…but not quite.
Even though I’ve switched to Google Chrome as my primary browser, I’ve only done so because it’s just barely more speedy and efficient than using Safari. And only that because I was forced to scour the web for extensions to make the difference. This is the tale of those 10 Chrome plugins…
I’ve been a Safari user almost from day one when it first hit. Yes, it was a bit rudimentary and barebones when it first debuted, but I gave it a shot and grew to enjoy using it.
There was an annoying memory leak in the first few versions, not to mention that the browser would aggressively hold onto it’s cache like nothing I’ve ever seen -but the primary reason I used it was speed. Even though Safari did indeed choke on some websites, and it wasn’t any developer’s primary target browser, I was willing to live with that occasional hiccup because I knew it was fast.
Unfortunately, that has changed with the last few versions, and I found that Safari just wasn’t the fastest or best at displaying sites. Many times opening up multiple tabs in Safari would drag on and on with the loading. The same tabs opened in Chrome would finish loading much quicker. This kept happening on my own personal machines, and even the top of the line (as of March 2013) Mac Pros at my workplace.
Even more, the extensions situation was becoming bothersome. The best extensions simply weren’t being made for Safari, with the exception of a rare gem or two. Not to mention that it seemed like Apple simply didn’t care about getting good extensions on it’s own browser. You still can’t even do a proper search of the Safari Extensions Gallery. That doesn’t make any sense at all.
Finally, this, plus the annoyance of many lost seconds/minutes/hours became too much and I realized I was gonna have to make the move to a new browser.
Firefox was my primary web development testing environment, but was a no-go as my primary everyday browser because it was just too slow and pokey. So as I’ve never really been an Opera fan, Chrome was my only hope.
After firing up Chrome and importing all my bookmarks and settings from Safari (supposedly, anyway), I figured I was good to go.
Well, not quite. I ran into a myriad of issues, and I managed to somewhat alleviate those issues with the following extensions.
Top 10 Extensions to Make Chrome Almost Bearable
In Safari there was a handy button right on the bookmarks bar that let you open up the bookmarks window. I became used to opening my bookmarks in one click, so I would always instinctively look for a bookmarks button on the toolbar. Well, there wasn’t one. Luckily, the Bookmarks Button extension places a handy button right there in the toolbar for you. That’s one down…
Chrome Web Store Launcher
I quickly grew tired of surfing through the menus and scrolling to get to Chrome Web Store. Obviously Google has seen many complaints about this, since they decided to provide the Chrome Web Store Launcher, which places another handy button in your toolbar. One click, and there’s the Chrome Store. I went for a long time before I finally decided to install this.
When browsing with Safari, there was a quick key-command for me to empty the cache. I had actually remapped that keyboard shortcut to my “F1″ key. So I’d browse along, then when necessary quickly hit the F1 key, zap the cache and continue on with my business.
Unfortunately I discovered that in Chrome, the “Clear Browsing Data…” menu item brings you to another screen, where you can choose which items you want to clear (history, cookies, etc…). So essentially it’s a two-step process, where I wanted a one-click solution.
I tried a few extensions, but settled on the Clear Cache plugin because it does indeed make it a one-click process. The extension has an options page where you can decide exactly which items get zapped when you hit the button. Works like a charm.
Ok, this is one of those issues that isn’t as good as what you can get on Firefox or Safari. I haven’t found anything better than this yet, so I decided to go for it.
I’m in the habit of blocking all Flash items by default on a web page. Keeps things running a lot quicker that way. In Firefox you can always use NoScript and AdBlock. As I was a Safari user, the one I used was called ClickToFlash.
It blocked all Flash except items (or sites) I whitelisted. Or, I could simply click on it to let it play. I have yet to find anything this good on Chrome. I was hoping that since Chrome and Safari were both webkit browsers (emphasis on were…don’t get me started on the whole Blink engine situation…) that maybe the ClickToFlash developers has made it for Chrome, too. Alas, no.
So after many tries, I settled on FlashBlock. It isn’t perfect. Many times I have to click over and over to get a blocked flash item to actually play. Also I’ve had issues with having to re-do my whitelist, or items that appear to be on my whitelist being blocked anyway.
In short, the performance is inconsistent. It’ll do for now, but I’m still on the lookout for something better.
Video Downloader professional
This scenario a bit strange compared to the others. I actually never downloaded video in Safari, relying instead on Video Download Helper or DownthemAll in Firefox. The key was this: there was a quick keyboard shortcut I could use in Safari that would instantly open whatever my current page was in Firefox (you had to enable the Develop Menu in the preferences to see it). Then it was simply one more click to download the vid (more on this later).
Well, Chrome doesn’t have such a button. That meant I needed something where I could quickly download a vid (usually a video game trailer from Destructoid, Kotaku or JoyStiq).
