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Customize Chrome for Better Browsing

Google Chrome has only had extensions available for a few months, but it already has a great collection of add-ons that will boost your browsing experience. We look at a handful of extensions that let you manage tabs effectively, learn more about the sites you browse, and read feeds with panache.

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Feedly syncs with Google Reader, so Feedly is a no-hassle add-on to work with Reader. You can comfortably switch back and forth, so there’s no problem using Feedly on the desktop and accessing Reader on your mobile device (for example).

If you’re a Google Reader user, you’ll probably also want to grab an extension to subscribe to RSS feeds from the toolbar. Inexplicably, this feature isn’t included in Google by default. Google does provide an RSS Subscription Extension, though, and it allows you to subscribe to feeds directly from the Omnibox. Google’s extensions supports Google Reader, iGoogle, Yahoo, and Bloglines out of the box and can be configured to work with other feed readers as well.

Even better for Google Reader is the Chrome Reader extension. This one puts a icon in the Omnibar that gives a one-click method for subscribing to feeds for Google Reader and lets you customize the feed name and specify which folder(s) you’d like to put the feed in.

Analyzing Sites with BuiltWith

A quick hat-tip to Mashable for this next extension, because I wouldn’t have stumbled on it otherwise. The BuiltWith Technology Profiler examines a page and gives you the skinny on how a site is built, the technologies it uses, the analytics, what the site is hosted on, advertising network(s), and more. If you want a quick profile of a site you’re browsing, the BuiltWith Technology Profiler is the tool for you.

The BuiltWith Technology Preview in Action
The BuiltWith Technology Preview in Action

You won’t always be able to get results using this extension. It works on most sites, but doesn’t work with pages loaded over SSL, and might return a 403 error depending on the remote site’s configuration. If you want to get a look at overall trends, the company behind the extension keeps a site with trends showing all of the various technologies, ad networks, and so on. You can search by site or technology.

Chrome Calling

Fans of the Speed Dial feature in Opera can replicate the experience in Chrome with the Speed Dial extension. After whipping the extension onto Chrome, just click the Speed Dial bar in the Omnibar and select “Add Current Page” to add a new site to the dial, or click Open to get to the speed dial.

The Speed Dial page also displays a row at the top for your bookmarks, the recently closed bar you see in new tabs in Chrome, and a search box. Speed dial is also themeable. It comes with seven color themes out of the box, and allows you to set a background image if you like that sort of thing.

To change the number of dials, change your themes or other options, click the Options button on the Speed Dial page. You can even hide the Speed Dial Omnibar button if you get sick of looking at it, but make sure you know the shortcuts!

Finding Chrome Extensions

Chrome now has nearly 3,000 extensions listed on its gallery. There’s plenty to choose from, though it’s not always easy to find the good stuff. Google could do a bit more to showcase extensions by function. The Google Chrome Extensions site organizes extensions by most popular, most recent, top rated, and a selection of featured extensions.

Naturally, you can also search the extensions site, but the site lacks a way to browse by category. It’d be useful to be able to see all extensions for Web development, or for tab management, etc., instead of having to search and hope you’re getting the right terms to match the type of extension you’re looking for.

Another site to check out is the independent Chrome Extensions site that predates Google’s official gallery. You’ll see a lot of duplication on the two sites, but the Chrome Extensions site is so much nicer to navigate.

Finally, there’s UserScripts.org, which hosts thousands of GreaseMonkey scripts. Originally focused on GreaseMonkey and Firefox, the site is also relevant to Chrome users since Google Chrome started supporting many GreaseMonkey scripts natively — without the need for the GreaseMonkey add-on. I’ve tried several scripts with success, though not every script is going work with Chrome. Some experimentation may be required.

If you have a favorite Chrome extension (or Firefox add-on), let us know about it in the comments!

Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years covering IT. Formerly the openSUSE Community Manager for Novell, Brockmeier has written for linuxdlsazine, Sys Admin, Linux Pro Magazine, IBM developerWorks, Linux.com, CIO.com, Linux Weekly News, ZDNet, and many other publications. You can reach Zonker at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter.

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