The Chrome Web Store is a mess, sure, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use legitimate extensions to improve your browser experience—whether that’s on Google Chrome or the resource-friendlier alternative, Microsoft’s Edge Chromium.
Tempting as it might be to pack your browser full of every helpful extension you can get, that bit about “resources” wasn’t just my lame attempt at a joke: at some point, you’re going to want to be strategic about your selections, because you probably don’t want to slow your browser to a crawl. I feel like I have a few too many extensions now, and I’m hopeful that working on this article will convince me to remove a handful from my browser.
That said, there are also some extensions I think everyone should know about. They might be obvious to you; they might be completely new. You have to start somewhere, which is why I’m going to share the extensions I always use in the hopes that it gives you a few gems (or a fill suite) to try.
If you have suggestions for other extension that you would defend at any cost, please leave them in the comments!
Chrome Remote Desktop
Let’s start here. Remember back in the day when you had to install annoying VNC applications on your computer if you wanted to dial into your system from afar? You probably had to figure out a way to punch through your home or office router if you wanted to move the mouse on a remote computer and type as if you were sitting in front of the screen. How many DynDNS accounts do you think we all made across the years?
Jumping back to present-day, there isn’t a single more useful extension for owners of multiple devices than Chrome Remote Desktop. Install it on your various desktops or laptops, make sure these systems are linked to your Google account, and set them up as hosts—which only really involves clicking a button or two and setting up a PIN number. You can then use this helpful website to access these systems wherever they are, assuming they’re powered on. You can even use an Android or iOS app to crudely tap your screen and pull up any programs you need to launch.
This is the extension I use if I’m ever heading out of town and need to dial back into my home desktop for any reason—turning it off when a download has finished or making sure I’ve loaded up my favorite idle game (and set the monitor to power off after a minute or so). You might not use Chrome Remote Desktop every day, but you’ll be glad it’s there when you need it.
You don’t have to use 1Password as your password manager. There are alternatives; this is just what I’ve stuck with over the last many years. I love 1 Password’s simple Chrome extension, because it makes it easy to access the many logins and passwords I’ve saved in the app over the years. This extension comes as a companion to 1Password’s desktop app, which you’ll also need to have installed on your PC. Otherwise, you’ll need the standalone 1Password X extension instead.
Google Mail Checker
Assuming you use Gmail—who doesn’t use Gmail?—then Google Mail Checker is a must-have extension for your browser. Install it, and it’ll drop a little icon in your main toolbar that tells you how many unread Gmail messages you have. That’s it. You can’t change a single option, nor alter that count in any way, so let this inspire you to get to Inbox Zero.
Enhancer for YouTube
There are probably 50 different Chrome extensions you can use to customize your YouTube experience. I’ve tried a bunch of them, and I find myself hating them for various reasons—they stop working, they’re cluttered, their UI is awful, their settings are hard to figure out, they feel scammy, et cetera.
The one I’ve stuck with for the past year-and-change is Enhancer for YouTube, as it fulfills most of the requests I have for an extension like this. It lets me skip annoying YouTube ads; it automatically makes the player go to the larger theater mode whenever I watch a video; and it even makes the player a smaller picture-in-picture display, so I can still watch the video when I scroll down to read the insipid YouTube comments; and it lets me automatically default to the highest quality playback for any video.
Its settings menu, though a bit complicated, makes sense, and you can even use it to adjust YouTube’s colors and theme, edit the default playback speed, and control your volume with your mouse wheel. Nice.
Link to Text Fragment
I’ve talked about this before, so I won’t repeat myself too much. The Link to Text Fragment extension allows you to create your own customized anchor links—hyperlinks that will direct a fellow Chrome (or Edge Chromium) user to an exact bit of text on a website. It’s incredibly useful, especially if you’re a student, researcher, or anyone else who might not want to have to scroll through a gigantic stream of text every time you’re looking for a particular passage.
