Google Chrome is a favourite among power users in no small part due to its innovative experimental features (many of which are eventually integrated into the stable browser). For our final instalment of the best of Google Labs, we’re taking a look at the best experimental, advanced features you can add to Google Chrome.To enable any of these Chrome Labs (or at least what we’re calling Chrome Labs — they’ve changed the name in the past, and currently they’re “flags” or “experimental features”), type
about:flags into Chrome’s address bar, click the Enable link below any feature you want to try out, and then relaunch your browser.
Note that there are different Chrome Labs available for Mac and PC versions of Chrome, along with different available features in the regular Chrome build, Chrome dev, Chromium and Canary builds, which can make it all a bit confusing if you’re a cross-platform person who likes to play with the different browser options. Nevertheless, here are our six favourite Chrome Labs that you can enable now to enhance your browser (along with which OS and build each feature supports).
Side Tabs (Windows; All builds)
Moving tabs to the side was one of the first Chrome Labs available, and it’s still one of the more useful features. If you have a widescreen laptop or a netbook, you can save precious vertical real estate by enabling this feature, then right-clicking on a tab and selecting “Use side tabs”.
Tab Overview (Mac; All builds)
While Macs don’t have the Side Tabs option, they do have Tab Overview, which is like Expose for the web. Swipe down with three fingers on your trackpad and you can see a thumbnail overview of all your tabs. (Note: there’s a reported bug that this does not work with Apple’s Magic Mouse, which I’ve run into too.)[imgclear]
Focus existing tab to open (Windows, Mac; All builds)
If you work in multiple tabs and/or browser windows, there’s a decent chance you might open a site more than once and not realise it. This Lab helps prevent duplicate tab opening: if you type in an address that’s already opened in another tab, Chrome will redirect the focus to the open tab rather than loading the page again.[imgclear]
Print Preview (Windows, Mac; Regular Chrome)
The standard Chrome build lacks a print preview option, but you can enable it in Chrome Labs. When you go to print a page, this will show you from within the tab what the page will look like first. It’s an important feature, built into Canary and Chromium already.[imgclear]
Click to Play (Windows, Mac; All Builds)
We’ve previously seen the Click to Play option on Chrome dev and Canary builds, but now it’s available in regular Chrome as well. This Lab puts an option in Chrome’s settings to only play plug-ins (like YouTube videos) on demand. Plug-ins that play automatically can be annoying (or, worse, a security threat), so the option to play them only at will is a nice feature.
Add grouping to tab context menu (Windows; Canary/Dev/Chromium)
This previously highlighted feature groups multiple related tabs when you right-click on a tab and choose “select by domain” or “select by opener”. The select by domain is obvious — if you have multiple Lifehacker posts opened in different tabs, for example, Chrome can highlight them all for you. The “select by opener” option highlights all the tabs that originated from the same tab (i.e. if you opted to open a link on one page into a new tab, the browser will highlight both those pages).
There are other Chrome Labs that are very promising but a little buggy or a bit niche. These include:
- Multiple Profiles (Windows, Mac; Canary/Dev/Chromium): Will eventually allow you to open browser windows logged in with different Google profiles (a boon for those of us who use Gmail, etc, for both work and personal reasons or who share computers). However, this one’s not quite ready yet.
- Compact Navigation (Windows; Canary/Dev/Chromium): Hides the omnibar. Useful if you really need more space.
- Experimental new tab page (Windows, Mac; Canary/Dev/Chromium): A peak at what the new tab page may look like soon in Chrome. Available in Canary (Windows and Mac), this view has a menu at the bottom and lays out your most visited pages, apps — as well the very experimental “foo” and “bar”.
These are just six labs we really like, and have a wider appeal, but you’ll find more experimental features that you can enable by entering about:flags in the address bar. Share your favourites — whether we mentioned them or not — in the comments.