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!


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