6 Google Chrome remixes worth trying out

Chromium-based spinoffs bring privacy, security, social networking, and other interesting twists to Google's Chrome browser

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CoolNovo is yet another third-party take on Chromium, with some new UI touches and a few built-in convenience features. It was created by programmers from China, and unfortunately for native English speakers, it shows. The CoolNovo website, and some elements of the browser's own UI, are replete with misspellings and grammar botches.

Many of the obvious new CoolNovo features are UI-related. The way tabs are handled, for instance, received enough of a makeover to warrant its own subsection in the Options menu. This includes little things like when to hide the close button on a tab, how new tabs are opened (foreground or background), and whether double-clicking a tab causes it to close.

Another feature, most likely inspired by the Opera browser, is mouse gestures. Hold down the right mouse button and trace a gesture on the page to activate one of a number of macros such as scrolling to the top or bottom of a page, closing the current tab, or switching tabs. I liked this feature quite a bit, although it's nothing that can't also be added to Chrome via a plug-in. Ditto the built-in ad-blocking function, which lets you pick one of a number of pre-defined block lists by geographic territory or language, but again isn't anything that requires a separate build of Chrome.

If you find yourself dealing with sites that render properly only in Internet Explorer -- for instance, an old corporate intranet -- CoolNovo has a handy browser-engine switching feature. Click the Chrome icon in the omnibox, and you can toggle between Chrome's rendering engine and the IE engine. CoolNovo also by default makes a best-guess attempt, via the Cloud Switch feature, to determine if the page you're on renders better in IE or Chrome -- but again, all of this is available elsewhere.

Most of the other new features are good ideas with poor execution. CoolNovo can use its own custom download manager in place of Chrome's own, but I had nothing but trouble with the CoolNovo manager. It didn't persistently remember target directories for download, and many download links (e.g., from Sourceforge) didn't work at all.

Chrome itself

It's worth talking briefly about Chrome's own internal variations, where you can often find some variation of functionality without having to jump to an entirely different browser. The stable channel of Chrome is the one most everyone uses and the one that's installed by default. The beta channel contains features that have been approved for inclusion in the next stable revision of Chrome, but which may still need a little testing. If you're curious about what's coming down the pike and want to try it out with minimal risk to your data or to Chrome's stability, start here.

The dev channel is where things begin to get adventurous. This contains all changes merged in over the previous week, although it is accordingly less stable. Canary build is Chrome's nightly build. It contains the most bleeding-edge changes, but it is also the least stable of the bunch. On the plus side, you can install Canary side-by-side with any other edition of Chrome. It keeps all its settings and user-profile data in its own folder, so you can use Canary plus any stable, beta, or dev channel build interchangeably.

Chrome, Chromium, or remix

With relatively few exceptions, much of what's available in these remixes of Chrome is available through third-party add-ons for Chrome. If you want additional privacy features, it's easy enough to do that by taking Chromium and toggling off some of the under-the-hood settings.

Iron does most of that legwork for you, but at the cost of using a version of the browser that's been rebranded and reworked in some awkward ways. Dragon isn't bad either, but its most useful feature -- the secure DNS function -- doesn't require the program itself.

RockMelt is an interesting idea, but it's been changed pretty dramatically from Chrome as we know it, and tied so closely with Facebook alone that people who use multiple social networks may find it constraining. And CoolNovo comes with a decent collection of built-in navigation enhancements and twin browsing engines.

All of these Chromium-based remixes will have their users. Although many of their "extras" can be duplicated with a little effort, they make it easy to get certain sets of functionality right off the shelf, without the hassles of maintaining Chromium itself. 

This story, "Google Chrome remixes worth trying out," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest news in Web browsersapplications and HTML5 at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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This story, "6 Google Chrome remixes worth trying out" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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