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The Power User's Guide to Google Chrome


Now that you’ve been enjoying Google Chrome’s headliner features and speed for almost a week now, it’s time to dig into the less obvious functionality and options you don’t already know about. Become a keyboard shortcut master, take a peek under the hood, and customise its behaviour and skin with some of the best shortcuts, bookmarklets, themes, add-ons, and subtle functionality in Google Chrome.


What, you don’t like Google Chrome? Here, have the power user’s guide to Firefox 3.

Mousing Around Chrome

Despite its marketing as a minimalistic browser that forgoes all the extras, Chrome’s interface actually sports quite a few useful features. Here are a few that will speed up your browsing with the mouse even more:

  • Click and hold (or right-click) the Back or Forward button to go directly to a page far behind or forward in your browsing history.
  • When you’ve got a URL on your clipboard, right-click Chrome’s address bar to Paste and go to your destination (and save yourself an extra tap on the Enter key).
  • Click and drag any textarea corner to resize it to your liking; great for blog comments, web email, or forums with textareas that aren’t big enough to accommodate your masterpiece.
  • Ctrl+Mousewheel to zoom in or out of pages in Chrome.
  • Drag and drop downloads out of Chrome’s status bar and onto your desktop to save them there, or into any Explorer window to save them there. (You already know you can drag and drop a Chrome tab out into a new window, or back into an existing Chrome window to dock it there.)

Chrome’s Keyboard Shortcuts

If you’re not much for the mouse, you’re in luck: Google Chrome has lots of built-in keyboard shortcuts, many of which mirror Firefox’s—so you don’t have to retrain your fingers. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • (Chrome only) Ctrl+B toggles the bookmarks bar on and off.
  • (Chrome only) Shift+Escape opens Google Chrome’s Task Manager.
  • Ctrl+L to move your cursor to the address bar.
  • Ctrl+K moves your cursor to the address bar to enter a Google search.
  • Ctrl+T opens a new tab.
  • Ctrl+N opens a new window.
  • Ctrl+Shift+T opens the last closed tab.
  • (Chrome only) Ctrl+Shift+N opens a new window in “Incognito Mode.”
  • Ctrl+Tab cycles through open tabs; Ctrl+Shift+Tab reverse cycles through open tabs.
  • Ctrl+J opens the Downloads tab.
  • Ctrl+W closes the current tab.
  • Ctrl+R refreshes the current page.
  • Ctrl+H opens the History tab.
  • Alt+Home loads your homepage.
  • Ctrl+1 through 9 switches to a particular open tab position.
  • Ctrl++, Ctrl+-, Ctrl+0 Enlarges, reduces, and restores default text sizes, respectively.

Tweak Your Options

Hit up Chrome’s Options dialog (click on the wrench, and choose Options) to customise Chrome’s behaviour even more.

  • Set multiple tab as your home page. While Chrome’s default thumbnail page of your most visited sites is pretty cool, you might want to just skip that step and set the browser to open certain tabs every time. Like Firefox, Chrome can set several tabs as your homepage. In the Options’ dialog Basics area, under “Open the following pages,” enter the URLs.
  • Open the last session’s tabs automatically. Also like Firefox, Chrome can automatically restore the tabs from your last browser session. In that same Options area as above, just select “Restore the pages that were open last.”
  • Add the home button to your toolbar. Chrome’s toolbar is pretty sparse by design, but once you’ve set your homepage(s), you might want to get to them in one click. In the Options dialog’s Basics tab, you can also check off “Show Home button on the toolbar.”
  • Set your default Downloads save location. Also in Options—but under the “Minor Tweaks” tab—you can set Chrome’s default download location to something other than the “My Documents” folder.

Master Chrome’s Startup Switches

Like all good open source software, Chrome comes with a long list of “startup switches”—that is, parameters you can use when you launch the program to customise its behaviour. While most of the switches are only useful to developers, a handful let power users do some handy stuff.

Quick primer: To use a startup switch, create a new Chrome shortcut on your desktop (or elsewhere). Right-click it and choose Properties. In the Target field, add the switch in question immediately following the path to chrome.exe. For example, your target using a -disable-java switch might look like:

“C:\Documents and Settings\gina\Local Settings\Application Data\Google\Chrome\Application\chrome.exe” -disable-java

Here are some things you can do with Chrome’s startup switches.

