Web browsers are really good these days, with a host of features you should be taking advantage of daily. Many of these are made possible by browser extensions that vastly improve functionality, and since that requires a bit of proactive tweaking and hunting, it’s possible you aren’t getting the most out of your web crawling experience. For the benefit of the as-yet uninitiated, we’ve rounded up some of the most useful management features for the most popular web browsers in use today: Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Edge.
What Are Browser Extensions?
Browser extensions are software packets that are created by developers to extend the capabilities of browsers. Some are developed by third parties, while many are developed by the browser companies themselves. Not to be confused with plug-ins, which are small software programs that let your browser do things like play videos and see Flash animations, extensions are add-ons to your browser interface that make the browsing experience more manageable. They’re typically unobtrusive and show up as small icons or buttons on your browser toolbar.
There are extensions for everything from blocking unwanted popup ads to translating website text to another language. Browser extensions are easily found and rapidly installed. Google Chrome extensions can be found on the Chrome Web Store. Firefox extensions are found in the Add-Ons section of the Mozilla site. As of this writing, there are no existing browser extensions for Microsoft Edge, but you can expect this to be addressed with future releases.
Browser Extensions for Suspending Unopened Tabs
Some people take it easy, browsing with only one or two windows at a time. Multitaskers can run up to a dozen at once. But if you consider yourself one among a multitude of “supertaskers” juggling dozens or hundreds of open tabs, you’ve probably already learned the hard way that having the ability to suspend unopened tabs is critical. Suspending unopened tabs works to minimize memory usage, preventing all those countless browser sessions from bogging your computer to a crawl.
Google Chrome doesn’t come with the built-in ability to suspend active tabs, but there are a good number of extensions that can do that for you. Too Many Tabs for Chrome lets you suspend individual tabs by clicking the yellow arrow next to each, which moves them into a separate column where they can be accessed individually.
Another Chrome extension that’s a bit more straightforward and easy to use is called The Great Suspender. You can use it to suspend one tab at a time or all tabs at once. Unsuspension works the same way: individually or all at once. Settings let you schedule tabs to auto-suspend in various time increments from 20 seconds to 3 days. Additional functions let you program the extension to auto-suspend when connected to the internet, save browser sessions for later access, and perform screen captures. The Great Suspender also supports keyboard shortcuts and URL whitelisting.
Like Chrome, Firefox doesn’t come with a built-in tab suspender, but there are a number of extensions available that can accommodate this. Suspend Tab works, but it doesn’t let you select tabs manually. Instead, it can be configured to suspend tabs automatically after a predetermined time frame (anywhere from a millisecond to an infinite number of hours). You can also exclude certain URLs. Unload Tab is an extension that adds an “unload tab” option to the dropdown menu when you right-click an individual tab. It can also be set to suspend all tabs, keep certain URLs active, and a range of other configurable options.
Currently, Microsoft Edge offers no support for suspending tabs, but expect this to change as it crawls its way out of infancy.
Browser Extensions and Built-in Features for Tab Management
So let’s say you’re suspending tabs like a pro and have a hundred open at once. How can you possibly manage that? Enter tab groups, which eliminate much of that drag. They also help keep things structured by segregating tabs into specific groups so you don’t wind up chasing your own tail.
In Chrome, the earlier mentioned Too Many Tabs can also be used to manage an infinite number of browser tabs. Installation adds a button to your toolbar that displays the number of tabs you currently have open. Clicking the Too Many Tabs button opens a floating window that displays all of your currently opened tabs, providing you with a thumbnail view of each so you can keep track of where you are and where you’re clicking next.
Session Manager is another Chrome extension that enables you to name and save current browser groupings for fast and easy access later on – a definite must if you’re in the middle of a 101-tab browsing session and you have to reboot your computer for updates.
Firefox has a built-in feature called Tab Groups (sometimes called Panorama) that you can access with the Control+Shift+E keyboard shortcut. Accessing Tab Groups pulls up a thumbnail view of all tabs you currently have open so you can easily hop from one to another. You can also create separate groups of tabs by dragging the desired tabs out of the frame.
For the pro tab group juggler, there’s also the option to name tab groups. Moving from one group to another can be done from within the Tab Groups view by simply clicking on the desired group, or by using the shortcut Control+` for next, or Control+Shift+` for previous. The placement of a search box in the upper right hand corner of the Tab Groups view lets you jump to individual browser windows by keyword. Firefox Tab Groups can also be moved and resized.
Tab management is still in its infancy with Microsoft Edge. Standard shortcuts like Control-T and Control-Shift-T will launch new browser tabs and reopen closed tabs, respectively. But this doesn’t mean Edge has nothing to offer – for example, Edge lets you hover your mouse over any tab and instantly see a drop-down thumbnail view of the corresponding web page, which is something not even Chrome does. Yet.
Both Chrome and Firefox are equipped with the ability to pin frequently accessed tabs to your browser for rapid launching. To pin a tab to your browser, just right-click the desired tab and choose “pin tab” from the list of drop-down commands. Your pinned tab will then appear as a small icon on the left-hand side of your tab strip and will still be there the next time you relaunch your browser. Removing them is as easy as right-clicking the tab and choosing the “unpin” option. As of this writing, Microsoft Edge doesn’t include the option to pin tabs to the browser itself – instead, it gives you the option of pinning a page to Start, which is better than nothing.
Syncing and Viewing Data Across Devices
Not all browser magic is accomplished through extensions. Creating login credentials for your browser unlocks many nifty tricks, and most come with baked-in features that might have seemed unfathomable 20 years ago. For example, signing into Chrome lets you access favorites across devices – from your desktop to your laptop to your smartphone – and also carries over your browsing history. Chrome also lets you access tabs that are open on other devices, as well as specifying what information gets synced across your devices.
Firefox’s Sync feature works pretty much the same way that Chrome does by giving you the option of jumping from one device to another and picking up wherever you left off. Preferences let you choose what you want to sync: tabs, bookmarks, passwords, history, and even add-ons and preferences.
Microsoft Edge’s newcomer status leaves it as the only one of the major browsers to not offer syncing across devices, but recent news and an online Q&A session with the development team indicates Microsoft is working fast to come up with the ability to move from one device to another seamlessly.
Automated Browser Migration
One of the great perks of today’s browsers is the ability to store favorites and login credentials so you don’t have to key in a password every time you land on a frequently visited page – as is the ability to transfer all of that information over to another browser if you decide to switch teams. Smartly, all three of the major browsers support this automated migration.
To help ease the transition to Edge, Microsoft lets you import all of this data from Internet Explorer or Chrome – but there’s no support as of this writing for importing Firefox faves. Chrome supports importation from IE and Firefox, but as yet has nothing for Microsoft Edge. To its great credit, Firefox is on the ball, allowing you to import data from Chrome, IE and Microsoft Edge.
Down the Rabbit Hole
Most of what we’ve talked about is a mere scratch on the surface of the complexities browsers today are capable of. The fact is, if there’s anything your browser can’t already do, it’s likely some enterprising developer has programmed an extension to do just that. If you’ve never taken full advantage of the full capabilities of your browser, it’s time to pay a visit to the extensions store of your choice and take a trip down the rabbit hole. We’ll see you on the other side.