Chrome OS is still in the works, and even when it launches, you might not need one of the specialty netbooks that run it. Make the Chrome browser you already have productive enough to do whatever you need instead—and hit Full Screen if you need less distraction.
What will you get out of this guide? Hopefully, you’ll find out that Chrome can do a lot more than you gave it credit for, with the help of some great extensions and webapps. Even if you’re on a borrowed computer, you’ll have a handy means of loading up your favourite sites and utilities and getting things done.
I’ve previously provided some advice on working and doing personal browsing inside Chrome — I did it for six days, and still recommend the links and extensions detailed there. Since then, I’ve still been doing most of my work inside Chrome — writing, editing photos, managing email and calendars, organising groups, and all kinds of chat and communication apps. Chrome can do a lot more than than browse the web, in other words, but not by default.
Upgrade Chrome’s Basic Powers
Google built and released Chrome with a focus on making it fast, powerful and minimalist. More features and helpful tools have fallen into place over time, but there are still many features that users of Firefox, or certain Firefox extensions, can’t imagine living without. Enter the Chrome Toolbox.
Chrome Toolbox adds a button to Chrome’s toolbar that offers a few handy functions, although most of them are accessible by keyboard shortcuts. It’s in right-clicking the Toolbox button and hitting “Options” that you’ll find its true power. You can tweak Chrome’s behaviour for videos, links, and images, compare Chrome’s shortcuts to other browsers, set entire folders of bookmarks to launch from keyboard shortcuts, and, perhaps most helpfully, browse links to other power extensions from Google and third parties:
- Screen Capture
- Download Assistant, which allows Chrome to work with sophisticated download managers
- Tab Menu, for making sense of all the tabs you keep open.
Chat and Communication, Without IM Clients
If you only keep IM open for the occasional pings, and mostly use AIM or Google Talk (a.k.a. Gchat), I recommend simply launching chat from the left-hand sidebar box, then keeping Gmail open in a (pinned) tab. With desktop notifications now baked into Chrome, Gmail gets the job of waiting for someone to distract you done pretty well. Hold Shift and hit the “?” key inside Gmail to see the shortcut and enable it, if necessary.
Need more chat protocols, or like a more robust interface than Gmail’s solid-colour blocks? Meebo is the reigning champ when it comes to multi-service IM, and a Chrome notifier can keep you informed on who’s pinging you. When I need Skype or another service, I personally prefer Imo.im, mostly because it offers the same Chrome-based desktop notifications.
Make Your Chrome Setup Work Anywhere
If you’re going to put good time and effort into picking out great web apps, you should have them everywhere you work. Chrome’s built-in syncing feature handles most everything on systems where you can install Chrome, but what about other systems, and maybe other browsers?
Literally Take Chrome With You via Portable Chrome
If you’re mostly travelling among Windows systems, Google Chrome Portable, from the PortableApps.com suite, fits easily on your USB key drive, and that’s exactly where you should keep it — on a keychain or something else you’ll always have with you. Set up Portable Chrome like you would if it was on a desktop, with your favourite extensions and everything synced. When you load it up from your USB drive, it will take a minute to catch up to what you’ve been doing on other Chrome systems, but then it’s ready to roll.
Free Your Startup Page with Jolicloud or MyFave.es
Before your find yourself at a computer without installation rights, or borrowing a friend or spouse’s system, set up a start page you can get to from anywhere. Jolicloud’s web-based desktop and Myfave.es’ stylish start pages make for great web-based start pages.
Jolicloud is a Linux-based OS intended for lower-power computers and netbooks, but it’s also a web-based, HTML5-coded Chrome web app and web-accessible desktop. The “Apps” page is a very Chrome-like set of site links and icons, and serves its purpose. What’s nicer is how you can link your Dropbox account, and your Google Docs access, to Jolicloud and get to them from a tab on your Jolicloud desktop. Sign up for an account, link in your storage, and have your important stuff available anywhere.
For a more straight-up start page, try the very minimal and stylish MyFav.es (pictured above), which offers a good number of pre-loaded sites to add to your front page, along with lots of customisation options. You can make your page public for easy, no-login-needed access, or put it behind a login.
Password management tool LastPass is often mentioned and highly recommended by Lifehacker. It offers plug-ins for any browser, and it’s accessible from the web, but if you’re made to use another browser away from your beloved Chrome setup, you can turn to its “Fill this!” bookmarklet as a kind of makeshift LastPass plug-in. Add that bookmark to a browser toolbar, click it, log in, and click it again to fill in any user/password fields. When you log out, it’s a useless link, so you need not worry if you forget to delete it.
Play Your Music From Chrome
Keeping a stash of music inside Dropbox for access anywhere you go makes good sense. In fact, the convenience of having all your music backed up, and treated as a single library, might compel you to sync iTunes universally with Dropbox. If so, you’re going to want to get into DropTunes, a jukebox-style web app that lets you hit Play on a folder of music and let it keep running from there. Take note of DropTunes’ HTML5 link in the upper-right if you want to avoid the Flash interface.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention mSpot, the cloud-based music service that can automatically upload your music to its servers, then stream them back to you through a very usable (Flash-based) webapp. A free mSpot account comes with 5GB of storage, along with access through one smartphone.
Those are just some of the ways you can make Chrome a more universal window on your work. What else do you need from Chrome to make it a more all-in-one utility — say, as the centrepiece of an OS?