Chromebook Mobile: 2015

Cloud Computing and Blogging w/ Chromebooks, Chrome, and the Google Chrome OS: ChromeBook.mobi - Simplify your life!

Reviews: Top 20 Chrome Extensions

List: Best Free Google Chrome Extensions (Add-ons) That Simplify and Secure Your Browser Based Experience


Tools for the Chromebook: Google Chrome "extensions" are like mini semi-secure software programs that attach to your Chrome web browser (or Chrome control center) and are usually visible as little icons on the "browser toolbar" to the right of the address combo search bar (omnibox) at the top of your viewing window. These add-ons or extensions are available via the "Web Store" where they also have apps and games (and themes or skins too), but unlike the "extensions" listed here, the apps and games are generally fancy links to interactive web pages that are organized via your App Launcher on the taskbar or "shelf" in Google's Chrome OS.

Dark colored folder art with yellow software warning lable
Image by Adilson V. Casula

There are extensions available elsewhere on the web, but if they're not approved links to Google's "Web Store" software, they must be installed via non-standard installation techniques. Generally, the best & safest Chrome extensions are "approved" and monitored by Google and are available only through the Chrome Web Store. Our favorite extensions are listed below in no particular order and may be updated as better solutions come down the pike. Many of the programs listed below are available for Firefox, Opera, and IE too, but we're only dealing with Chrome on Chromebook Mobile!

These were all free when this article was published (though some offer optional paid features), but Google is changing the Web Store slightly to make it easier for the developers of these extensions to make some money for their efforts, so expect more paid programs in the future. This is not necessarily bad news though, because soon some of the "big boys" will move in with the latest and greatest extensions ever! If you're considering making the move to Chrome, you're going to need some tools and these will get you started.

Top 20 Chrome Extensions:


1) HTTPS Everywhere (privacy):
The nonprofit EFS or Electronic Frontier Foundation developed the "HTTPS Everywhere" Chrome Browser extension as part of its technological user privacy mission. It's widely praised across the Internet and simply directs your web page visit to a more secure version of the page if one is available. No complicated settings with this one! HTTPS Everywhere's icon shows up to the right of your URL in the omnibox (address bar).

2) Disconnect (privacy):
If you're concerned about (mainly marketing) companies collecting data about your web surfing habits, "Disconnect" will allow greater control over your privacy and it also speeds up page-loads by reducing the number of requests. Disconnect also allows you to easily "whitelist" pages you trust so you're assured those pages have full functionality. "Ghostery" is another masterpiece anti-tracker extension, but "Disconnect" is the only one that played nicely with all our other extensions. Note: Remember to whitelist sites you like and trust, (for example: the "CW Network" doesn't like to play TV shows unless whitelisted). Also, buttons and forms may not load fully on some sites; just always remember Disconnect is on and may need to be temporarily disabled (or the site whitelisted) if you want to carry out certain interactions.

3) Click&Clean (privacy):
There are probably a million and one browser cleaners, scrubbers, trace removers, or what-ever you want to call them, but "Click&Clean" is beautifully engineered and includes all kinds of interesting little shortcuts to great information about all the things connected to your browser or vice versa. If you want to get started with it right away, click the Click&Clean icon in your toolbar, then click the options (gear) box at the bottom, and choose either the low, medium, or high button at the bottom again, then the red "run cleaner" button to the right of that, and off you go. We use the "low" setting because "high" will wipe out your web page preferences and more.

4) Extensions Manager (aka Switcher) (productivity):
We get more use out of this extension than nearly any other, especially while exploring and comparing extensions we're trying out in Chrome, and to temporarily disable those we only use occasionally (to save on system resources). You can find all these settings elsewhere, but with the "Extensions Manager (aka Switcher)", just click its icon on the browser toolbar next to the omnibox and a tidy menu drops down with all your extensions, applications, and themes in easy to read configurable lists. You can turn them on and off, set the preferences, uninstall them, or jump to an items Google Web Store page in a snap. If you want fast control over your add-ons in Chrome, this one's a keeper!

5) Neater Bookmarks (productivity):
"Neater Bookmarks" is a very simple Chrome extension that will neatly drop a clean and compact version of your bookmarks list down from it's toolbar icon for easy access. Yeah, we know it's simple enough in Chrome with no extension at all, but when you're working with hundreds of placeholders, Neater Bookmarks has some options that make it a pleasure to use. Mainly, you can keep it's unobtrusive bookmarks list open when activating links to maintain your position within the "Neater Bookmarks" drop down list, even if those links are buried levels deep inside of folders you created in your bookmarks. You can also easily drag and drop your bookmarks around in the list to reorganize them. This beats the hell out of chasing them down via Chrome's "stock" Bookmarks manager settings. Note: this is NOT the very similar "Neat Bookmarks" extension which recently has User Reviews reporting highly intrusive ads!
unknown developer's site | view its Web Store page

6) LastPass: Free Password Manager (productivity):
First of all, we're also big fans of Roboform Lite for Chrome on Google's Chrome OS, and the more full featured Roboform for Chrome if you're on Windows, but we've been putting "LastPass" through its paces on the Chromebook for this review and Bingo, we've got a winner! The sleek "LastPass" password manager for Chrome extension is extremely well polished and works like a dream once you've familiarized yourself with all the LastPass features, plus, its user interface just looks good, and it's free unless you also need to deploy it on a wide variety of compact mobile devices. LastPass can save and autofill all your site passwords (or generate new passwords), encrypt private notes (great for Google Drive users!), and, if you wish, even fill in your credit card information when shopping or paying bills online.

7) Session Buddy (Chrome tabs management):
We used to favor TabCloud and the beautiful Tabs Outliner to save, restore, and organize Chrome multi-tab sessions, but on a recommendation we gave "Session Buddy" a shot, and wham!, we have a new favorite! Session Buddy is a bit more complex to master, but it's faster and flat-out loaded with useful preferences. It also has a pleasing and well thought out user interface. If you generally work with large numbers of open tabs, Session Buddy will help keep you confident in knowing that your tabs won't be lost in the blink of an eye.
unknown developer's site | view its Web Store page

8) The Great Suspender (Chrome tabs utility):
"The Great Suspender" is another possibility for you mega-opened-tabs Chrome web browser users, especially if your open tabs are resource intensive, you like keeping tabs idle but at the ready, or if your system just simply gets bogged down while you're in the midst of a WWW tab-fest. To use The Great Suspender, while you're on the tab you wish to suspend, just click The Great Suspender icon and it will put that tab into hibernation to minify its resource usage. To reactivate the suspended page, you just go back to it, click anywhere on the page, and it's live again. You can also "suspend all tabs" and "reload all tabs" but in our tests, reloading every tab (if you have many open) can cause some serious page errors and freezes.

