Google Chrome has come a long way in the past year, steadily adding subtle but useful features for power users. Let's take a fresh look at Chrome's current offerings—especially for those willing to brave its early developer builds.
Not long after Chrome's release, our 2008 Chrome Power User's Guide covered its best features for savvy surfers, such as keyboard shortcuts and startup switches. We won't rehash those here; instead we're going to round up the new stuff that's come out since in both the stable and developer build of Chrome. (For reference, as of writing, the stable build of Google Chrome is version number 18.104.22.168, and the developer release is version 22.214.171.124.)
Turn Chrome into a Site-Specific Browser with Application Shortcuts
If webapps like Gmail have replaced desktop apps like an old-school email client for you, you'll like Chrome's ability to act as a site-specific browser (SSB) with Application Shortcuts. Chrome's minimal interface makes it a great candidate to get the heck out of your webapps' way, and just act as a window to it. To put a Chrome Application Shortcut to Gmail, Google Reader, Twitter, Facebook, or any other webapp you like to keep open in a separate window, open the site in Chrome. From the Page menu, choose "Create application shortcuts". From there decide to put your shortcut on the desktop, quick launch bar, and/or Start Menu. You can create as many Application Shortcuts as you like to all your favourite webapps or sites. When you open your webapp from the Application Shortcut icon, you won't see Chrome's address bar, or tabs, or your bookmarks bar. Any link that you click inside the application window will open in a different window in a full-on instance of Chrome.
Assign Keywords to Your Search Engines
One of Chrome's most touted features is how you can search the web by just typing into its address bar (a.k.a, the "omnibox"). To search specific sites, you can even type certain domain names (like "youtube.com") and then press Tab to search that site specifically. However, power users want to configure custom searches to happen in as few keystrokes as possible. Like Firefox's keyword bookmark capabilites, you can assign a keyword to a search engine bookmark in Chrome, which uses the %s variable to pass parameters to the URL.
To do so, right-click in Chrome's address bar and choose "Edit Search Engines". There, you can add, edit, or remove searches and assign keywords in the Keyword field.
Using this technique you can, for instance, update Twitter with a keyword as well as search Lifehacker.com via Google. (Set the URL to http://google.com/search?q=site:lifehacker.com.au+%s and the keyword to lh. Then, to search Lifehacker's archives in Chrome, type lh "your search here" into the address bar.)
Customise the "New Tab" Page
Chrome's other slick headliner feature is its "New Tab" page, which displays a grid of frequently-visited web site thumbnails that help you get to where you're most likely to go when you create a new tab. That list is more customisable than ever, with options to rearrange the thumbnails (just drag and drop) and pin thumbnails to specific locations on the grid (hover over a thumbnail and press the thumbtack button to do so). If you don't need so much eye candy, you can switch to a list view by clicking on the view buttons on the upper right.
Get to Know New Chrome Startup Switches
Choose Your Chrome Theme
As if ad-heavy web sites weren't enough, web browser themes can add even more visual distractions to your surfing experience. However, since Chrome's—well, chrome—is so minimal, its themes are less annoying than in other browsers. I prefer Google's more muted in-house themes, but there are more vibrant artist themes as well. To activate a theme, from the Wrench menu, choose Personal Options, click "Get Themes." Choose the theme you like from the Themes Gallery and click the "Apply Theme" button under it.
Master Mouse and Keyboard Shortcuts for Managing Tabs
Every power user has a few essential keyboard shortcuts in their arsenal, and Chrome offers some mouse-and-keyboard combinations for managing tabs, too. Like Firefox, you can middle-mouse-button click any link to open it in a background tab (or Ctrl+click for the same result). Shift+Click opens a link in a new window, Shift+middle+click (or Shift+Ctrl+click) opens a link in a new tab and switches to it, and Alt+click saves the contents of al link to your computer.
Switch to the Dev Channel Release for Extensions (and More)
Brave devotees to Google Chrome want to take advantage of its open development, and subscribe to the developer channel of early Chrome releases to get a preview of new features. Using Chrome's Channel Changer tool you can switch from the stable release to the no-guarantees-on-stability beta or developer build. The risk you take in running into unexpected bugs is worth it for features the early builds offer. In the current Developer build version 126.96.36.199, you can sync your bookmarks, test extensions, and pin tabs. (Also, Mac and Linux users can finally try out Chrome via the developer channel, as a stable release is not yet available.)
(Dev Build Only) synchronise Your Bookmarks
You use Chrome at home and at the office, and you want your bookmarks synced in both places, In the dev build of Chrome, from the Wrench menu, choose "Sync my bookmarks" to save your Chrome bookmarks in your Google account. (You'll have to sign in to start syncing.) If you're already using the Xmarks extension for Firefox or IE, you can use that in the dev build of Chrome, which includes the foundation of extension support with a few alpha add-ons ready for testing.
(Dev Build Only) Install Extensions
Chrome's extension support is still young, but several alpha/beta extensions give you a glimpse of Firefox-like extension goodness in Chrome. Here are a few of our favourite Chrome extensions.
- Gmail Checker: While it doesn't appear to work for Google Apps accounts (someone? prove me wrong?), the Gmail checker puts the number of unread messages in your inbox on Chrome's bottom toolbar.
- Xmarks: Our favourite bookmark syncing extension for Firefox and IE is available for Chrome dev build testers as an alpha version. You must sign into Xmarks and sign up for the alpha test to get the Chrome extension.
- AdSweep and Adblock+: Scrub annoying flashing ads from your favourite web sites.
- Session Saver: This extension enables multi-tab saving and reloading.
- WOT: Integrates web site reputation ratings ala Web of Trust into Google Chrome.
- LastPass: Adds deeper auto-fill password management to Chrome.
To view and manage what extensions you've got installed in Google Chrome, from the Wrench menu, choose Extensions to open the Extensions manager, where you can reload, disable, and uninstall extensions.
(Dev Build Only) Shrink and Affix Tabs with "Pin Tab" Option
Finally, a tiny little tab feature that everyone seems to love is available in the dev build of Chrome: the ability to shrink a tab down to only its favicon, and pin it to your tab bar. Right-click on any tab and choose "Pin tab" from the context menu to try it out.
What other power tips for Chrome, stable or developer build, are out there? Share your best ones in the comments.