Google Chrome, like any tech product worth its salt today, wants your experience with it to be personal. Whatever computer a user sits down with, their bookmarks, preferences, extensions and apps, and even passwords should be easily accessible. With its latest beta release, soon to spread to all users, Chrome is adding that personalized experience for shared computers, allowing multiple people to sync their Chrome stuff into one browser, and so letting you use any Chrome browser on Earth as if it were your own.
Nothing has changed from the looks of Chrome, until you head into the Options menu (or “Preferences” on a Mac), accessible by clicking the wrench icon near the top-right corner of your browser. Under the “Personal Stuff” section, a new Users sub-section will offer a button for “Add new user.” Click that, and a new window pops up, asking for a new user’s Google account name and password. Now that new window becomes an entirely different Chrome instance, with a small user icon in the upper-left corner, and all its own bookmarks, settings, extensions.
Note that this isn’t just for switching between Chrome accounts on a single computer – someone can create an account, or sign into one, and use Chrome in an entirely separate window, while keeping the other account open and running. In Windows 7, at least, Chrome even separates into different taskbar icons, with the user’s icon stamped onto each.
As Google’s Chrome team points out, this isn’t a secure user-switching method, by any means. It’s meant for computers where multiple people are already using the same user account: at a communal office computer or perhaps a home computer where it’s easier to just pop open a browser than log out and log back in. The solution to the switching issue, up until now, was to just open an “Incognito Window” and log into separate accounts; with multiple accounts, though, everyone has access to their own look and feel.
One weird aspect of multiple user accounts in Chrome, at least as it stands as of this writing, is that there’s no way to disable it. There’s nothing to prevent someone who stops by your desktop or laptop while you’re not using it from clicking into the Options (or the upper-left user icon, if you’ve added more than one account) and adding another account to your Chrome browser. It’s easy to delete accounts from the Options/Preferences page, but if someone has set up their own account on your browser, they’ve left everything in their account open to you. If you’re using multiple accounts on a computer owned by somebody else, you’d better head into your Options on that system and disable the syncing of passwords, and possibly bookmarks, too, if any are of a sensitive nature.
Multiple, personalized Chrome accounts are a cornerstone of the appeal of Chromebooks, but Google likely knows that there are plenty of netbooks, easily passed laptops, and other devices that benefit from easy user switching. In the meantime, feel free to set it up on your own Chrome browser – but, again, be smart about where you sign into Chrome, especially if you’re syncing passwords.