9) New Tab Redirect (Chrome tabs management):
"New Tab Redirect" is a simple extension that opens a web page of your choosing when you click the "New Tab" button to the right of your open tabs in Chrome. The default Google new tab page often costs us a couple of clicks when we're getting down to business. There's also a multitude of other choices with "new tab" custom pages, like the popular "Awesome New Tab Page" if you're looking for something snazzy, but we like to use the New Tab Redirect extension to pop us right into a good research launching point. With as many tabs as we open a day we sure don't want to be impeded by seeing our most visited pages, the time, weather, advertising, beautiful pictures, or any other distracting BS and with "New Tab Redirect" extension the choice is yours.

10) Tabs to the front! (Chrome tabs utility):
OK, this is a simple one. "Tabs to the front!" simply activates or jumps you to the new tab when you open a hyperlink instead of keeping it in the background. When you're kicking back browsing the web "Tabs to the front!" is just what the doctor ordered, though if you're getting down opening tabs like wildfire, it can be distracting. You can deactivate it in a snap with the "Extensions Manager (aka Switcher)" which was extension #4 listed above if you need to toggle it on and off for different surfing styles. Note: in Chrome you can also hold the Ctrl + Shift keys while clicking a link for the same effect, but "Tabs to the front!" will make it the default behavior.

11) Rapportive (Gmail utilities):
This and the next 3 reviews cover Gmail utilities. Rapportive seemed pretty lame at first, but we've grown to love it because it gives you some tips on the interests of the person you're conversing with. Basically, when you're in an email or conversation in Gmail, "Rapportive" adds a column to the right of your open email with a few details Rapportive has dug up on your contact including their socially connected sites, maybe a few of their comments, and a little info on their other web affiliations. Also, users of this extension can go in and edit what Rapportive reports about them and their internet activities, so it's worth checking this extension out just to see what others are viewing about your online presence and to spiff it up if you don't quite like what you see.

12) Bananatag for Gmail (Gmail utilities):
"Bananatag for Gmail" basically tracks when someone opens an email you sent them. As a Bananatag user you have the option to activate "opened email tracking" on whichever outgoing messages you choose via a new option at the bottom of your compose mail window. Then, on the Bananatag website you can view an assortment of stats about the emails you're tracking. At this time, the free account gives you 5 tracks a day. In the tech news you'll notice some people get in a paranoid uproar about programs such as this. Personally we don't give a flying crap if someone gets notice we've opened their email. It's not going to change a thing in the way we respond and if they're bent out of shape over response times or get that "gotcha!" feeling knowing we opened it, more power to them. Like it or not, this kind of software is out there and in widespread usage.
* Note: also check out the fantastic MxHero toolbox for Gmail: developers page | Webstore link. Mxhero includes email tracking along with a host of other options, plus, MxHero offers unlimited usage for free!

13) Boomerang for Gmail (Gmail utilities):
We like having "Boomerang for Gmail" installed for those times when it's preferable to send an email at a specific (scheduled) time. You can also set follow-up reminders and alerts if you don't hear back from the recipient. It's a nicely packaged extension an integrates directly into your GMail. Boomerang for Gmail will place a colorful little icon on the top right of your Gmail page (inline with the Google+, apps, alerts, and Google master control links) where you can get to all the options, help files, and so forth that Boomerang for Gmail offers. Also, in the compose mail windows you'll have a new "Send Later" button below the "Send" button if you want to implement a scheduled send of that particular email.

14) Checker Plus for Gmail (Gmail utilities):
OK, the search is over; "Checker Plus for Gmail" adds all the features we've been craving to simplify managing our Gmail in Chrome. Checker Plus for Gmail is a beautifully designed and quick running extension that handles multiple Gmail accounts (including POP3 connections), can notify and let you handle incoming emails from a slick-looking pop-up (with all kinds of options) via its toolbar button, can run in the background, has voice features, etc. Right out of the box this Gmail tool does great things you might not have even thought of. There are also extra features available in an upgraded paid version, but check this, you pay whatever amount you choose in the form of a donation. We never thought we'd be managing and reading our email from the preview pane of a toolbar button, but "Checker Plus for Gmail" is that good!

15) Google Voice (by Google) (productivity):
We've been big fans of Google Voice (which used to be called GrandCentral) since we first discovered it years ago. If you're not familiar with it, visit the official info link below because it has more features than we could ever begin to describe here. As far as the "Google Voice" by Google Chrome extension, it's accessed via a handy little icon up by the omnibox on the browser toolbar that, when clicked, will give you instant access to either make a call, send a text (via your linked Google Voice phone number), or check your incoming voice and text messages. It also animates when someone has messaged you. All we can say is to give it a try and have some patience in making this your centralized communications center. You'll have a free phone number for life, and you can port your other devices through it as they come and go.

16) Google Calendar (by Google) (productivity):
If you like keeping datebooks, Google Calendar can go as simple or complex as you care to get in lining up your scheduling. We like the "Google Calendar" extension because it includes a quick drop down list of upcoming events (and an active visible timer), or you just can pull up the whole Calendar program if you want to get down to business. Google has another Calendar extension called "Google Calendar Checker" that many prefer (but they're nearly the same). Another kick-ass non-Google option is the "Checker Plus for Google Calendar" which we've recently added to our personal arsenal.

17) Google Dictionary (by Google) (productivity):
Looking up word definitions is something we do on a daily basis and Google's official "Google Dictionary" extension makes the process quick and painless. All you need to do is click on the Google Dictionary icon on the Chrome toolbar and type or paste your word into the tool and presto, your curiosity it cured. It also has options to display a pop-up when you either double-click or highlight (select) a word. The WordWeb dictionary tools are our long time favorites, but, unfortunately they don't have a satisfactory solution for Chrome yet.
This is an official Google extension | view its Web Store page

18) Save to Google Drive (by Google) (productivity):
If you need to save web pages or the elements on them, the "Save to Google Drive" extension by Google adds a few handy features to your tool box. You can save HTML web pages in a variety of formats, and, new right-click options allow you to save hyperlinks or web media directly to your Google Drive (G-drive). Actually, this is an extension that blends right in, and you'll soon forget it's there because Save to Google Drive includes a feature set you'd expect to be standard fare on any Chromebook, or any Chrome browser/ G-drive combination. 
This is an official Google extension | view its Web Store page

19) SearchPreview (Google search page tool):
The "SearchPreview" aka GooglePreview extension simply adds a thumbnail screen shot next to the results of your search query in Google search. We think it's mighty handy because you can usually make a snap judgement as to whether the page is something you are looking for, or not, based on the mini visual overview that'll now be combined with the standard search results.

20) Adblock Plus (web browsing utility):
This extension has an incredible user base of over 10 million users! Personally we don't use this one because we enjoy looking at the tasteful advertisements sometimes. Also, we don't want "Adblock Plus" blocking the annoying in your face ads because if a webmaster has the nerve to shove that crap in our face, like we're a bunch of chumps, we'll leave that site ASAP (especially with autoplay audio & video) and find someone who communicates with style. On the other hand, AdBlock Plus is user configurable and popular as hell, so it could very well compliment the way you like to surf.