Tweak the number of suggestions the address bar offers. Increase or reduce the number of suggestions in the address bar drop-down using the -omnibox-popup-count switch. For example, to increase it to 10 suggestions, use -omnibox-popup-count=10. [via The How-To Geek]

Create and maintain multiple user profiles. Since Chrome learns so much from your usage patterns, you might want to create more than one user personality based on the task at hand. For example, you can set up a “work Chrome” and a “play Chrome” user profile (like you can with Firefox’s user profiles). While Chrome doesn’t offer a handy utility to create new profiles like Firefox does, all it takes is creating a new user directory, and then using Chrome’s --user-data-dir startup switch to point it there. The Digital Inspiration blog runs down how to create and use multiple profiles in Chrome.

Speed up browsing by disabling functionality. When you want to surf Flash-free, Java-free, or even Javascript-free (even though that’s not really the point of Chrome, but whatever), there’s a list of -disable Chrome startup switches that can block plug-ins, content, or features you don’t want, like:

-disable-dev-tools
-disable-hang-monitor
-disable-images
-disable-java
-disable-javascript
-disable-logging
-disable-metrics
-disable-metrics-reporting
-disable-plugins
-disable-popup-blocking
-disable-prompt-on-repost

Always start Chrome in a maximised window. Take advantage of all that screen real estate you’ve got with Chrome. Using the -start-maximized startup switch, the browser will fill your screen on launch, automatically.

Themes


Dress up Google Chrome to your liking by downloading a Chrome theme and saving its default.dll file into the application’s Themes directory.

For Windows XP users, by default that folder is:

C:\Documents and Settings\User\Local Settings\Application Data\Google\Chrome\Application.2.149.29\Themes\

In Windows Vista it’s:

C:\Users\UserName\AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\Application\0.2.149.29\Themes\

(Note if Google Chrome updates, you may have to change the version number in this path.)

Reveal Chrome’s Secret Diagnostic Info


While Chrome doesn’t have Firefox’s super-handy about:config area, it does have several about: pages that show you all sorts of interesting information about what’s going on behind the scenes. Check out Google Chrome’s full list of hidden about: pages here.

Get Extras: Bookmarklets, AutoHotkey Scripts, and More Chrome-Related Downloads

While Google Chrome doesn’t support extensions (yet), several macros, bookmarklets, and other third-party extras can make working with Chrome easier. Here’s a quick list.

  • Block ads in Google Chrome with Privoxy. Using free web proxy and ad-blocking software Privoxy, you can block distracting advertisements in Google Chrome.
  • Create Custom Chrome keyboard shortcuts with AutoHotKey. Our favourite Windows macro scripting language, AutoHotKey, can make browsing with Chrome via the keyboard even easier. Here’s a full Chrome shortcut AHK file that adds nine keyboard shortcuts (including the much-needed “Paste and go” shortcut).
  • Preview a web site’s RSS feeds, or print a page in one click with bookmarklets. Without toolbars or extensions, plain old bookmarklets come in very hand. Here’s a bookmarklet that auto-detects and previews a web site’s feed. Here’s one that will print the current page. (You can also just hit the Ctrl+P keyboard shortcut).
  • Open pages from Firefox in Chrome. If you’re browsing in both Firefox and Chrome and like to use Chrome for certain pages, the Open in Google Chrome Firefox extension does just that. With it installed, set certain links to open in Chrome, or select a link and choose “Open in Chrome” manually from the context menu.
  • Run Chrome from your thumb drive. When you’re in IT lockdown or travelling from computer to computer (but want to keep your Chrome settings), you want the portable, standalone version of Chrome (free download).
  • Anonymise your Chrome surfing. Chrome Anonymizer scrambles your unique ID and makes it impossible for anyone to track what you’re doing in Chrome.

Shuck off Google’s Branding and Go Open Source with Chromium

Switch to the more frequently updated and open source version of the Chrome browser, called Chromium. Google expert Phillip Lennsen explains:

Do you want Google Chrome without Google’s branding and with an open source licence (BSD license)? Check out Chromium, the open source project created for Google Chrome. You can install the latest snapshots for Windows or download the code and build it in Windows, Mac, Linux.

To install Chromium in Windows, go to the most recent directory from this page (it should be at the top) and download mini_installer.exe. Note that these snapshots could be less stable than the version available at google.com/chrome and you may need to manually update Chromium.

Speaking of updating, you can keep on top of frequent Chromium builds using the Chrome Nightly Builds Updater utility.

Look Forward to What’s Coming

Word on the street is that Chrome is coming for Mac and Linux users, as are extensions—plus it’ll be in Google’s upcoming mobile phone operating system, Android. (Linux users, if you can’t want for Chrome and don’t want to build Chromium yourself, here’s how to run Google Chrome in Ubuntu with WINE.)

What are your favourite Google Chrome tips and tricks? Shout ‘em out in the comments.

Gina Trapani, the editor of Lifehacker, likes her Chrome tricked out just so. Her feature Geek to Live appears every week on Lifehacker.