As I discovered, there was no “premiere” video downloading solution for Chrome, unlike Firefox. I think much of this has to do with Google owning YouTube, and not wanting people to download those videos. It’s kind of tough to promote yourself as a premiere downloading extension when you don’t download YouTube videos (or at least can’t advertise that you do).
Anyway, Video Downloader professional puts an icon in your toolbar, and it will indeed work on many non-YouTube type videos. It will also work on most YouTube videos, however, it implements a workaround of adding the requested video to your own playlist, and then downloading it. It works but it’s not pretty.
Mail this link
I’m constantly emailing web pages to my friends and sometimes to myself (depending on what it is, I may or may not Evernote it). In Safari there’s a Mail button provided for you on your toolbar. With one click it opens up a new massage in Mail and dumps in the current url. It even throws the page title into the subject line. Then all you have to do is input the recipient and off it goes.
Mail this link works in a very similar fashion. The only thing that’s different is that the link isn’t “live” when it pastes it into the message -meaning it’s not clickable, it’s merely text.
Usually this is fine. Most email programs/services these days automatically convert urls into hyperlinks, but if you’ve got an un-savvy person to send to, you’ll want to make sure it’s a clickable link before you send (in Apple Mail I just highlight the link, press Command-K and paste the url into the resulting window).
Essentially Stylebot allows you to override the CSS styles on a website so you can make it look and behave they way that you prefer. You just right-click on whatever part of the page you want to affect and choose “Stylebot” from the menu. Then you’ll get a column with many style options that you can change. You can also input raw CSS code if you want to.
Honestly, I never used a plugin for this in Safari. In there you can easily assign your own stylesheet, so I just did that. It’s really not that easy in other browsers, including Chrome (I have no idea why they make it so hard in other browsers), so I had to rely on Stylebot to make many of the style adjustments I’d become used to.
I had to find this plugin because of Google Chrome’s flaky interface.
I say it’s flaky because the GUI isn’t as “solid” as I would like. For example, sometimes when I click on a button in the toolbar, the actual button will move as if I was dragging it, instead of being pressed. Very weird.
The same behavior occurred when it came to clicking on tabs. Many times the tab will actually be dragged instead of just clicked on, and then it detaches from the group and becomes it’s own window. This is extremely annoying.
In Safari there’s a “Merge All Windows” command, which I rarely had to use, since the GUI wasn’t so unstable. Chrome had no such command, although it desperately needs one by default.
Others apparently thought so, too. When I went searching I found the Merge Windows extensions, which adds a button to your toolbar that merges all separate windows with one click.
Even though it’s still annoying when the tabs accidentally become windows, the fix is now only one click away.
Google +1 Button
I can’t say I really used anything similar in Safari, but I just now started looking for one since I was tired of pasting in urls when articles don’t have a G+ button.
Luckily, in those cases the official Google +1 Button is all you need.
The button is placed in your toolbar, and when you click it, a small window pops up right there with the link, thumbnail and a field for you to type a description. Or, you can just click the button to leave a +1 without writing any comments along with it. This plugin makes it very convenient.
LastPass is actually more of a service, but it has a Google Chrome plugin along with it.
The LastPass service stores all your passwords in an online database (called your vault). Then the plugin adds a toolbar button that allows you to login to that database with one click from Chrome.
You just enter your master password, and suddenly you have access to all your passwords (you can save the password in the plugin, too, but it’s not recommended).
Seriously, this was the number one thing that almost made me switch back to Safari, speed be damned.
For some reason, Chrome has trouble saving your various login data and filling it in when the time comes. No matter how you fiddle with the settings or save the logins over and over, the next time you go to a site, it will not fill in.
I’m not sure if Chrome just doesn’t have the same level of access to the OS X System Keychain (where passwords are stored), or if it’s some other problem…but I have far too many sites/forums, etc. to visit that require my login info and there’s no way in Hell I was going to type that stuff in every time, or have to hunt for it over and over.
I actually did quit using Chrome once and went back to Safari because of this, but then the slowness of Safari began to get to me, so I became determined to find a solution.
Well, I can tell you that LastPass is that solution. It fills in some sites that even Safari didn’t fill in. Plus it spares me from having to fill in my own Excel sheet of login info. When I add a new one, I can always download a spreadsheet right from the LastPass site.
Bonus Extension – Fauxbar
One last extension I’ll tell you about, but I don’t actually use, is Fauxbar.
What it does is to replace the default Google Chrome “Omnibox”, ie the address/search bar.
I hate that damn Omnibar.
The number one thing I hate about it is that it’s a search bar. I dislike the Firefox “Awesome Bar” for the same reason.
In Safari, if I want to go to the Destructoid website, I just type in “Destructoid” in the address bar and press Enter, then Safari fills in the “.com” part and off I go.