Honorable Mentions:

Bonus: Here are a few other top Chrome Extensions that we recognize as great, but couldn't fit into the top 20, or, mainly in reference to Lazarus, have notable cautions described in the extension description that warrant a more knowledgeable understanding of what using this extension entails.

Lazarus: Form Recovery (productivity):
Lazarus is an excellent extension, but it can also be intrusive with your data. This one has saved us lots of time in that it remembers information you type into web forms and makes it simple to recover that info should the page freeze, not send, or what-have-you (hence the reason it's somewhat of a security risk). It was wildly popular and highly rated in the Web Store, but the newer Lazarus versions won't be available there unless they can get in line with the new and higher security standards being imposed by Google.
Turn Off the Lights (utilities):
The "Turn Off the Lights" Chrome extension is insanely popular with a few million users. Simply put, Turn Off the Lights gives you the option to easily darken the screen around many videos, but is mainly used on YouTube where it also gives you options for automatic HD, automatic wide view, and a long list of other tweaks.

Send from Gmail (by Google) (Gmail utilities):
"Send from Gmail" by Google is another one of those simple but useful tools that you just like having around. This one really does two things, firstly, when you click on an email address on a web page it will bring up the Gmail compose window so you can get right to writing. Secondly, if you're on a web page you'd like to forward via email, just click on the Send from Gmail icon in the toolbar (while you're still on that tab) and a tidy new message compose window will pop-up pre-filled with a title for the web page as the subject and its associated URL pre-pasted in the body. Just add a recipient (and a note if you wish), send, done, and thank you!
This is an official Google extension | view its Web Store page

User-Agent Switcher for Chrome (browser utilities):
The "User-Agent Switcher for Chrome" makes it a quick and easy to change the identity of your browser from Chrome to FireFox, Opera, or Internet Explorer (IE). Optionally, you can also make it appear to be from a machine operating on iOS, Android, or the Windows Phone. You can make these changes either temporary or permanent. It's hard to believe some sites, many of them mainstream, still give you difficulties when trying to accomplish a task in Chrome. We turn the user agent switcher on and off as needed via the easy to use "Extensions Manager (aka Switcher)".
Note: there's also another developers version of a "User-Agent Switcher" from eSolutions which many prefer.
These tools come in real handy for gaining full functionality with sites like eBay when you're trying to list stuff with Chrome and the Chrome OS.
As always, we're on the lookout for great Chrome stuff 24/7.

Optimization: Make Blogger Blogs Faster!

Speed up your blog or website; It's all about pageload; Make it load faster!


Speeding up your Blogger load time is the end result of assorted tips, tricks, and performance optimizations. The biggest culprits of poor site performance are generally inefficient use of CDNs, poor optimization of images, and excessive or inefficiently implemented social sharing junk, advertising, and other resources trying to hog your bandwidth. Note that we are speaking from a Google Blogger blog user point of view with these optimizations, but they're nearly all universal optimizations valid for whatever publishing platform you use. We'll give you the key performance points to research so you can adapt them to your particular setup in your need for speed.

Orange and white Google Blogger blog logo by Kinologik
Image Credit: Kinologik via cc
We'll go into a little detail on each performance enhancing characteristic, but we're mainly trying to alert you to the areas of your site you might want to focus on that are easy to make faster. Pick out and jot down one item you'd like to optimize at a time, research it, and after it's implemented, run a succession of performance tests (some of the best of which are linked at the bottom of this page) to verify the results before moving on to another tweak. Also, back up your blog before and after each optimization in case you need to revert. In future articles we'll continue into more detailed specifics, so subscribe to our updates via the sidebar "Content subscription" links if you want to be notified about new content. We don't SPAM, period. Also, there will be a bit of overlap among the performance enhancing tips in these articles because they are all interrelated to one degree or another.

Important note: backing up Google's Blogger is simple, just go to your Blogger dashboard > "Settings" > "Export blog" (at the top center) to download your posts and pages, but, what's even more important while you're tweaking many of these settings is to keep plenty of template backups which is accomplished by going to the Blogger dashboard > "Template" > "Backup / Restore" (upper right button)  > "Download full template" (orange button). Consider making handy links to these two Blogger backup options by making bookmark shortcuts to the "Template" and "Settings" links on your Blogger blog "Overview" page as a reminder. You might even want to make a test run by downloading your Blogger 'Template" via the Backup feature and then doing a Restore of that same template so you'll be confident that it works, because at some point, it's going to come in very handy. Never skimp on your backups! A couple of minutes spent backing up now could save you hours or days of nightmares should you need to revert back to how it was before because of a bad setting. 

As far as Blogger being slow, we're here to debunk that theory pronto. Also, before you read advice on the Internet run a speed-test on that site to see whether they can backup that advice. If it's a slow site chances are good you might want to ignore most information found there as many speed tips and tricks end up breaking sites in the long run, especially when you start stacking them up. The real trick is to have all your optimizations running well together. It's always going to be a game of give and take because you can't have it all. Run a speed-test on this site and you'll see it's fairly fast, but it's also super-simple in design and not necessarily beautiful to look at. You have to weigh the pros and cons of elegance vs. speed and their assorted trade-offs to see what's right for you and your site.

OK, let's talk Blogger site speed and page loading time.


Major website performance parameters to consider:

These factors are universally important in ranking your site speed or page load times. For us, the GTmetrix tool (link at page bottom) is one of the best performance measures of all: It includes Yahoo YSlow and Google PageSpeed and if you can achieve a high score on those, you probably have a universally fast website by any other measure. GTmetrix also has a JavaScript bookmarklet you can use to test yours and other sites on the fly while you're deciding what to use and what not to use.

Let's look at some of the biggies:

  • Visual embellishment
  • Advertising
  • Social plugins
  • CDN (content delivery network) usage
  • Expiry headers
  • Picture, image, and graphics optimization
  • Cookies
  • Put JavaScript at bottom
  • Minify JavaScript, CSS and HTML


Visual Embellishments:

Pictures and icons, fancy backgrounds, and assorted decorations take a toll on your website speed. There are techniques like CSS Sprites, compression, and content delivery networks that greatly reduce the negative effects but it's best to be cautious, take your time, and run a speed check after adding a gizmo or effect to your site to weigh the impact and decide whether it's something worth having. There is so much cool stuff to decorate sites with the urge is often irresistible. Ultimately, simple is often better.


Advertisements:

Everyone wants to make a little extra money for the great efforts they put into their sites, but it's very easy to get to the point where all people are going to notice is a big blob of ads which will cause them to leave your site in an instant. The most irritating sites of all use pop-up ads (or promotions to sign up for some BS PDF book, their social pages, or whatever) that require user intervention before you can view a web page, and then there are the automatic video ads (especially with sound) that send you on a wild goose chase trying to find the annoyance (that's if you even bother to stay on the site), and of course let's not forget the word link ads that pop up all over the page where you feel like you're playing a game of battleship when all you're trying to do is simply scroll down through the content.

