It's been exactly a month since we last visited the topic of Google Chrome. With both Windows and OSX beta versions of the browser now supporting add-ons, and with nearly 1,500 possible extensions flooding the Chrome Extensions "marketplace" since December 8, 2009, it's about time to take another look at the overflowing mass of Chrome add-ons. Why? To build the perfect browser, of course. Allow me a moment to monologue:
I've been a Mozilla Firefox user for a long, long time. Simply put, I love extensions. Being able to build new elements into my browsing experience, from Cloud-based bookmark synchronization to Sudoku puzzles, has been one of the more awesome elements of using this piece of software. If only it was that easy to enhance or extend the usefulness of any program one installed!
I've been hesitant to switch to Chrome for this very reason--without add-on support, I'm missing out on 50- to 75-percent of the awesomeness I've build into my admittedly slower and more memory-hogging browser, Firefox. But that's an argument that's slowly dying away. A number of Firefox's best add-ons have made the conversion over to Google Chrome, and that's exactly what I'll be exploring in this Freeware Files roundup.
These extensions are the crème de la crème. The best. The add-ons you should rush to pack into any new installation of Google Chrome, period. But that's not all--I'm also going to take a look at some apps that interact with Google Chrome or, in some cases, replace Google Chrome entirely... you'll see what I mean when it comes to interesting alternatives!
When Google Chrome installs on your machine, it installs with a unique ID that, in theory, could make the browser traceable to you in some fashion. I'm not suggesting that Chrome has some huge security breach or that there exists a huge record of everybody's installation / browsing / add-ons / whatever. However, the fact of the matter remains--there's an identifying number tied to your installation. If you're a privacy geek, that's not cool. And if that's not cool, then Chrome Privacy Protector is the app you'll use to get rid of this variable.
These two browsers, variants of Google Chrome (technically, the open-source Chromium version of the browser), each offer a different set of customizations and built-in add-ons that might be just what you're looking for if you find the standard version of Chrome to be a bit lacking.
Here's the deal: Iron-Version focuses on building a more private browsing experience, in that it strips out a number of features that would be used to send Google information of any sort. No longer will your browser have a user ID associated with it, send any data to Google in any form, update itself from Google's servers, or use any alternative error messages when your browsing experience goofs up.
ChromePlus, on the other hand, doesn't concern itself with privacy as much--more usefulness. Although this Chrome variant still strips out parts of the whole "sending information to Google" routine, it also packs a lot of great functionality directly into the browser that you'd otherwise have to find via add-ons.
For example, this version of Chrome allows you to double-click in the area of any tab to close it--take that, tiny "x" button. You can quickly open up new tabs by dragging a link on a page to anywhere on that page, and you can also navigate back and forth through your Chrome browsing experience using built-in mouse gestures. Even better, you can load up the Internet Explorer rendering engine directly via Chrome for pages that don't play well with Google's browser.
If you don't use Gmail, I apologize in advance. However, this add-on is tremendously useful if you only use the Webmail version of the app, but still want to know as soon as new messages hit your inbox without having to keep a Gmail tab open all the time. Google Mail Checker Plus sticks a little icon next to your address bar and--unlike Google Mail Checker--gives you a host of configuration options, including the amount of time it should wait between checking for new mail and whether you want to always connect to Gmail via SSL, amongst other options.
If you haven't heard about Xmarks Bookmark Sync, you've been living under a rock. Google Chrome can synchronize its bookmarks via your Google account--a great solution for keeping the list of your favorite sites up-to-date regardless of what machine you're using Chrome on. However, if you use multiple browsers throughout your day, the built-in synchronization for Chrome will never catch the tabs in your other favorite apps. Xmarks can and will. This add-on does an excellent job of keeping a consistent database of your bookmarks regardless of the browser you're surfing with.
Read the description of Xmarks above. Now remove the part about Google Chrome synchronizing anything and replace all instances of the word "bookmarks" with "passwords." In short, LassPass is an awesome way to securely keep track of all your major passwords across one or many browsing apps. Instead of having to remember a ton of different passwords for all your sites, LastPass does this all for you. Once it recognizes that you're on a site with a saved password, it'll send an encrypted version of your login to the site automatically--a keylogger won't work to steal your information as you won't actually be typing in your credentials to access a site after the first time! Of course, there's more to LastPass than just this feature, but it's certainly one of the add-on's bigger selling points.
If you're like me, you keep a ton of tabs open for research, archiving, and "I'll get to it later" excuses. And when your browser crashes or otherwise screws up, the built-in auto-restore might not work to speed--on Firefox, for example, an errant pop-up window can suddenly become the "last saved session" the browser remembers. If that happens, you can kiss the 40+ tabs you were saving goodbye. Session Manager allows you to save and restore browsing states as if it was nothing. This add-on is the perfect tool for preventing unexpected browser tab loss forevermore.
You asked for 'em and here they are! If Web advertising hacks you off--and I'm talking about obtrusive, in-your-face, or offensive Web advertising--then you'll want to grab theAdblock or Adthwart add-ons to nuke these unpleasant additions to your favorite Web sites. I'm not actually sure which add-on I like better, to be honest. Your success with either will depend on your own personal preference. Both do a great job of using predefined lists to accelerate your blocking experience. However, in doing so, you might be stripping the monthly food budget of a lot of hardworking Web folk so, uh, tread... carefully?