After Hours

10 Chrome tricks to improve your browsing experience

No hacks, no registry tweaks, no add-ons: Just an arsenal of built-in tricks to make Chrome do your bidding.

Google's Chrome Web browser has made significant inroads in the enterprise over the past couple of years. What started out as a consumer novelty (in the eyes of this sysadmin) has become an institutional product. Google has worked hard to illustrate the business-level capabilities of Chrome. It's available for Linux and Mac and even for mobile devices, making it ubiquitous across platforms.

On its own, Chrome is a fast and sleek browser that can handle the workload of even the most Web-intensive users. Here are some tricks to make your Chrome experience even better. No hacking, no registry edits, and no special add-ons required.

Note: This article is based on an entry in our Google in the Enterprise blog.

1: Use keyboard shortcuts for faster access to functions

Keyboard shortcuts that do the same thing the mouse can do are somewhat less than impressive (unless you don't have a working mouse). For instance, Ctrl + 1 through Ctrl + 8 will open one of the first eight tabs you have open in Chrome; obviously you can just click to select the tab you want. But there are several useful keyboard shortcuts without an easy corresponding mouse action (Table A).

Table A

These are just a few samples. For a full list of all keyboard shortcuts click here.

You can also assign keyboard shortcuts to any extensions or applications you use. Just open the Chrome Menu (Alt+F or Alt+E) and go to Settings | Extensions (Figure A). Figure A

There, you'll see your extensions listed; yours may be vastly different from mine. Click Configure Commands in the lower-right corner (Figure B).

Figure B

In this example, I have set up keyboard shortcuts for all my extensions. When I use the keyboard shortcut, the extension will launch or prompt me for input.

2: Use browser shortcuts for faster access to features

Chrome offers quick access to several locations directly from the address bar:

  • chrome://bookmarks —Bookmarks page
  • chrome://settings — Settings page
  • chrome://extensions — Extensions page
  • chrome://history — History page

You can add these as bookmarks to the Bookmarks bar (which appears at the top of the Chrome window) by pressing Ctrl+D and then saving them to the Bookmarks bar so you can open them at any time for quick access.

3: Sync your options to simplify your life

Chrome lets you synchronize everything about your browsing experience with other Chrome installations you may have on multiple computers. To configure Sync, go to Settings, then Advanced Sync Settings (Figure C).

Figure C

You can synchronize your apps, extensions, settings, autofill, Omnibox history, themes, bookmarks, passwords, and open tabs. (See below for information on how to access Open Tabs on other systems running Chrome.)

The great thing about Sync is that as long as you log into Chrome (under Settings), you will always have access to the features or items you select under Advanced Sync settings. Just keep in mind that this could pose a security risk if your passwords get synchronized to a computer not under your direct control or that someone you don't trust (family members?) may use.

You may notice I don't have bookmarks set up to sync in the above screenshot. This is because I synchronize bookmarks using the XMarks extension, which is available for both Firefox and Chrome. While Chrome Sync has worked flawlessly for me, it doesn't apply to other browsers. It took a bit of finagling to get XMarks to reliably synchronize my bookmarks between Firefox and Chrome — I ran into the age-old duplicate bookmarks issue. But after finally exporting them from Firefox, deleting the bookmarks from both browsers and from XMarks, then reimporting them to Firefox, all worked well again.

4: Make the most of the New Tab Page

Some of the most powerful features of Chrome are available in the New Tab Page (Figure D), which is shown when you open either a new tab (use Ctrl+T) or Chrome itself if the Home page is set to Use The New Tab Page.

Figure D

The New Tab Page shows any apps you might have installed, and you can run them from here. You can click Most Visited to the left of Apps to show the pages you access the most. You can click Other Devices to access Chrome tabs on other systems your account is linked with. (This is what it means to sync open tabs; I was confused when I first set this up, since I assumed it meant all my open tabs would automatically appear on all my Chrome browsers.) You can click Recently Closed to access the last 10 tabs you closed or visit the Web Store to get more apps/extensions.