The reason we mention this is because no matter how fast your site is, it won't matter if visitors bounce off your site like a bat out of hell trying to get away from the insanity. Many will slow your site to a crawl as well, so when installing ads run speed tests immediately to see how they're affecting your site performance. Who wants to hang around waiting for some slow crappy ad to load?; and, as a rule, the shadier ad networks will provide for the worse performance and end-user experiences because they are basically trying to trap your viewers into their scheme.


Social Widgets, Gadgets or Add-ons:

People are so psyched on the social craze that they feel naked if their site doesn't include a social plugin running up and down the side of the page or glaring out in some other manner. Don't be fooled, most of your visitors are savvy web surfers that will engage you socially with modest links instead of shout-outs, plus, we all know of the few crazy-popular web social people who fool you into thinking that's what it takes to succeed, and in certain circumstances it probably does, but just don't worry about it and get some content out there because 99% of the time "it's the content" that sells.

We've tried nearly every website sharing tool there is and they are all humongous resource hogs, so, be sure and test the effect they're having on your site. The popular social sharing button sets have the buttons developers and the social sites they're connected to all scrambling to take a cut of your bandwidth resources to benefit them, not you. Don't forget, people know how to share the good stuff already without obnoxious and resource intensive in your face interactive sharing buttons dancing all over the page while they are sucking the life out of it.

As far as Google's Blogger goes, the most streamlined social sharing tool is built in and made available by going to the Blogger dashboard > "Layout" > "Blog Posts" > check "Show Share Buttons". They're like what you'll find at the bottom of this post. Even with this though, you'll likely add an expires header without a far-future expiration date, a cookie, and a slight hit in page speed.

We tested out the "RevolverMaps 3D visitor globe" for this article because we like it and there are always going to be extra things you want to add to your site. We wanted to leave it on the site, but the RevolverMaps 3D globe cost us a 1 to 3% performance hit across the board (for that one item only) when measuring its impact via the various website speed test pages. The RevolverMaps gadget is pretty fast in comparison to some of the other stuff you'll probably experiment with but it all adds up. Just do the math... if you install a typical amount of add-ons, your site is likely to take a 10% to 15% performance hit right off the bat, and that doesn't even include any resource intensive advertising you're trying to deal with. You can't reasonably expect people to hang around waiting for a slow page load, and the ones that do probably loaded your site quickly because they're using AdBlock type programs and aren't seeing that stuff anyhow.


CDN (content delivery networks):

This is the biggie! CDN's will make your site fast. Almost every site greatly benefits from CDN integration and it's an almost automatic feature from many web hosts, but you can better their offerings by tailoring the CDN integration to match your site's features. The Blogger platform greatly benefits from additional CDN integration and when we added CloudFlare it was astounding enough to write a short article about. Of course with Blogger blogs, Google has already routed many of the assets through their "PageSpeed" type CDNs right off the bat with no user intervention necessary, but, in addition to Google's CDN and the optional CloudFlare CDN, we also added Amazon's CloudFront CDN for serving up cookieless graphics and images with cleaner URLs (and you can use it for a whole lot more as you advance).

You're going to add a few DNS lookups with the extra Content Delivery Networks, but the performance gains are well worth it.


Expiry Headers:

For many types of websites and blogs you can look up "How to add far future expires headers to htaccess" or "htaccess etag configuration", but with Blogger you're going to need to take a slightly different route because you don't have an htaccess file per se. Be glad about that though because it's fairly easy to screw things up with lousy .htaccess settings or other errors you might encounter along the way. Plus, no one really seems to agree with which htaccess file settings are ideal. On the other hand, with the Blogger method we suggest next, you can switch the setting on and off at will (or on the fly) with no detrimental effects. Just run your site through the CloudFlare CDN and go to the "Performance settings" tab, and from there set your "Minimum expire TTL" to 1 year (or less if desired), and Bingo!, you've managed an equivalent with one simple mouse click (after you're wired into the CDN of course).


Optimizing your images:

One of the best ways for many websites to gain additional speed and SEO will be in optimizing the images and the way they're served to visitors, and that's why this section is a bit more detailed than the rest. The four most common problems are 1) having the wrong size images in that they need to be resized by the web browsers on the fly, 2) not having height and width attributes like width="200" height="150", 3) not having "alternative text for images", and 4) not compressing images for speedier presentation. Everything is debatable, but good SEO generally requires these optimizations whenever humanly possible.

* The "alternative text" (ALT text) attribute is important and what people will see in place of your image on the web page if the image doesn't load. "ALT text" is also used if someone is using a screen reader. Also note that Google says they tend to crawl the "ALT text" for additional info about the images. On the other hand, the "TITLE text" attribute is related to the float title (or tool tip) that pops-up (or floats) above an image or link when you hover over it with your mouse in many browsers like Chrome. The "TITLE text" is mainly just for the convenience of your readers, the "ALT text" is more critical.

Most suggest that you don't use the same (carbon copy) titles for both the ALT and TITLE picture texts; and to make the ALT text a more robotic description of the actual image, and the TITLE text an enhanced or embellished description for the viewers pleasure.

* Make sure you compress your pictures before uploading them to your server! We like TinyPNG for PNGs, and, with TinyPNG you don't have to decide on the proper settings because they'll be applied automatically. If you're a photographer type you'll know about the more advanced optimizations you might need for high-res imagery within your preferred image editing software.

The other two very common image performance problems are 1) not serving them via a CDN, and 2) having cookies associated with your images, pictures and graphics. Luckily, both of these problems can be resolved in a move that is fairly simple if you're starting a new site and more time-consuming if you're converting an established site that has hundreds or thousands of images.

In short, search for "s3 cloudfront cookie free images" to find the solution that suits your particular configuration best. Basically, you host your images in an "Amazon S3 bucket" (or folder) and connect that bucket to the "Amazon CloudFront CDN" and then use the CloudFront URL (vs the S3 bucket URL) for maximum speed. Besides having super fast serving of images worldwide via the CDN, they'll be cookie free as well.
Note: we use the CloudFlare CDN (not Amazon CloudFront like we do with images) for the bulk of our website, but we can't run the images through the CloudFlare CDN because they use cookies as part of their security countermeasures.

Optionally, you can then run from Amazon CloudFront to a separate domain or subdomain you own (and bought from Godaddy or whoever) so you have better control over your final URL destinations if you ever need, or want, to move away from Amazon.

In other words, you first have the Amazon S3 bucket URLs where your pictures are hosted, then, to speed things up, you redirect the S3 bucket URLs through the CDN and then use the CDN URL output name for added speed; and, optionally, you can then redirect the CDN URL to a special domain name you own so you can have ownership of the final picture URL name instead of having an Amazon URL associated with them.

