Google Chrome has seen extensive growth in the mere two years it has been around and has quickly become the preferred browser of many. Google Chrome is fast, usually the fastest of all browsers, and features a browser process isolation model than ensures that one websites crashing doesn’t bring down the browser. It has the smallest UI footprint of all browsers, and has, from quite a while now, supported browser extensions as well.
Google Chrome comes in four different channels, a stable channel for the general public, a beta channel for those who want the latest features but still want a relatively stable browser, a dev channel that brings the latest features each week, and finally the canary build that can update more than once a week.
Google Chrome is famous for releasing “major” versions much faster. For quite a while Google released a new version of Google Chrome every three months, however since the last two versions they have pushed this up to a new major build every 6 weeks. Google Chrome is already at version 10 in its beta flavour.
The browser is mostly open source, however it includes some closed components in the version that you can download from Google. For those looking for a fully open source version, there is Chromium, which is a build made from only the open source bits of Google Chrome.
Due the extensively shared source code between Google Chrome and Chromium, these Tips and Tricks should be applicable to both. Some might even work with other Chromium-based browsers.
While not as extensive (or true), “about:flags” can be considered the nearest equivalent of about:config in Firefox. Simply enter “about:flags” as the URL in a new tab, and you will be greeted with a list of flags that can be toggled to enable hidden features in Google Chrome.
This page will update over time, some features will mature and be enabled by default, while new ones will be added as they are implemented.
Some of the Tips we will use will require setting flags here. After setting flags, all you need to do is restart the browser, and the new setting will come in effect. In many cases this will not be enough to activate a feature though.
Tabs on the side
If you have a large monitor, you might want to switch displaying tabs on the side, in order to gain more space for displaying tabs. Unlike with Firefox, you do not need to install an extension to get tabs on the side, as this merely requires you to toggle a flag in “about:flags”.
After you have enabled the “Side Tabs” experiment in “about:flags” simply right click on a tab and click “Use side tabs” to switch between tabs-on-top and tabs-on-the-side.
However, Google Chrome’s side-tabs feature is not as powerful or useful what you can get with Firefox with add-ons, nor will you get extensions for the same. Google’s side tabs has many limitations, such as:
- If you open too many tabs, and the number of tabs is more than what can be displayed in the vertical space available, the list of tabs will not scroll, and some tabs will be inaccessible
- You cannot resize the horizontal space available for tabs
- The right click menu while working with side-tabs is not very clear, it still contains “Close tabs to the Right” which no longer makes sense
Use multiple Google Chrome Profiles
This is quite simple with Firefox since it has a profile manager, however it is not much complicated for Google Chrome either. Soon it might get even simpler as Google Chrome gets its own profile manager, which promises to make it more powerful than the one with Firefox.
Till then, you have a few options. Like Firefox user-profiles for Chrome can be specified via the command-line. Google Chrome has a command-line parameter “–user-data-dir” that can be used for this purpose.
To create a new profile with Google Chrome, first of all, create a new directory to hold this profile data. Let us assume you wish to store the data for your new profile in D:Chrome. In this case create a shortcut to Google Chrome —you could copy your existing desktop shortcut and edit it— and add the following parameter:
Your full path should look something like:
“C:\Documents and Settings\username\Local Settings\Application Data\Google\Chrome\Application\chrome.exe” –user-data-dir=D:\Chrome
Whenever you want to launch Google Chrome with this profile, simply use this shortcut. You can create multiple folders and multiple shortcuts for each profile.
If you’d prefer to use a ready-made tool for this job instead of mucking about with command-line parameters and shortcuts, you can take a look at ChromeDeck, which is an open source project for managing Google Chrome profiles.
If you aren’t already aware of it, this tip might be incredibly useful.
Chances are you use multiple computers, and if you do you will probably use the same browser on all of them. If that browser happens to be Google Chrome, then you will be pleased to know that it has a Synchronization feature built in. You can keep your browser customizations synchronized among multiple computers using Google Chrome Sync.