When in Chrome or Firefox, if you try to do that, you’ll get a search results page for “Destructoid”. then you’ll have to click again to actually go there. What a waste!
I never minded having a separate search box that I could just tab into, but Chrome took that away.
The number two problem with the Omnibox just adds insult to injury. When I start typing in there, it starts autocompleting for me. Which is fine if it could do it right, but it doesn’t.
For some reason the Omnibox doesn’t search through or show results from all of your bookmarks. It makes no sense. Safari alwyas autocompleted from my bookmarks, and did a damn good job of displaying if it was matching from history or bookmarks. Chrome doesn’t autocomplete or suggest sites or domains even though you know damn well they’re already saved. What is the point of this??
An article called Replacing Chrome’s Omnibox with Fauxbar explains this much better than me.
Although the article is primarily concerned with the suggestive behavior, and not actually using the bar to navigate to the sites like I did in Safari, I fully agree with it.
Mo’ Chrome Complainin’
Surfin’ for Firefox…
I mentioned earlier that Chrome had no way for me to easily open the current web page in Firefox, unlike Safari.
Although to be fair, I suspect Apple did this as a tacit admission that Safari is not a web developer’s primary testing browser. I can see why Google wouldn’t want an easy way for you to switch to another browser, but this still remains a pain in my rear.
As of now, the quickest way for me to open a Chrome web page in Firefox is for me to drag the address bar favicon all the way down to my Firefox icon in the OS X Dock, which is all the way on my second monitor. Either that or position a Firefox window where I can drag the favicon into that. Talk about aggravating my carpal tunnel…ouch.
In Safari I had that menu command mapped to my F4 key, so one quick tap and off it went. I’m still looking for a way to implement this behavior in Chrome but it isn’t going to be easy, apparently.
The Firebug extension will just not go away once I open it up. You can close the windows all you want, or even click the button again, but that damn window keeps popping up with every page load. The only way to stop it is to turn off the extension itself, so I don’t even have it installed now.
Web Developer appears correctly but I’ve had trouble using some of the features, as in nothing happens when I click sometimes. Very strange. The Firefox extensions for both of these are way more solid, so I just use those.
If I absolutely have to look at something in Chrome I’ll just use the built-in Developer Tools (ie ‘Inspect Element’). That will get you by in a pinch, and will also go away when you banish the window.
Video Download Help…Please?
When I began using Chrome as my primary browser, I went searching for DownThemAll!, which is a Firefox extension that quickly examines the links on a page and allows you to initiate a batch download of images/movies all at once.
I use it all the time for downloading video game walkthroughs, so I can’t do without it. Unfortunately a few quick searches came up with these links:
- DownThemAll! » No Google Chrome support
- DownThemAll! » Still no Google Chrome-Chromium support
In which the DownThemAll developers reveal that the extension system in Chrome is simply not robust enough for them to provide the same level of functionality as the Firefox plugin, so the opted not to do it.
I’m not that kind of developer so I’m not sure exactly what they’re finding to be deficient, but I have read similar complaints on other developer blogs.
This sort of thing doesn’t bode well for hopes of future plugin adoption. I’m not sure what effect the upcoming Blink engine will have on these extensions. Will they all have to start from scratch? I sure hope not…
The Great Font Fiasco
One thing I noticed really quickly when using Chrome was that every few web pages I would see an odd font error. As if most of the fonts were replaced with symbols. The page, heading, or whichever part was affected would thus become unreadable. An example can be seen below:
I looked into the problem many times, but came up with different solutions. Sometimes I could fix it by changing the font itself (via Stylebot), and sometimes I could fix it by changing the size or the units of size of the font. Meaning that if the affected font was set to 15pt, I might change it 1em, or 15px, or 100%. Any one of the changes might fix it, but only temporarily and not consistently.
Some reported adjusting your system fonts or adding Chrome to whichever font manager you were using as the solution. None of the suggested solutions worked 100% for everyone affected.
More can be read in this thread, titled Google Chrome Fonts on Mac look like picture symbols. The Google engineers take part in the thread, but the solution remains a mystery.
I can deal with it because I’m savvy enough to change the CSS, but other users might find this to be a dealbreaker. I certainly don’t blame them if they do.
The Wrap Up
So there we have it. Google Chrome may be the most popular browser out right now, but I’m not 100% sold on this browser.
I’m using it because there’s a noticeable speed difference between Chrome and Safari (and of course, Firefox), and I find that to be worth the other hassles to keep using it.
If Apple ever decided to actually put some work into Safari to bring back the speed, and make it viable for web developers and extension creators then I’d surely be back.
Although I don’t have much hope for that, so I think I’ll have to make do with what I’ve got here.
If you have any Chrome tips or any questions then let me know if the comments, I’d love to hear them. See you guys next time!