Basically, your pictures can not be on the same domain as your website, or any website, or they'll have cookies because cookies are a necessary part of normal website functionality (of course there are exceptions). So, buy a domain name and use it only for images and graphics. Like everyone likes to point out; that's what Google and Yahoo do.

Amazon S3 -> Amazon CloudFront -> a separate domain for Image URLs (optional)
- like -
https://s3.amazonaws.com/PictureName
to
http://random.cloudfront.net/PictureName
(optionally) to
http://YourDomainName/PictureName
or (sometimes)
http://SubDomain.YourDomainName/PictureName

We're not doing step by step walkthroughs in this article because we're speaking in generalizations, we don't want this article to be a mile long, and every site is going to need to attack things in a slightly different manner depending on how they have things set up, so let's move on.


Cookies:

Cookies are very useful tools for both website owners and their visitors but too many equal just another resource hog due to the extra requests. As described previously, images are a common culprit contributing to excessive cookies and we dealt with that in the last section by moving the images to a cookie-free domain.

Another technique to reduce or offset cookie impact is to route your entire website through CloudFlare (or another CDN). They'll likely add a few security designated cookies to help reduce exploits, but the performance trade-off will far outweigh a couple of cookies (2 in our configuration with CloudFlare for example).

For any other cookies, run a test with YSlow to see where they are coming from. If possible, for performance reasons, it's generally best to do away with services, outside of your hosting platform and CDN, if they're setting cookies on your site unless it's something you've got to have.

In regards to your website visitors, the general fear of cookie monsters is mainly fueled by a delusion of privacy on the Internet, but, most people understand their usefulness today.


Put JavaScript at bottom:

Simple enough, just place it right above the </head> or drag your Blogger gadgets with JavaScript to the bottom below the "Blog Posts" on your page elements "Layout" section in the Blogger dashboard. The main elements to be concerned with are those that load within view on the top part of your page, or above the fold. Actually, don't worry if you want to place a few ads (or whatever JavaScript) higher, it's give and take, and if everything else is good it won't have a huge effect anyhow unless you're maxing things out. It's more a matter of how all the little things add up in your final configuration. Side note: most CDNs are also going to give you the option to automatically minify and asynchronously load your JavaScript files for even faster page-loads no matter where your JavaScript is.


Minimize CSS, JavaScript, and HTML manually:

As far as CSS and Blogger, just don't worry about manually compressing it. Google's CSS is optimized enough for you to score a 99 out of 100 on speed tests if you're running through a CDN or two and all else is well. That is... if you have a stripped down bare bones site built for speed and nothing else. Most non-spammy professional websites can score an 80 or better on YSlow and PageSpeed any day of the week. Ultimately, if you must, just look up "CSS Compressor" on Google to see your options. Compressed CSS works with Blogger but the gains are minuscule and you'll likely strip out some of the components or effects that you wanted to use.

On the other hand, your JavaScript will usually compress without problems. Just back the JavaScript file up to your text pad first so if compression breaks it, you can put the original back in its place with no problems. We like the JavaScriptCompressor.

HTML is also easy to optimize and can be accessed via your Blogger dashboard"Template" > "Edit HTML". Back the template up first; even if you're just contemplating a change (because sometimes you start screwing around and realize you didn't backup, so just make it a habit). We like the HTMLcompressor for compressing the Blogger template. Do your research first, but for the most part, just open "Edit HTML" in Blogger, copy all of the code, paste it into the HTML compressor, pick "Blogger" from the "Code type:" drop down menu on the upper right, and tap the compress button at the bottom of the page. Now, copy the finished "HTMLcompressor" compressed code and paste and replace the code you originally copied from the Blogger HTML template (which is all of it) and click "Save template".


Other Things to Consider:

Remember, no matter what you do to your site it won't be what people are looking for unless you get good content on it for people to enjoy. We get sidetracked like crazy continuously and have a big sign above our desk that reads: "It's the CONTENT stupid!"


List of best website performance measurement tools:

These four website speed tests will provide you with everything you'll want to familiarize yourself with in your need for speed.



Thanks for hanging out for a while and no matter what you do, take your time, backup, backup and backup, and when you're getting stressed out save it for another day.

How to Backup Google Drive and Gmail Online

A Google Drive and Gmail (or other online services) cloud backup or sync is simple: why not make it automatic!


Ever worry about backing up your G-drive and Gmail? Well, if you're moving towards cloud computing or Google's Chrome OS, it might be unnerving (at first) not having your all your local hard-drives happily churning away with most of your data within your physical reach. We're going to discuss keeping your online data automatically backed-up and synchronized to another online or cloud storage source, but the big-G also has the simple to use Google Takeout as an option if you want a local copy of your G-data as well.

Artwork of a router with the earth behind it
Image Credit: via devcom
Of course, there are probably a million ways to backup your online Google data, but in this method we're taking the automatic and proven method of using CloudHQ as the interim service between your various online services and the cloud storage service of your choice. You'll have to deal with the initial setup (which is fairly simple), but after that, you can just go about your online business knowing your online services are automatically being backed up or synced between your various cloud services in real-time according to the scheme of your choosing.

Realistically, it will probably be a cold day in hell before Google loses your data because it's backed-up, many time over, across a global network that's proven its reliability again and again throughout the last decade and a half plus. Actually, even when you delete your data, it's still there, you've just marked it as inaccessible at some level and that brings us to the actual value of backing your data up to another online source. If you accidentally delete or corrupt your data, it's hacked, or a scorned lover or previously "trusted one" decides to wipe away your digital life with a couple of mouse clicks you'll come out of it as a survivor if you've planned ahead. If you're a hardcore survivor you've probably got backup drives stashed in your bomb-shelter for the day Google goes down, but we're not taking it to that level because you'll probably have much bigger worries on your mind if that day comes.

Google Drive & Gmail -> CloudHQ -> Box (or Dropbox)

For the purpose of this example, we're going to backup or sync or Google Drive and Gmail via CloudHQ to Box or Dropbox. It does not end there though, once you have CloudHQ hooked up to your Box or Dropbox (or even SkyDrive) cloud storage service, besides doing just G-drive and Gmail, you can also backup or sync (integrate) your EverNote, Basecamp, Basecamp Classic, OneNote, SugarSync, WebDAV, and a crap-load of other services as well while you're at it.

As far as expenses, after the 15-day free CloudHQ trial, the average user plan is going to be $10 a month, plus the cost of your secondary cloud storage service outside of Google Drive. For example, a Box.com 100GB account is $5 a month, so that make $15 a month total for the average users online (cloud) automatic sync backup configuration. These services have free plans also, but unless you're just playing around with a trinket of data, the free plans won't cut it. Of course, if you're running a business or otherwise have huge clusters of data it's going to run more.

