By Jay Garmon
Google Chrome has much to recommend it as a browser, but a veteran FireFox or habitual Internet Explorer user may be hesitant to give up the add-ons or plug-ins that make their favorite web browsers more useful. Chrome extensions are the answer here, as they replicate or replace the functionality found in typical browser plug-ins. Below we list the top 10 Chrome extensions to get you started.
Similarly, there is an equivalent of Xmarks for Google Chrome — Xmarks Bookmark Sync — but anyone with a Google account can sync their bookmarks between any two Google Chrome installations. Just open the tools menu in Chrome (the little wrench icon in the top right), select Sync Bookmarks, and after you sign in with your Google user name Chrome will drag in all the bookmarks from your first Chrome installation to your current browser. Be warned, however, that these bookmarks are stored in Google Docs, so if you’re a bookmark hoarder, your first post-Chrome Google Docs session may feature a laundry of list of web site titles filling up your Recent Documents list.
Now, onto the top 10 Google Chrome extensions you’ll actually want and need:
1. AdBlock – Some claim that ad blocking is killing the free Web, others say that ad blockers are simply killing bad advertisers. Whatever your position, anyone looking for an equivalent of Greasemonkey for Chrome should start with the AdBlock Chrome extension. It strips out most ads from the majority of websites, making for a cleaner, faster (and, thanks to blocked autoplaying video ads, quieter) browsing experience.
2. Send from Gmail – If you’re a Google Chrome user, odds are you’re a Gmail user, too. This Chrome extension will direct every e-mail link on a website to a Gmail window, rather than firing up MS Outlook. No more copy-and-pasting e-mail addresses into Gmail for you. As an added bonus, you can instantly email the URL to any page you’re reading using this extension. This makes it so much easier to spam out that link for the latest LOLcats image or OK Go video.
3. Google Mail Checker – The only real disadvantage to Gmail compared with a desktop-based mail client is that, unless you have Gmail open, you don’t get instant notification that new mail has been received. The Google Mail Checker Chrome extension keeps a running tally of your unread Gmail messages next to the Chrome address bar, and clicking the extension icon will open a Gmail tab. Never wonder whether you’ve got unread Gmail again.
4. IE Tab– Some sites are optimized to run exclusively in Internet Explorer, especially Microsoft products like Outlook Web Access. Don’t give up that native IE Web functionality just because you’re using Chrome. The IE Tab Chrome Extension creates a virtual IE browser within Chrome, so you get all the Internet Explorer-ness without running two different browsers.
5. Docs PDF/PowerPoint Viewer – If Chrome has one glaring weakness, it’s that it doesn’t always handle PDF links very well. (I’ve had to kill more than a few stalled Chrome tabs that unknowingly tried to open PDF online forms.) The Docs PDF/PowerPoint Viewer Chrome extension sends any PDF or PowerPoint Web link to Google Docs, where the document can be read, surfed, printed or saved quickly and easily.
6. FastestChrome – FireFox users will call this Chrome extension FastestFox for Chrome, which is appropriate, since the two plug-ins share the same creator. The FastestChrome extension enhances Web searches. Highlight any word on a page to get a definition of the term, or launch a search for the text. On Google search results, additional results pages are automatically loaded so you can just keep scrolling. Relevant results from other search engines and sites — like Amazon and Wikipedia — are interlinked into standard Google search results. On Wikipedia pages, related articles are automatically loaded into the left-hand column. If you perform any amount of web research on a regular basis, the FastestChrome extension gets very addictive, very fast.
7. Stop Autoplay for YouTube – There are a lot of Chrome extensions that stop videos from automatically playing when you visit their host pages, but the Stop Autoplay Chrome Extension goes the extra mile: It stops autoplay but still pre-buffers the video. For those of you with slow connections, no longer must you suffer through stuttering YouTube playback while you wait for the entire video to load. Simply wait for the progress bar to fill up, then hit play; your video will be waiting for you.
8. Feedly – If you have bookmarked RSS feeds from Google Reader, Twitter, Delicious, YouTube or Amazon, the Feedly Chrome extension is your new best friend. Feedly automatically imports your feeds, then arranges the content into a eye-pleasing magazine page. The Feedly extension also keeps a running tally of your unread items in the address bar, so you know exactly how many stories await in your new personal news site.
9. GooglePreview – The GooglePreview Chrome Extension is simple: It adds a thumbnail to the left of any Google search result showing a snapshot of the listed website. This is very helpful when you’re looking for a site you visited but didn’t bookmark, as the thumbnail image can help jog your memory. Also, if there are (ahem) unsavory images on the page, you’ll know before you open the link.
10. Session Manager – Sometimes bookmarks aren’t enough. Sometimes you need to save a web page exactly as it is, with your account logged in and certain online work already in progress. The Session Manager Chrome extension is there for you in these situations. Simply click the cardboard box icon next to the address bar, and Session Manager will offer a Save option for any web page you’re running. All saved web pages are timestamped, so you can return to any version of your in-progress work at any time. Skip login screens and configuration menus and return to any page exactly as you left it. It sounds trivial, but for those of us that bounce between multiple web apps and interfaces, Session manager is a time-saver that makes a noticeable difference.
These Chrome extensions will get you started down the road to more efficient, effective Web browsing, but they’re just the beginning. Bear in mind that each additional Chrome extension expands Chrome’s memory footprint. Install too many and the browser will become unwieldy, but by mixing and matching from this starter set, Chrome will feel like your custom-made personal browser in no time.