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Chrome secrets: Dig into Google's new browser

A handful of tips and tweaks to get the most out of Chrome

September 15, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Google's Chrome is a stripped-down, no-nonsense browser, and unlike Firefox, it doesn't have an array of add-ons available to change its behavior. So at first glance, you might think there's not a lot you can do to hack Chrome or bend it to your will.

Think that and you'd be wrong. In fact, there are plenty of secrets hidden beneath Chrome's shiny surface. Whether you want to do something as simple as reload the past 10 tabs you've closed or something fancier like force Chrome to use a different theme, peer into the mysteries of the Chrome "about:" page, or power up Chrome with "bookmarklets," we've got help for you.

Power up Chrome with bookmarklets

Firefox fans will be disappointed by Chrome's lack of add-ons. Chome is still in early beta, so there's a possibility that add-ons will be in the browser's future. But even now, there are ways you can use add-ons to Chrome, via bookmarklets.

Bookmarklets are little pieces of JavaScript that you can store as a bookmark, and when clicked upon, they run as a kind of miniprogram. They don't include a full set of features and interactivity, as do Firefox add-ons or Internet Explorer's ActiveX controls; think of them as one-trick ponies that accomplish a single task.

Because Chrome is in beta, not every bookmarklet will necessarily work with it. But there have been a number of bookmarklets written specifically for Chrome, and other bookmarklets work just fine with it.

To add a bookmarklet to Chrome, first display Chrome's bookmarks bar, which appears just below the Omnibox. (Pressing Ctrl+B toggles the bookmarks bar on and off.) Once you do that, when you get to a page with a bookmarklet link, drag the link to the Chrome bookmarks bar. Once it's there, to run the bookmarklet, click on it.

The Blogote blog has a list of bookmarklets that are supposed to work with Chrome. You can drag the bookmarklets to Chrome's bookmarks bar from there.

For example, the "Adblock+" bookmarklet is useful for those who want to surf without a lot of flashing, noisy ads. While it won't block all ads, it can block third-party iFrames as well as ads with Java, Flash and music. After you've installed it, when you're on a page whose ads you want to block, click the bookmarklet, and it does its work.

For bookmarklets designed to work with many browsers, not just Chrome, head to the CyberNotes page on CyberNet. Unfortunately, although the site has icons to show whether each bookmarklet works with Firefox, IE or Opera, there's not yet a Chrome icon. So if you see a bookmarklet that looks interesting, just grab it and see if it works.

Chrome: bookmarklets
The bookmarklets Adblock+ and View site's cookies in action. Click to view larger image.

I'm a fan of the "View site's cookies" bookmarklet, which displays all of the cookies placed on your PC by the site you're currently visiting. The screenshot to the right shows both bookmarklets in action.

You can also do a Google search for bookmarklets and try each of them out with Chrome. Note that not all will work, and even those that have supposedly been tested with Chrome might not work with the latest version of the browser. (For example, I couldn't get the Gmail This bookmarklet to work. It's supposed to mail the current page via Gmail, but it didn't work in my Chrome installation.)

Reload closed tabs

At first blush, Chrome appears to have one very serious shortcoming -- it doesn't seem to be able to reload tabs that you've closed, something that both Firefox 3 and Internet Explorer 8 can do. But there are in fact several ways to reload closed tabs.

If you want to reload the last tab you've closed, press Ctrl-Shift-T, and Chrome will open it for you. Want to open the tab you closed before that? Press Ctrl-Shift-T again. You can do this for up to the last 10 tabs you closed.

You can also use the New Tab page to reopen a tab you closed fairly recently. When you open a new tab, you get a page showing thumbnails of your nine most-visited sites, plus blue search and bookmarks boxes on the right. If you closed any tabs within the past few minutes, you'll also see a yellow box containing your three most recently closed tabs, which lets you skip directly to the site you want.

Chrome: reopen tabs at start-up
Setting Chrome to reopen tabs at start-up.
Click to view larger image.

Finally, there's a setting that lets you start up Chrome displaying all the tabs that were open when you last closed it down. Click the Tools icon, choose Options, and on the Basics tab, select "Restore the pages that were open last," then click Close.

From now on, when you open Chrome, the browser will launch and reload all the tabs that were open when you closed it.



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