So, in summary, you're already going to have your favorite programs like G-drive and Gmail (Evernote, OneNote, or what-have-you) that you've been using for years, and to that you'll need to add CloudHQ (our referral link for 30-day free premium vs the 15-day standard trial) as the "middleman" software, and then finally a cloud storage service of your choice. After some research, we recommend Box.com because it's generally agreed to have a more robust security set than most of the others, but DropBox is insanely popular and an excellent choice for your online backup drive as well. SkyDrive is good too, but in general we're freeing ourselves from Microsoft (until they up the ante) in our migration to cloud computing via Google, or more specifically, the Google Chrome OS and its online counterparts.

Basic online services backup (or real-time sync) routine:


  • CloudHQ makes it a breeze to set up your sync / backup pairings, and they'll walk you through every phase of your setup, so we're not going to try to rewrite or complicate their simple setup procedures by mulling over it here. Just sign-up for the trial and enjoy their walk-through.
  • Decide what online services (Gmail, G-drive, EverNote, etc.) you're going to backup.
  • If you don't have online cloud storage (often known as online sharing or online content management "CMS" services) outside of G-drive, sign up for Box or Dropbox and familiarize yourself with their site. Remember, you can sign up for these services for free so you can look around inside of them to see if they suit you.
  • Go back to CloudHQ to set up and activate your backup plan(s). It's close to real-time processing once your initial backup is complete, and you can set it to save the original copies of your files and their revisions (differential / incremental type backup) or you can mirror the backup or sync sets for an exact copy of your real-time data (uses less space but not as foolproof as a differential / incremental type BU set).
  • Now just go back to what you like to do and don't worry about losing your online data anymore, but check CloudHQ and your Box.com or Dropbox account every once in a while in the beginning to verify it works as planned so you're confident your worries are over, or, if nothing else, you're one step further ahead in building your rock solid cloud computing platform


Having a redundant real-time sync or backup of all our online services is something we wouldn't even consider doing without. Hopefully it's never needed, but things are far more stress-free knowing all your cloud computing data is now probably safer than with any backup scheme you've used in the past with your traditional Microsoft (Windows) or Apple based desktop computing. Real-time syncs on desktop software are notorious for slowing systems to a crawl, so much so that most people disable real-time syncs or backups on traditional desktop setups. On the other hand, when you're cloud computing via Chrome the real-time cloud sync or backup method described here runs seamlessly and continuously without slowing down the way you work.

Make Chromebooks and Chrome Faster!

The Basics: Chromebook optimizations, tweaks, and settings for fast & smooth performance in the cloud


Chrome is comparatively very fast already, however, if you're like us and on your never-ending quest in the need for speed, you'll likely not leave well enough alone. Much of this article is simply a quick guide on how to adjust the performance parameters in the Chrome browser and Chrome OS. You'll probably find yourself using these to make system adjustments now, and for as long as you're involved with Google's Chrome OS, the Chromebook, and (or) the Chrome web browser.

NASA image or a lightning storm on earth from outer space
Lightning Image Credit: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center via NASA 

An overall theme in this article is to just stick close to the stock system optimizations already in place because Google has generally tuned the system to be as quick and responsive as it's going to be for the average user who also desires rock solid reliability and security, but, you'll want to at least fine tune it with your personal preferences and a tweak here and there. It's so easy to get carried away tweaking things until you're finally at the point where you're spending more time trying to re-stabilize things than you are actually getting down to business with what you're on Chrome for in the first place, unless perhaps you're a developer or tweakster. At some point though, nearly everyone is going to want to make adjustments, so let's familiarize ourselves with some of the basic controls and settings.

Note: We use the Google Chrome operating system exclusively and it comes with the Chrome web browser (which doubles as your control panel for the Chrome OS system settings), but, if you're simply using the Chrome web browser by itself on Apple, Linux (though remember the Chrome OS is Linux-based itself) or Windows, nearly all the settings discussed in this article will still be relevant to you outside of a few Google Chrome OS specific settings. Many think of the Google Chrome OS as simply the Google OS, but Google has more than Chrome, like the Android OS which is designed mainly for compact mobile devices. Both Chrome and Android are Linux-based. In fact, Google has brought Linux into the mainstream for the average user because before, generally, only the tech types knowingly used it (Linux).

Main Chrome performance parameters to consider:

  • Network Speed
  • Hardware Performance
  • Software: apps, extensions and plugins 
  • Browsing Data
  • Operating System settings (Google Chrome OS)


◊ Network:

The first and by far most important thing to consider is your Internet connection speed. If it's available and you can afford it, consider upgrading to a faster plan or moving over to another ISP that has better connection speeds. Maybe you'll even find the Verizon FiOS (Fiber Optic Service) has made it to your area without your knowledge, and, if you're super fortunate and have Google Fiber available, OMG... it's just not going to get any faster! The FCC and NTIA have created the US National Broadband Map for you to verify the speediest ISP services in your area, and, if you want to test your speed most people recommend Ookla (you can also sign-in, or create an account, to save your results over time for comparison against any changes you're making).

Also, consider the other strains on your network performance. Physically, things like poor wiring connections and outdated or unnecessary hardware appliances can rob performance from your data stream. Then, also think about what software you have fiddling with your connection; VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), antivirus, firewalls, automatic backup programs, and automatic updates take bandwidth and (or) can route your connection through slow, distant, or overstressed servers. If you're running a wireless connection (router) make sure you've password protected it, because if not, outside of security concerns, you might have your whole neighborhood streaming Netflix on the bandwidth allocated to your wireless connection.

Side note: An interesting fact is that Netflix accounts for almost a third of the total downstream bandwidth in the US. Add YouTube to that and you've accounted for half of the total internet downstream traffic in the United States.

◊ Hardware:

With Chrome you're never going to need anywhere near the RAM or processing power you would need with an Apple or Microsoft setup, and fortunately for our wallets (but unfortunately for those that love to upgrade things), the Chromebooks are pretty much sealed non-upgradeable units that are generally OEM designed to meet the requirements of the times that Google prescribes in order to license the installation of the Chrome OS on any particular PC offered to the public. The Google Chrome OS is a manufacturer pre-installed operating system and is not available on disc or for download: read the details. You can download the experimental "Chromium OS", but that's another story. There is no reason to speculate on the minimum hardware requirements because they change continuously. Just Google "fastest chromebooks" when it's your turn to buy or upgrade to see what you can afford and what hardware configurations are available at the time.

Long story short, pick your preferred Chromebook and there is nothing to upgrade until you are ready purchase a newer (or more powerful secondhand) one. On the other hand, if you're wondering about the minimum requirements for the Chrome web browser only (without the Chrome OS) on your Windows, Mac, or Linux machine: go here.

Also, in case you don't know, Chromebooks (other than the upscale "Pixel" model perhaps) are very inexpensive and that's the number one reason they're taking the world by storm. Most Internet connections are now fast enough to run the big software programs in the cloud that are either free or priced at a point where most people can actually afford to use them.

