions is for converts, too. With massive defections from Internet Explorer and Firefox, Chrome has grown from just a few million users in 2009 to over 120 million at the start of 2011. Firefox users will be especially pleased to find almost every add-on has a comparable extension -- and IE users... well, they'll just be glad to have any extensions at all.
Whether you are looking for helpers or shortcuts, or full-blown Web apps, you will be pleasantly surprised with the variety and power of Chrome's extensions.
For example, there's Typing Speed Monitor which I recently posted. When you install it, you'll receive the following alerts:
There's nothing to fear, however, because your data isn't going anywhere: "[Typing Speed Monitor] can't give that data to anyone else because it doesn't have permission to access other hosts."
Still, the alerts are offputting and even give more seasoned surfers cold feet when installing an extension -- which is where the alert above comes in. Michael Gundlach, who maintains AdBlock for Chrome, used Chrome's extension update support to push a reassuring note to its users about an upcoming change.
I've seen the "requires more permissions" alert before from an extension, but I haven't seen a dev take the time to explain to users what's going on. It's a smart, thoughtful move by Gundlach. Until Chrome offers more insightful (and accurate) alerts, developers might want to follow this example to avoid accidentally scaring their users.
If you've made the switch from Firefox to Chrome and count AdBlock among your must-have extensions, there's one gripe you probably had. Unlike its Firefox or Safari cousins, AdBlock for Chrome wasn't actually able to prevent ads from downloading. As developer Mike Gundlach told The Reg, " We've been having to hide the ads after downloading them or add CSS rules that say 'don't show these ads' even though they're downloading."
That's changed, however, thanks to some recent code updates. AdBlock can now act premptively, saving you precious kilobytes (and possibly some additional frustration). As it turns out, it's Apple who is responsible for the change: the beforeload event was actually slipped in during a recent update to the Webkit engine, which eventually made its way into Chrome.
Apart from AdBlock, this should be good news for Chrome users in general as it provides an important content manipulation function.