Useful tricks, extensions, and HTML5
Google Chrome wasn’t the first browser with productivity-boosting features. Nor was it the first to support browser extensions that added to its capabilities. But Chrome stood out for its minimalist interface, which devotes more space to showing actual Web pages. That’s enough to make the Google browser a winner for veteran surfers.
More good news: new Chrome extensions appear regularly, which promise to make the browser more useful. Not everything showcased here is an extension, however. Included in this rundown are two online applications that take full advantage of Chrome’s HTML5 capabilities, as well as three efficiency tips to enhance your surfing experience.
But this is hardly a definitive guide on what's possible with Chrome (we do have an older list you can check out as well). Got a Chrome extension, app, or tip to share? Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments.
Peeking Under the Hood
Maybe you’re already aware that directing any web browser to about:blank leaves you with a blank page. Google Chrome also has additional about: parameters that let you view detailed information about the browser’s operation--and even fake a web page crash. Here they are:
about: (or about:version)about:pluginsabout:memoryabout:histogramsabout:dnsabout:cacheabout:crashabout:credits
As an alternative to remembering all that: ChromeAccess adds a quick access menu containing all about: commands, as well as shortcuts to Chrome’s extensions, history, downloads, and bookmarks pages.
This drawing tool shows what’s possible with HTML5. Users can paint, add text, stamp shapes, select specific colors to use, and even put in gradients. There’s even a full undo-redo history for fickle-minded creatives, and an optimum workspace can be created by dragging toolbars around. Sketchpad unfortunately can’t work with existing images, but clicking on the save button instantly exports a PNG file for use.
Every year, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales aggressively solicits donations to keep his site running ad-free. 2010 saw the online encyclopedia post close-up shots of Wales on the top of every page, with the reasoning that his likeness would convince more people to donate. While the new banners have proven successful, reactions to them ranged from amusement to outright scorn. The Jimmy Wales extension—which adds Wikipedia to any web page you visit—could be categorized under the former.
Facebook Photo Zoom
Here’s an extension that saves time for avid Facebook users. Install Facebook Photo Zoom and you’ll be able to see the full-size photos on Facebook by simply pointing at their respective thumbnails. This is much faster than clicking each thumbnail to load the actual picture. Online stalking of family, friends, and employees was never so quick and easy!
This is perfect for those who use Chrome on multiple computers. Chrome Notepad lets you save notes accessible on other PCs running Chrome (with the same extension installed, of course), syncing your text with an online server. This is great for saving information at work for later use at home—or vice-versa.
Awesome Screenshot: Capture & Annotate
Found something interesting online that you’d like to share with your own comments attached? Awesome Screenshot: Capture & Annotate can capture an entire web page or a specific area. It then lets you highlight certain portions of the resulting capture with arrows, shapes, and text. Once you’re done adding thoughtful commentary, the extension can save everything as an image, and even upload it to awesomescreenshot.com for easy sharing with others online.
Auto HD for YouTube
Whether or not you’re one of the lucky few with a fast internet connection, Auto HD for YouTube lets you maximize your online video viewing experience. The extension lets you set a default video quality, meaning every YouTube video you load will automatically play at high-definition. Conversely, those who wish ill will on their ISPs can set Auto HD to play the lowest-quality versions to keep waiting times low.
One thing we don’t like about the default installation of Google Chrome is that you have to load a new page (showing chrome://bookmarks) to see all your bookmarks. Neat Bookmarks adds a bookmark menu to your Chrome toolbar, meaning all your saved URLs is just a couple of clicks away.
Yet another HTML5 showcase, Graph Plotter is great for mathematicians visualizing their work, casual users playing around with numbers, and even teachers requiring a visual aid. The online app supports full-blown mathematical formulas, and can plot multiple functions at the same time. Users can also save their plots as a PNG file.
Auto Replay for YouTube
Here’s another boon for YouTube viewers. Want to put that online video on repeat? Auto Replay for YouTube adds a small, self-explanatory checkbox on the lower right of every YouTube video. No more need to visit websites like youtuberepeat.com!
Shorten Your Search Engine Keywords
You can configure Google Chrome to let you search on different websites quickly. On any Chrome browser window, click on the wrench icon on the upper right, then select Options. Under the Basic tab on the window that appears, beside Default Search, click on Manage. You’ll end up on a list of search engines and their corresponding keywords.
As an example, select Google then click on Edit. Replace the keyword (by default “goog”) with “g”, and click on OK. By assigning one- or two-letter keywords to your various search engines, your searches on Chrome’s address bar take up less time. Instead of typing “goog tom’s guide” to search Google for “tom’s guide”, you only have to type in “g tom’s guide”. It’s only a few letters shorter, but you’ll love how much faster your searches become.
iMacros for Chrome
Even though PCs automate many trivial tasks for us, we still find ourselves applying the same things over and over again. iMacros for Chrome lets you create scripts that execute a series of commands. Among the sample uses of this extension include automatically filling out web forms and remembering passwords (secured by industry-standard 256-bit AES encryption). If you’ve used iMacros for Firefox or Internet Explorer, you can even import your scripts into Chrome without any changes required.
RescueTime Chrome Productivity Meter
This extension will reveal your working habits—or lack thereof. RescueTime Chrome Productivity Meter keeps track of how long you spend at specific websites, and compiles graphical data to help you determine if you spend too much time on time-wasting websites like Facebook. RescueTime also reveals how “distracted” you are compared to other people who use the extension. A great tool that helps people stay on track with their work online.
With one hand on your keyboard and the other on the mouse, you might as well get more efficiency out of both. Mouse Stroke lets you assign shortcut “gestures”. For instance, you can load the previous page by moving the mouse pointer to the left, then back to the right. The extension comes with a list of pre-programmed gestures, but you can create your own custom strokes, and assign them as shortcuts for a variety of browser-related actions.
Turn Off the Lights
Add a little cinematic magic to your YouTube viewing experience. Turn Off the Lights dims the rest of the YouTube page when you start playing the video. It makes those LOLcat videos seem more classy.
RSS Subscription Extension
If you use a feed reader to keep track of your favorite sites, the RSS Subscription Extension makes it easier to find a website’s RSS feed (you can subscribe to Tom’s Guide RSS feed here). Once this extension is installed, an RSS icon will appear on the right side of the address bar whenever your visit a website that has an RSS feed.
FireBug Lite for Chrome
Most web designers learn new things by picking up tips from the pros. FireBug Lite for Chrome exposes the innards of any web pages, revealing the code that makes its layout and look possible. Knowing the XHTML and CSS behind any website is an invaluable tool for newbie designers—or veterans trying to find out how their competitors do it.
Wiki Quick Hints
Wikipedia is a great online resource, but going through all its articles can be time-consuming. Wiki Quick hints pops up a preview when you point at a link while holding down Ctrl. The extension makes it possible to quickly get a good idea about new topics, and you’re left with the option to visit the unknown term’s article page for more details.
The Chrome Task Manager
If something on Chrome is acting wonky, simply press Shift+Esc to summon the browser’s task manager (you can also right-click on the empty space to the right of the tabs, and click on Task Manager). Listed on it are all of your active tabs, extensions, and plug-ins. On the right side are the Memory and CPU columns, which indicate how much of your PC’s resources each item is using.
Clicking on End Process will close the selected item, useful for getting rid of any web pages that have stopped working properly. The Stats for nerds on the lower-left will pull up the about:memory page, providing more details on Chrome’s operation.