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February 23, 2010, 10:00 AM ET

Using Google Chrome and Chrome Extensions for Speed and Productivity

Previously at ProfHacker, I wrote about choosing a web browser that’s right for you. At the time, and since late 2005 when Firefox 1.5 was released, Firefox was the browser I used 95% of the time—the other 5% was reserved for testing sites within other web browsers.

In that post, I also said:

I do know that if Chrome ramps up the add-ons, I can see myself switching to it full-time in the next year or two. But your mileage may (and will) vary.

Turns out “next year or two” meant “January 2010″ because a few weeks ago I switched my primary web browser to Google Chrome. I now use Chrome 80% of the time, Firefox approximately 15% of the time, and all other browsers 5% of the time. I use Chrome on Windows, but Chrome is now also available for Mac OS X 10.5 or later (Intel only) and Linux (Debian/Ubuntu/Fedora/openSUSE)—with extension support for the latter platforms although that support is in beta.

I switched from Firefox to Chrome because I evaluated it according to the four points I discussed in my earlier post: processing/rendering speed, memory footprint, web standards compatibility, and flexibility. For me, Chrome is not the true winner in all four of those categories, but it is a clear winner by far in two of them for me (processing/rendering speed and memory footprint) such that these features outweighed the fourth (flexibility), where Firefox is still the favorite.

In other words, Chrome is significantly faster but Firefox and its community of extension builders (and their work) is stronger. However, with two notable exceptions, I’ve been able to customize Chrome with extensions similar to those I used every day in Firefox. Those exceptions are:

  • FireFTP—or any built-in FTP manager; at this time you can only download files via FTP and not upload or otherwise manage FTP sessions via Chrome
  • Zotero—see “ProfHacker 101: Getting started with Zotero” part one and part two, and try to find any ProfHacker post having anything to do with references and citations that doesn’t mention Zotero)

So, the 15% of the time that I still use Firefox is specifically for FTP—only because I’ve been too busy to switch all of my account information to a standalone FTP client—and for using Zotero. If that’s not how you roll (e.g. you don’t use Zotero or FTP integrated into your web browser), then I strongly suggest you give Chrome a whirl and see if it doesn’t increase your productivity through its ultra-speediness.

You are likely to find:

  • Chrome is fast
  • Chrome is unlikely to crash (each process runs in its own environment, which helps with the “fast” point, above, too)
  • although Chrome has some customization issues—you currently do not have the same control over the placement of items in toolbars, and the extensions library is not as rich—these negatives are/nearly are outweighed by the two points above
Chrome Extensions

Last August, in one of my very first posts here at ProfHacker, I wrote about increasing productivity through Firefox extensions. The same holds for Chrome (with the notable exceptions above)—extensions enrich your browsing experience and can make you more productive.

The current list of 10 most popular extensions includes:

  1. AdBlock (blocks ads)
  2. Google Mail Checker (unread message count and link to GMail)
  3. IE Tab (display web pages using IE in a tab—good for testing)
  4. Google Translate (one-click page translation)
  5. FastestChrome (speeds up repetitive tasks through auto-loading of next page, improved searching, and more)
  6. Cooliris (transforms your browser into a full-screen 3D wall for searching, viewing and sharing the Web)
  7. Google Dictionary (view definitions while browsing)
  8. Docs PDF/PowerPoint Viewer (previews pdfs, presentations, and other documents in Google Docs Viewer)
  9. AdThwart (blocks ads)
  10. Xmarks Bookmarks Sync (backup and sync bookmarks across computers and browsers)

Note that only three of the top ten extensions were created by Google (Google Translate, Google Dictionary, and Docs PDF/PowerPoint viewer). The Google Team(s) have written many others for Google products (Tasks, Buzz, Wave, Voice, etc) but anyone can write a Chrome extension just like anyone can write a Firefox extension.

While Firefox has the clear lead in the number of extensions and size of the developer community (not to mention a head start of several years), Chrome extensions will catch up—much like the Android app development community is catching up to the iPhone app development community. Some extensions are more polished than others.