◊ Software (apps, extensions, and plugins):

First of all, if you're disabling or uninstalling apps, extensions or plug-ins, make a note about it (or bookmark its Web Store or home page) before doing so. You'll be surprised how many times you do away with a program to later find out just how helpful it actually was and didn't really notice it doing anything because it ran seamlessly in the background. Conversely, you will also be surprised by the new responsiveness of Chrome when you've removed or deactivated conflicting or excessive software installations from it. Review your add-ons closely to see what you can or can't do without.

To uninstall apps: go the "App Launcher" Rubik's Cube icon on the lower left of your screen in the Chrome OS (where the Start button would be in Windows), open it, then right-click (or 2 finger tap in Chrome) the app you wish to do away with and select "Remove from Chrome" from the drop-down list. The apps are usually not much more than fancy bookmarks (some with added functionality), but, if you want to use them as shortcuts on your shelf (or taskbar) at the bottom of your screen, leave them alone because uninstalling the app will also remove it from the shelf. -or- To make a new shortcut on your shelf, just go back inside the App Launcher (on the lower left of your screen), then, again, right-click (or 2 finger tap) an icon inside the launcher and choose "pin to shelf" from the drop-down list.

How many "apps" is too many? Basically, install all you want, because they are really just simple Internet shortcuts for the most part. Read about how apps and extensions differ.

To uninstall extensions: go to [ chrome://extensions/ ]. To use these Chrome URLs just type, or copy & paste, the bold URL that's between the brackets into your omnibox or address bar (like pictured below) and hit "enter". You can also get to the same place by clicking the 3-horizontal-bar "Customize and control Google Chrome" icon (which used to be a wrench icon) on the top right of your Chrome browser window (under the "X" for close browser button), then in the drop-down list go to "More tools" > "Extensions". From there you can either uncheck the "Enabled" box (to disable them), or click the trash can icon beside each extension listing to uninstall them completely.

Tip: Again, don't forget to make a list of anything you uninstall in case you want it back later. Also, the "Extensions Manager (aka Switcher)" extension will put you in full control of your apps, extensions, and themes via a new icon which will appear to the right of your omnibox or address bar after you install it.

How many "extensions" is too many? There is really no universal number, but we generally keep about 15 enabled (at minimum) and another dozen disabled ready for usage when needed. Just be on the alert for conflicts between them causing problems.

Picture of the Chrome web browser omnibox with system command
Chrome web browser omnibox or address bar
To disable plug-ins: go to [ chrome://plugins/ ]. This is where you'll find the Adobe Flash Player, Google Talk, Netflix, or other plug-ins you have installed. Generally, on the Chrome OS you'll want to keep nearly everything in there "as is" for full functionality (but Windows will be more likely to have excessive plugins you could easily do away with). An exception might be the "Chrome Remote Desktop Viewer" which we disable as an added security step, but if you even think you might be interested in the Chrome Remote Desktop one day, just leave it alone, because if you disable it and then later try to use something that depends on it, you'll never remember you disabled it and won't know why your newly dependent program isn't working while you're ripping your hair out in the meantime. Most plugins can be disabled but not uninstalled (they'll just get a gray background to show when they are inactive).

Nearly every developer is going to claim minimal impacts or even increased speeds with their extensions (or apps), but once you start piling them up they're going to have a negative impact on system speed at some point. On top of that, you'll likely encounter a few conflicts with the various programs if you're adding dozens and dozens of extensions.

Task Manager: If you want to have a look at what's running on your Chromebook tap the "Customize and control" button (the one with 3 horizontal bars) on the top far right of your Chrome browser, then in the drop down menu click "More tools" at the bottom, then "Task manager". Here you can view all the processes running on your system. Also, to view even more detailed information on the Chrome system processes click the "Stats for nerds" link at the very bottom of that Task manager window. You can also go straight to Stats for nerds by putting [ chrome://memory/ ] in the omnibox (address bar). Note: if you keep many tabs open there will seem to be a lot listed in the Task manager, but every tab is listed as a separate process, so take that into consideration.

◊ Browsing Data:

Many people worry about scrubbing or cleaning their browser far more than necessary. The reason why nearly all this "temporary" information is being stored on your computer is to streamline and speed up your overall computing and web browsing experience. However, if you need to erase your tracks or want to be assured everything is loading with a clean slate you can click the "Customize and control" button (again, on the upper right of your browser), go to "History", and then hit the "Clear browsing data..." button to make your choices on what you want gone. You can also type [ chrome://history/ ] in the omnibox (or address bar) to get to the same place.

Personally, we recommend the "Click&Clean" browser extension to clear your tracks (and a lot more), but be sure and take your time to review all the Click&Clean settings because if you decide to wipe everything you'll end up having to reset many of your personal settings afterwards. Generally, there's no reason to do much more than to check the "Clear your browsing history", "Empty the cache", and "Clear download history" to keep the browser running efficiently while at the same time forcing your favorite web pages to refresh themselves with the most current revisions.

Cookies are, for the most part, designed to hold certain website settings and preferences you've saved (like remembering your user-names and page setup) for the sites you frequent. Passwords will not be stored in the browser unless you specify to do so. Check this by going to [ chrome://settings/ ], scroll to the bottom and click "Show advanced settings...", and down again to "Passwords and forms", and finally check or uncheck "Offer to save you web passwords". We recommend you use something like LastPass or Roboform to save passwords while leaving Chrome's option unchecked (no save). Companies also use cookies to adjust advertisements to things they think you'll find interesting, but many users feel violated by cookies, so the choice is yours on whether to keep them or not. We keep all cookies because of the convenience of saved website settings, plus, we like looking at ads sometimes and prefer them targeting towards our interests.

◊ Operating System:

Google Chrome is one of the most streamlined operating systems in existence and the Chrome browser is fast under any measure, plus it automatically updates itself with the latest and greatest proven features and security fixes with no intervention necessary on your part except for maybe to reboot the system after an upgrade.

Now, many are going to recommend trying out the Chrome experimental features or flags by entering [ chrome://flags/ ] in the omnibox or address bar, and you can search Google for "best chrome flags" if you want to tinker with that stuff. Here again, generally, unless you are certain you want to apply a certain tweak, leave it alone because the good ones will show up automatically in your updates when they're thoroughly proven and the problematic ones will stay in the experimental state (away from you).

There is also the Chrome "stable", beta, and development channels [read more from Google] and the Chromium development builds that come even before them. For the purposes of this site we're all on the "stable" or standard channel everyone at least starts out with. If you really want to be at the leading edge of what "might" end up working very well one day you can opt into the "beta" and "development" channels. However, we again recommend against it unless tweaking is one of your main pleasures with computing. You're compromising a near bulletproof operating system and browser for minimal performance gains. Plus, if you decide you'd rather not take the risk after switching off the stable channel, you'll need to "powerwash" or reset your system to get back to it. Not really as big a deal as it would seem because you'll still retain "most" of your Google data on the next login, but, you will be screwing around with the system for a considerable amount of time getting certain things back to just the way you like them. Why not let the daredevils and developers smooth things out with the crashes and bug fixes while you're going about your business in a robust, safe, and secure environment on the regular old stable channel? As mentioned, all the stuff that's prime time on the experimental channels will be pushed out to you in the next stable version update anyhow.

