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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Chrome Extensions: One Year Later

chrome-logo9About a year ago I wrote a few articles about my experiences with Google Chrome, and more specifically extensions and whether they made it worth making the switch from Internet Explorer.  I’ve always been open to trying different web browsers, but have always ended up going back to IE as I’ve just found it works.  I’ve never got the whole Firefox thing, I have always felt it to be something for people that are anti-Microsoft for the sake of it.  The closest I came to giving up IE was many moons ago when I tried Opera with tabbed browsing (before Firefox made it popular), but at the time too many websites were built for IE and didn’t work properly in other browsers, so I ended up back with IE.  Google Chrome is different. Ever since giving it a go I haven’t looked back and now do the majority of my browsing using Chrome. The only exception is with some online banking where Chrome isn’t supported.  So after a year of playing around with various extensions, which ones have I come to rely on in Chrome.

I’ll start off with the staple Google Apps of Gmail, Calendar and Docs. For these I am using something relatively new to Chrome, the Chrome Webstore. Here I added the Apps for Gmail, Calendar and Docs to Chrome.  The term apps is used loosely in this case as they are little more than bookmarks, except that from the Chrome homepage you can
set them to open as “pinned tabs”.  These tabs are, as the name suggests pinned in Chrome and automatically open when you launch Chrome. They also leave a smaller footprint by showing just an icon at in the tab, while any other tabs you open can still hold the full description.  To complement these I use Gmail Notifier to let me know when I have anything new in my inbox. Not only does it show me how many unread items I have in my inbox, it also now supports desktop notifications, so when I get any mail I can see who its from and an overview of what its about, which can save time going to my inbox when an email isn’t that important. For Calendar I find Google Calendar Checker does the job. Its simple, showing how long until your next appointment or event, while hovering the mouse over the extension icon tells you what the event is. Basic yes, but with the Calendar tab always open its all I really need.

For social networking Facebook for Google Chrome happily deals with most of my Facebook needs. Quick and easy to see status updates while if unobtrusively lets you know if you have any notifications.  For Twitter I use Chrowety. Here you have the choice of either the icon showing you any new tweets or messages or getting desktop alerts if you prefer. Personally I have the desktop alerts off, as if you are trying to do other things they can start to get a bit in the way if you are getting a lot of new tweets from people you follow.  I have started to notice an annoying bug recently when, that if I get any mentions or direct messages it incorrectly reports these. Disabling then re-enabling fixes it, but if it continues I may look elsewhere for my Twitter fix.

Adblock is one of those great extensions you forget all about, at least until you use a computer that doesn’t have it.  Its great at, well blocking ads from webpages but you rarely realise its doing anything, as it has no effect on your browsing experience. In fact its only when you use a computer without it being installed you realise how good it is at getting rid of all those annoying ads. It can be personalised so if you want to allow ads on some sites, you can.

Clip to Evernote is a simple yet powerful tool that made planning Christmas and Christmas shopping so much easier for me.  The extension is a web clipper that lets you store webpages as notes in your Evernote account. Ok, so I could just bookmark the page, but by syncing to Evernote it gives me access the the details from any PC with an internet connection as well as my phone. While the extension itself is useful, its really just a small part of Evernote, which in the last year has helped in keep my life so much more organised.

I covered password management in quite a bit of detail last year when I first started looking at Chrome extensions focussing on LastPass and Roboform.  Since then I have stuck with Roboform, and while not perfect it has done the job.  A new version has been released which is supposed to support Chrome, unfortunately they seem to have changed their licensing agreement conditions from free updates for ever to , if you want version 7 you have to pay.  This and reports I have read that suggest V7’s support for Chrome is not as good as it should be have made me re-think whether Roboform is the right tool for me. I plan to re-evaluate LastPass to see if the issues I had last year have been fixed. If so, it could well be replacing Roboform as my password manager of choice.

Other useful utilities I have found are; Docs PDF/PowerPoint Viewer which automatically previews documents such as PDFs in Google’s Document Viewer; Chrome Reader which lets me quickly add RSS feeds to Google Reader; Google Dictionary which shows definitions of words on the web pages; IE Tab Classic which allows pages designed for Internet Explorer that don’t work in other browsers to be view in Chrome, though there are still some websites that even this doesn’t work with forcing me to load up IE; Basic Calculator which is as it sounds, but is quicker start than the Windows calculator and last but by no means least Invisible Hand, a great little app which lets you know if the item you are looking at is available cheaper elsewhere on the internet.

So that’s what I’m using for now, and no doubt some of these will change of the coming months.  Going forward, the Chrome Webstore looks promising and should open up more possibilities.  Perhaps what I would most like to see is a proper Spotify extension or Chrome App, one where you don’t need to launch the separate Spotify application to listen to music, but can actually do so from your browser. Time will tell as to if that will happen. Hopefully there will be a few other surprises along the way too.

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