I don’t use all of the top ten extensions listed above. In fact, I only use five of them (AdBlock, Google Mail Checker, IE Tab, Google Translate, and Docs PDF/PowerPoint Viewer). But here are some others that I use (developers’ descriptions follow each link):

  • Chromed Bird: Twitter extension that allows you to follow your timelines and interact with your Twitter account.
  • ChromeMilk: Access your Remember the Milk tasks right from your Google Chrome toolbar. [see Amy's recent post "Got Milk? Using Remember the Milk for Task Management"]
  • Firebug Lite: Firebug Lite provides the rich visual representation of HTML elements, DOM elements, and Box Model shading, and allows you to inspect HTML elements and live edit CSS properties.
  • FlashBlock: Block them all [all Flash movies], or be selective with the embedded whitelist manager
  • Google Calendar Checker w/ Popup: Quickly see the time until your next meeting. Click the button to open your agenda.
  • Linky: Opens all selected links that are currently highlighted in new tabs.
  • Picnik: Capture web pages and edit images right in your browser using Picnik.
  • Postponer Adder and Postponer Manager: Postponer is a pair of Chrome extensions to add to and manage your Read It Later reading list.
  • Session Manager: Save sessions of your opened tabs and windows and quickly re-open them whenever you like.
  • Shareaholic: Share, save or email any web page with your friends right from the page you are on using Twitter, Facebook, GMail, and many more!

These Chrome Extensions make me a happy and productive web user (and my browser is open and in use 12+ hours each day), but check out DownloadSquad’s “Ten must-have Google Chrome extensions” for yet another list. And then, of course, try it out for yourself!



1. George H. Williams - February 23, 2010 at 10:24 am

Nice post, Julie! I've downloaded and installed Chrome but have yet to really start using it or customize it with my choice of extensions. This will give me the kick in the butt to get going, I think.

2. Susan - February 23, 2010 at 11:06 am

Thanks for the heads-up, Julie: Chrome is way fast, and I"m having to remind myself that I will be more productive today when I actually finish the document I need to write this morning than if I spend an hour poking around cool-o Chrome extensions. But it's so tempting!

3. Jonathan Dresner - February 23, 2010 at 11:33 am

I won't even consider using a Google browser precisely because of the integration with Google accounts. I don't want all of my functions and accounts linked: I need to be able to separate personal and professional functions, something that is becoming more difficult as Google absorbs more services.

4. G. Michael Guy - February 23, 2010 at 11:37 am

One of the reasons it's fast is because it doesn't do everything Firefox does. Give it time to start doing all the extra extensions stuff, add more add-ons, more features, and you will find it too will slow down and it too will start to use lots of memory!! Windows 3.1 didn't use nearly the memory that Vista does, but I'm not switching back! I need (want? crave?) the features! Not to mention, some may forget Chrome is not just "some browser." it is very much part of Google's strategic plan to take over the world. Whether you want them to win, is your choice, but you should at least be aware it's not just "another browser."

I personally use Chrome for some Google specific things like Gmail and Google Calendar since it is very well nicely to that. But most of my day to day is still Firefox, at least for now.

5. Julie Meloni - February 23, 2010 at 11:46 am

In the spirit of clarification: having a Google Account is not required to use Chrome (the browser, not the OS), and there is no connection to any Google Account inherent in the Chrome unless you add an extension to check a service that requires your Google Account information, or enable syncing services [].

6. G. Michael Guy - February 23, 2010 at 11:52 am

Obvious typos in last paragraph... "it is well suited to that" or "it is works very nicely for that" was my scrambled thought! :-X

7. Julie Meloni - February 23, 2010 at 11:52 am

The comment that it's fast because it doesn't do everything that Firefox does is not entirely true. It is true that there are not as many extensions as Firefox (as I said), but the fundamental architecture of Chrome is expressly designed for speed and is fundamentally different from Firefox BUT, I should add, is similar to IE8. The multi-process architecture that powers Chrome invokes a separate process for each tab and extension, for process isolation that results in greater speed, reliability, and security. Users are able to see and kill processes via the browser as well as their OS's task manager.

8. Chris Forster - February 23, 2010 at 01:58 pm

Great point. Killing a tab in Chrome actually frees up memory. Killing a tab in memory hungry FF3.5 however--no such luck, b/c each tab in FF3.5 is not a separate process. (I hear good things about FF3.6, but haven't tried it myself).

9. Erik - February 23, 2010 at 06:30 pm

I'm convinced. I've been using FF/Chrome/Opera at about 70/20/10 ratio but I will bump Chrome to 80 with some of these extensions. FF has been slowing down my entire system and just being generally weird. I might miss some of my Greasemonkey scripts, though. We'll see.

10. GC Fiedler - February 24, 2010 at 02:48 am

Chrome absolutely screams in OSX, and I'm using it 90% of the time now instead of Safari. It chokes on a couple sites, unfortunately. And naturally, two of those sites is our Uni's 'intranet', and CMS.

I didn't realize that extensions were available for the Mac version - just found them now after reading your post. Unfortunately, 1Password doesn't yet have an extension - and the existing solution is a kludge that doesn't always work.

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