Oh yes. If you’re tired of dealing with tab clutter—exactly why I’m not showing you a screenshot of my full browser right now—you absolutely need OneTab. This extension is a productivity lifesaver. With it, you can dump all of your open tabs into a single list of tabs that you can then save within the extension itself or export to its own .HTML file for safekeeping. While I still recommend bookmarking sites you know you’ll want to keep around, OneTab at least helps you manage your daily (or weekly) nightmare a lot better, and saves precious resources on your system, too.
Can you say “lifesaver?” There are random times when your browser will crash; it’s the nature of software. You’ll usually get a notice to restore the tabs you previously had open. Sometimes, however, this process can go a little wrong, and you’ll actually end up restoring nothing. That leaves you the unpleasant task of going through your history to find a time when said tabs were all open and you can pop them back up again one-by-one.
Or, you can do what I do: Install Session Buddy, simply click on one of the real-time backups of your tabs, and launch everything just the way it was before your browser went wild. I can’t count the number of times Session Buddy has saved my ass. For that, it sits at the very top of my browser’s “must-have” extension list.
The Great Suspender
I haven’t ever run the numbers to see how much The Great Suspender makes your browser less of a CPU and memory hog. On paper, the extension sounds solid: It basically stops any activity on tabs you aren’t actively using, restoring them with a click when you’re ready to revisit them. I confess, even this was never enough to make Chrome not turn my desktop computer into a jet engine whenever I used it, but every little bit helps, right?
If you’re going to help make Jeff Bezos richer, the least you can do is ensure that your Amazon purchases are slightly benefitting some local charity in your area. With Smile Always, your browser will always point to smile.amazon.com instead of amazon.com, which means any purchases you make will give a slight bit of cash to a charity you select. Will they become insta-millionaires? No, but my purchases over the past year or two have raised nearly $100 for my favorite local charity. If 1,000 people shopped as much as me and all did the same thing, that’s one hundred thousand extra bucks for absolutely nothing. And if ten thousand people used this extension…
Anyway, install Smile Always if you shop at Amazon. It doesn’t cost you anything, and the more people that do it, the more free money charities get. Easy as that.
I don’t like being tracked around the web, and I will go to great lengths to do my best—knowing that it’s probably still futile—to prevent scripts, cookies, and other bullshit from following me and learning about everything I like. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation describes Privacy Badger:
“At a more technical level, Privacy Badger keeps note of the ‘third party’ domains that embed images, scripts and advertising in the pages you visit. Privacy Badger looks for tracking techniques like uniquely identifying cookies, local storage ‘supercookies,’ first to third party cookie sharing via image pixels, and canvas fingerprinting. If it observes a single third-party host tracking you on three separate sites, Privacy Badger will automatically disallow content from that third-party tracker.”
This extension, AdGuard (running on my Raspberry Pi 4, which I route my internet traffic through), and uBlock Origin are my “holy trifecta” of reducing web annoyances. Between these three, I live a pretty ad- and bullshit-free experience online—I hope.
You made it this far, so let’s talk about the nuke—uBlock Origin. As I mentioned, this is one of the three big tools I use to get rid of annoying advertising and tracking all around the web. It might seem like overkill to use so many blocking utilities and extensions, but I find that these all do a pretty decent job of catching, well, everything. While, yes, there are “friendlier” extensions than uBlock Origin that allow you to support websites that do advertising right, sometimes you need the hand grenade, not the scalpel.
I’ve saved this one for last so you have an easy way to jump to the comments on the next page and tell me how much you hate Facebook and hate me for suggesting anything to do with Facebook.
Redirector isn’t an extension for Facebook per se; it simply allows your browser to launch a specific URL when you type anything you want into your address bar. For example, you could set it up so that entering “wp” in your address bar always jumps you to good ol’ wierdopost.com, sparing you lots of keystrokes (if you don’t use your address bar’s autocomplete feature).
What I love most about Redirector, though, is that it finally allows me to default to a chronological freakin’ feed in Facebook. I’m quite proud of this one, since it’s something my friends and I complain about all the time. With Redirector, you can shuffle yourself off to the Facebook URL that gives you a chronological feed every time you visit Facebook—by typing the URL into your address bar, that is.