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Five Nifty Tricks in Google Chrome

Google ChromeIt’s likely that somebody’s already told you about the wonders of Google’s browser, Chrome. That someone may even have been Julie, in her post Using Google Chrome and Chrome Extensions for Speed and Productivity. Chrome’s got an awful lot going for it: it’s fast, it’s lightweight, and it’s super-stable—and as web applications become more complex, that last is increasingly important. If you’ve ever had Firefox crash when you’ve got multiple tabs open, you’ll know what I mean. In Chrome, each tab and window runs as a separate process, and so the worst that a bad Flash application can do is cause the tab it’s in to fail.

But beyond simple stability and speed, Chrome’s got a lot of options available. Here are a few nifty tricks that might help make your browsing experience that much better.

1. Extensions

As Julie discussed in her earlier post, Chrome has hundreds of available extensions that can help you customize your browsing experience. Some of these extensions place little icons in your toolbar, giving you easy access to web applications and other functionality. Here are the ones that I use:

Chrome extensions

From left to right, those extensions are for 1Password (an in-development extension available from the developer), GoogleMail Checker, GoogleCalendar Checker, GoogleReader Notifier, Instachrome (an Instapaper extension), Clip to Evernote, and Firebug Lite (a suite of web developer tools).

What used to be most annoying about these little icons, as Julie noted in her earlier post, was that they appeared in your toolbar in whatever order they happened to like. You could do some manner of rearranging by uninstalling and reinstalling extensions in order, but that’s clunky at best, and impermanent at worst, as new extensions could goof up your finely crafted order.

For the genuinely compulsive among us, that will not do.

So imagine how pleased I was to discover that recent Chrome releases allow you to rearrange those icons by dragging and dropping them into place. It’s a small change, yes, but knowing that my 1Password button is immediately to the right of the address bar on all of my computers has made a huge difference to my workflow.

No, really. It has.

2. Themes

Since I’ve talked about extensions, I’m now going to talk about themes, but only for a second. Chrome allows you to add a fancy skin to your browser by installing and activating some nicely designed themes. I personally don’t use them, but some of them are pretty nifty if you’re of a mind.

3. Sync

Here’s where the real “whoa” factor begins to kick in for me: as I’ve noted here before, I place a very high premium on the ability to keep my data in sync across multiple machines.

Chrome has now made this massively simple, by using your Google account to keep more or less everything associated with your browser — extensions, themes, preferences, autofill data, and so forth — synchronized across as many machines as you like.

Chrome Sync

Just look under “Personal Stuff” in your Chrome preferences, fill in your Google user id and password, and choose what you want synchronized. Easy peasy.

4. Pin Tabs

If you’re anything like me, you often find yourself with an unmanageable number of open browser tabs. Tabs are swell, but sometimes they take up more space than you want them to, and sometimes new tabs will pop up in the wrong spot (to the left of something rather than on the right, or whathaveyou).

Chrome tabs

One easy way to clear up the mess is to pin your key tabs, which shrinks them down to their favicon and keeps them at the far left of your tabs. You can do this by right-clicking on any given tab — Gmail, say:

Chrome contextual menu

Select “Pin Tab” from the resulting menu. (Non-Mac users: I’m assuming you’ve got the same option there somewhere.)

Chrome tabs, pinned

And voilà. Any new tab that opens will now automatically open to the right of these pinned tabs, which will stay neatly tucked at left.

Pin Tabs is especially good for web apps that you keep open all the time, such as Gmail and Google Calendar, in my case. And here’s the nifty part: if you leave your pinned tabs open when you quit Chrome, they’ll automatically reopen next time you launch the browser.

5. Experiments

Finally, something that’s nifty though not exactly a trick. As Julie mentioned back in her original discussion of Chrome, one of its great selling points is its compatibility with key web standards. This will become most important as designers and developers increasingly adopt HTML5, the next major revision of the web standards, and Chrome is out ahead of most other browsers in this regard.

In order to test out the possibilities that Chrome’s HTML5 compatibility presents, Google has set up Chrome Experiments, asking designers to use a little JavaScript and a bunch of open standards to see what can be done. The most famous of these experiments so far is the interactive video created for Arcade Fire’s “The Wilderness Downtown.” If you haven’t watched it — well, it’s worth downloading Chrome for it.

Do you have other nifty Chrome tricks you want to share? I’d love to hear about them; comment away!

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