Over the past few versions of Google Chrome, the browser has gained support for syncing an increasing amount of data. It started from simply synchronizing bookmarks in Google Chrome 4, and today, in the latest Google Chrome 8 version it supports synchronizing preferences, Autofill data, Themes, extensions, and apps in addition to bookmarks.
Google Chrome Sync requires a Google Account, and stores your data in your Google Docs account. It is easy to enable, as an option is available for it under the “Personal Stuff” tab of your Preferences page. There you can enable or disable sync and choose what all you’d like to keep synced.
In Chrome 9 (currently in the dev channel) it is possible to synchronize passwords as well, and adding and additional sync key for encrypting your data.
Run Greasemonkey scripts
For those who haven’t heard of Greasemonkey, you’ve missed out on something amazing. Greasemonkey is an add-on for Mozilla Firefox ‒ don’t worry this is still about Chrome ‒ that allows you to change the looks or functionality of a number of websites by installing scripts. It is like an addon that makes your browser extensible in yet another way.
These scripts run on web pages and can often add features that are not available by default. For example, you will find Greasemonkey scripts that add a download button to YouTube, preview audio files stored in Google Docs, or show prices in your local currency on Amazon. Since these scripts run in the context of the website itself, many of these can be run on any browser, and there have always been ways of doing so. However Greasemonkey made it incredible easy to discover and install such scripts.
The great thing is that Greasemonkey scripts are natively supported on Google Chrome, without installing any add-on. However there are many Greasemonkey scripts that are limited to Firefox as the features they need are not supported by Google Chrome. For example, the Amazon script above will not work. Still, you will find a large number of Google Chrome-compatible scripts.
To install Greasemonkey scripts, visit http://userscripts.org and search away for the scripts you want. Once you find a script, just click the Install button, and Google Chrome will show the usual Google Chrome extension installation dialog. You will be able to manage your installed Greasemonkey scripts along with the rest of your extensions.
Often times we need to perform activities on our browser that we’d rather keep private. For this purpose many browser include a mode of browsing in which no records are kept of a user’s activities.
If you want, you can simply create a new profile for this purpose, however a simpler way is to use the “Incognito” feature in Google Chrome. Unlike in Firefox, Google Chrome can open a new “Incognito window” along with your usual browsing session, whereas in Firefox, your normal browsing session would be suspended.
Whatever you do in tabs opened in this incognito window is not recorded, it is as if you are working on a read-only copy of your browser. Read-only means that your browsing history and bookmarks are still available (unlike with the separate profile approach), however they are not affected by your activities while private browsing is engaged.
Private browsing can be used for many things, surfing pornography comes straight to mind, and this feature is often jokingly called Porn Mode. However it can potentially have many more uses than that, from searching for gifts for a loved one, to performing high-security activities such as accessing bank accounts.
Google Chrome disables any extensions in Incognito mode since they might inadvertently leak or store some information about your private browsing activities, so unlike with Firefox, this is something you need not worry about with Chrome. Instead you can choose to enable certain extensions in this mode.
Opening an Incognito window is simple enough, as an option for the same is accessible from the wrench-menu. You can also use the shortcut Ctrl+Shift+N.
Create single-site browsers
Google Chrome has inbuilt support for creating single-site browsers. What this means is, you can create a direct shortcut to a website you like on your desktop, start menu, or pinned to your taskbar, clicking on which will open the website in its own window, as if it were a normal desktop application. Such windows will not even have the minimal UI that Google Chrome has. They are simple windows with a titlebar and the content of the web page.
This can be incredibly useful for web applications such as GMail, or Aviary. If one application crashes, it will not bring down the other applications or the tabs opened in Google Chrome. Additionally, each such application will appear as a separate icon in the taskbar instead of grouping with your other Google Chrome Windows.
Creating such a web application shortcut is simple, click on the wrench-menu, and under the “Tools” submenu, you will find “Create application shortcuts…”. Clicking on this will pop up a dialog that will give you the option to create shortcuts on your desktop, start menu, and the taskbar.