5: Count on the Task Manager to help monitor your browser

To help you keep an eye on performance, Chrome provides a Task Manager just like Windows. You can access it using Shift+Esc (Figure E).

Figure E

The Task Manager will show you how much memory/CPU/Network Bytes Sent or Received/FPS (frames per second) your browser, tabs, apps, extensions, and plug-ins are using. This is great when troubleshooting problems with the browser or if you want to keep an eye on how many resources a particular page might consume. If you install a beta add-on and find your system is crippled afterward, you can verify the results using the Chrome Task Manager.

If you right-click on any one of these entries, you can customize the view further (Figure F).

Figure F

For instance, you can choose JavaScript Memory for stats involving this category. And if you want, you can end a process by highlighting it and using the End Process button.

6: Use the Incognito Window

Chrome allows you to browse privately in incognito mode (aka stealth mode). This mode does not record pages you access or files you download. Chrome doesn't have an option to automatically delete browsing history on a scheduled basis (do it manually by pressing Ctrl+H then choose Clear All Browsing Data), and there's no option to do so when you close the browser. Incognito mode is recommended for those instances where you may be shopping online for a new laptop for your wife and want to make sure the browser doesn't spoil the surprise the next time she uses your system. True story: I used it just last month in this manner.

Again, you can use Ctrl+Shift+N to quickly open the incognito window (Figure G).

Figure G

7: Rely on the Omnibox for faster search access

Having to go to or use a special search bar is so 2009. Chrome will let you use the address bar as a search bar (this is called the Omnibox). In the example shown in Figure H, I have searched for San Francisco.

Figure H

8: Manipulate your tabs

Tabs aren't fixed, static entities — they are fluid and dynamic. You can drag and drop tabs to arrange them in any order you'd like. You can also drag an existing tab down below the address bar to launch a new Chrome window, which connects to that open Web page.

Want to bring that new Chrome window back within the existing window? Just drag the tab from the new window back among the existing tabs in the first window. That tab will join the others and the second window will close.

You can even pin tabs so they will remain available but take up less space in the Chrome window (but only the tab icon is shown). To do this, just right-click the tab and choose Pin Tab. Undo the action if desired by right-clicking the tab again and choosing Unpin Tab.

9: Set pages to load automatically

Having the pages you access the most launch when you start Chrome is a huge timesaver. To configure this, press Alt+E or Alt+F and choose Settings (Figure I).

Figure I

In the On Startup section, click Open A Specific Page Or Set Of Pages. Then, click the Set Pages link (Figure J). Figure J

In the example above, I have set four pages to open when I start Chrome. Since they all require logons, Chrome has also saved my passwords so I can quickly log into each. I use this setting since my computers are secured and locked with a strong password.

If you prefer, you can set up Chrome to return to any open tabs when launched. Simply go to Settings and choose Continue Where I Left Off.

10: Use the new Do Not Track feature

Chrome 23, the most recent version, allows users to specify that they do not want their activity tracked by Web sites. Do Not Track, aka DNT, can help ensure privacy and peace of mind.

To turn on DNT, press Alt+E or Alt+F and choose Settings. Scroll down to the bottom and click Show Advanced Settings. Then, scroll down farther and review the Privacy section (Figure K).

Figure K

Select Send A Do Not Track Request With Your Browsing Traffic, and you'll see the box shown in Figure L.

Figure L

This is a somewhat lengthy explanation of the fact that basically Chrome will do the best it can to implement DNT on your behalf, but not all Web sites may cooperate. This may be an evolving standard worth keeping an eye on.

In summary

I hope these tricks will be useful and entertaining to you. If you're interested in further reading, Google offers some tips for Chrome users. And if there's something in particular you want to know more about, just use the Omnibox to find it.

Also read

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Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.

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