Ten ways to customize Chrome

One of the reasons I like Firefox is its support for extensions (otherwise known as add-ons), which are little bits of code that extend the browser’s capabilities. On my machine, for instance, I remove page breaks from lengthy articles with the extension AutoPager, turn Flash movies into objects that I must click to see with FlashBlock, show my downloads in a status bar at the bottom of the main window with Download StatusBar, help debug my HTML and CSS code with Firebug, and sync my browsers across machines with Xmarks.

The Mac’s newest mainstream browser, Google’s free Chrome, also supports extensions. There are a wealth of them—almost all free—available from Chrome’s extensions gallery. But how do you know which ones might be most useful to you? The Popular and Featured entries on the gallery page are a good starting point. But here’s my list of ten great Chrome extensions you should check out:

1. FlashBlock

This extension turns any Flash object on a page into a clickable link—no more auto-playing content when you load a page. Instead, you’ll see each Flash object clearly marked, and you can play it (or not) at your own discretion.

2. Google Dictionary

Chrome on OS X doesn’t support the system’s built-in dictionary. This extension is the next best thing, though. After installing, just double-click (or Command-double-click, if you prefer) any word to see a pop-up definition. Click More in the pop-up, and you’ll be taken to a full page of information related to the selection, courtesy of Google’s dictionary.

3. Mini Google Maps

Have you ever been browsing and came across something—an address, a city name, a landmark—that you wanted to check out on Google Maps? The typical procedure is to open a new tab or window, type in the item you wish to find, and then toggle between the two tabs (or windows) as needed. Google Mini Maps presents a much better solution—click a toolbar button, and a small map pops up, floating over the corner of the current site. When you’re done with the map, click the toolbar button again, and the map’s gone.

Mini Google Maps
Mini Google Maps lets you pop up a floating Google Map any time you need it.

4. Docs PDF/PowerPoint Viewer

You can easily view PDFs in the Chrome browser window by installing this extension. You’ll need to have a Google account, however. Once installed, PDFs open in the browser instead of in Preview, and you get some simple controls for layout, size, flipping between pages, and a search function. Another option is the PDF Browser Plugin, which seems to work fine with Chrome, and doesn’t require a Google account.

5. Tab Menu

If you open a lot of tabs, you’ll quickly find their titles unreadable, as Chrome makes each tab smaller to accommodate new additions. Tab Menu solves that by giving you a vertical listing of tabs, along with a set of keyboard shortcuts to ease working with the list. Use the arrow keys to navigate between tabs, and then press Return to open the selected tab. You can even search tab titles and URLs with a search function.

6. TooManyTabs for Chrome

TooManyTabs is another extension aimed at helping you work with multiple tabs. Not only can you see a visible overview of all your tabs (and search the URLs), but you can also suspend tabs—a suspended tab will free its memory, and disappear from your open tabs. But you can easily restore a suspended tab when you’re ready to go back to the page, without having to enter the URL from scratch and start over.

TooManyTabs lets you easily work with many open tabs. You can even suspend tabs to free up memory without closing them.

7. Xmarks Bookmarks Sync

If you use more than one computer, and especially if you use computers with different operating systems—Mac, Windows, or Linux—then you really should give Xmarks a try. This extension, which supports Firefox, Safari (on Mac), and Internet Explorer in addition to Chrome, makes it simple to keep all your bookmarks in sync across all your browsers. It’s so simple, in fact, that it’s basically set-and-forget. Just go about your normal browsing, and Xmarks makes sure that your bookmarks are synced via its servers. You can even control which bookmarks are synced to which computers by creating different profiles.

8. AutoPager Chrome

This handy little extension—also available for Firefox—eliminates the need to click Next to continue reading something on a given Web site. Instead, AutoPager fetches and appends the next page to the current page, so as you scroll down, you’re moving through a seemingly infinite page. This not only works on articles, but on Google’s search results, and other such list-oriented sites.

9. Amazon Wish List

Do you use Amazon’s Wish List as I do—as a virtual repository for things you might want to buy someday? If so, you may find this extension works almost too well. Once installed, adding something to your wish list requires only the click of a button in the toolbar. You can then customize the name, price, desired quantity, and comments, and add the item to one of your existing wish lists.

10. Wikipedia Companion Mini Wiki Browser

Similar to Mini Google Maps, this extension gives you a pop-up miniature Wikipedia browser, complete with history of your recent lookups and with back/forward buttons. It’s a great way to get more detail on something you may be reading, without having to first leave that page or open a new tab. When done with the mini window, just press Escape and it vanishes.

This list barely scratches the surface of the available Chrome extensions—there are nearly 5,000 now, and the list grows every day. Given Chrome extensions can be installed (and removed) without restarting the browser, they’re relatively painless to test, and you can find some real gems by browsing the Top Rated and Most Popular extensions on the Chrome Extensions page.

Wikipedia Companion
Wikipedia Companion gives you fast access to Wikipedia, without making you leave the page you're reading.

Senior contributor Rob Griffiths is currently the operations and marketing guy at Many Tricks Software, makers of Butler, Witch, and other utilities. Before that, he launched and ran Macosxhints.com for nearly 10 years, the last few as an employee of Macworld.

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