If interested, verify your Chrome OS version (and if it's updated) by typing or cutting and pasting [ chrome://chrome/ ] into your omnibox (or address bar), press enter, and then click the "more info..." link. Alternatively, for even more detailed information about the version you're running go here [ chrome://version/ ].

While we're on it, if you want to see a full list of the Chrome URLs or destinations that are available (when added to the chrome:// URL prefix) go to [ chrome://chrome-urls/ ]. Note: we just bookmark our favorite Chrome URLs for quick access. No matter what you do, it's good to have a basic understanding of "what's going on under the hood" in Chrome.

In future articles we'll be targeting many of these performance characteristics individually with proven and popular tips, tricks and performance tweaks and for now we're at least refreshed on how to get to all the important stuff. Don't forget to check out [ chrome://keyboardoverlay ] to familiarize yourself with all the Chromebook keyboard settings as well.

Google User Basic Security Tips

Safe & secure cloud computing with Google's Chrome & Chrome OS


One of the most important security concerns for the average user of Chrome is the Gmail password. The Gmail password is your "Google password", it's also used for Google Drive, Google Search, Google+, or nearly anything Google for the standard end-user. To many, it's the password to their online life. Luckily, as long as you maintain a secure password, the rest of your security and software maintenance tasks are a breeze in the cloud with Google.

Picture of a cloud designed to look like a padlock by FutUndBeidl
Image Credit: FutUndBeidl via cc 
Except for passwords: Chromebooks, Chrome (the web browser) and the Chrome OS (or operating system) are unlike the Apple or Microsoft setups you're probably used to. There is no antivirus program needed (or even available) at the end-user level, the hard-drives are generally SSDs and need no defragging, the operating system and user software updates are automated (and generally overseen by Google) and require no user intervention, and the best part of all is Chromebooks and the software you need to stay in action is an incredible value compared to what else is out there, but how do you protect your Google data?

Screenshot of the Google login screen or prompt
"Protect your password!"
As far as security, remember one thing above everything else, protecting your Google (same as Gmail) login information (especially the password) is your one critical task. Don't worry as much about the email address part when logging in (you probably semi-freely give that out anyhow), but your Google password is golden! Look at it this way, big-G has a saying, "One account. All of Google." Go to your Google account page to see what personal info you have hooked up.

Also, even if you're an outstanding citizen with nothing you feel you have to hide, think again, because many base their livelihood on just how much they can steal. Your Gmail and Google drive likely contain enough information to turn you into a victim.

Here are a few simple steps to keep the worries to a minimum.

2-step verification: 

2-step verification basically means someone can not log into your Google database unless you authorize that login attempt via a text-message code sent to your personal cell phone from Google. If it's your personal computer you can "stay signed in" and have Google remember that device. If you're logging in from a device other than yours don't authorize that computer to remember Jack during the login sequence. To login safely, just log-on slowly, watch what you're clicking, and look for the "https" (and a padlock picture) up in your address bar or omnibox. Refresh yourself or get started on Google's official 2-Step Verification page.

Note: Don't use 2-step verification as an excuse for weak passwords. 2-step authentication can be thwarted in certain instances. Also, PayPal, your bank, and many other secure sites have 2-step verification services available and it's generally worth the extra hassle to go ahead and set them up.

Password length and complexity:

First of all, don't use passwords that people could guess like a sequence of numbers or a combination of addresses, birthdays, names, places, colors, cars, pets, or what have you. If someone designed a password cracker program that cycled through all the combinations of tidbits of your common info along with a few extra characters sprinkled in here and there, at today's processing speeds, it wouldn't take long to "guess" many passwords.

How complex should your password be? "Moore's law" generally predicts that computer processing power doubles every 2 years (and it was a good rule over the last decade+), so obviously passwords must evolve in complexity as well. There would be great debate on any steadfast password rule, but let's just say that a 20 character password with a combination of numbers, upper and lower case letters, and a few special characters would likely still make the grade in a decade (especially with other related advances in online security)... half that is good for now.

We like computer generated and generally random password generators like passwordsgenerator.net, DuckDuckGo, or ramdom.org, but there are a million other choices as well. Finally, we also like LastPass password manager (affiliate link) to remember all the passwords in one place, but remember, if you use it, make your LastPass password rock solid because it would be a virtual gold mine were an undesirable to gain access there.

Password age:

Obviously, one of the factors determining your password age is going to be the environment you're operating in. We're not thinking about corporate settings where the IT guy's "ass is grass" if a break-in is due to a lousy password policy, but similarly, in cloud computing you are in fact probably networked like you've never been networked before, however, most people's terminals are home based, so instead of the typical 90 day (or less) company mandated password policy, just be reasonable and change it if you fear it's been compromised, every year, or when you're adding critical data or software packages to your online arsenal.

Physical factors: 

Number one, watch out where you login from. Computers other than your own can easily contain keyloggers that will snatch your password even more efficiently than the misguided soul peeking over your shoulder either personally or via the microchip sized pinhole cameras (or similar items) that are available today.

Other useful (or interesting) online security tidbits:


As far as your other fears of yesteryear, when you're computing in the cloud, as far as the Google based programs go, you have your own team of network experts taking care of software updates, viruses and other intrusions. Just remember, there are still other unsafe websites, emails, and live people within physical reach of your hardware preying on your personal data.

Outside of their personal employees, Google has a reward system to pay hackers that can crack their setups which generally involves not breaking the law in the process. Just search for "get paid to hack google" if you want more info.

Related note: In the big picture, the hackers (which some call crackers) that "generally" get notoriety are either thieves, like to deface that easily viewed by the masses, or are viewed as enemies in the new age digital warfare waged by governments and rouge groups. The hackers most people don't hear about are the corporate, law enforcement, and government or military specialists that are on "your side" behind the scenes. Almost all groups subcontract or "award" various services to independent specialists with skills. Obviously, there is plenty of overlap and different ways of viewing good and bad, black and white, or yin and yang, and it all depends on what side of the fence you're standing on. From an individuals point of view, they're either there to harm or to protect.

Imagine the rewards (generally as an antagonist) one would get if he (she) exposed a severe vulnerability in the Google OS (Android, Google search, Chrome, Chromium, Gmail, G-drive, apps, extensions, or what have you). Pretty cool really, Google has gone from a search engine to a (publicly recognizable) viable safe & secure operating system within a few short years.

What does this mean for you and your safety while computing in the cloud? Basically, as a lowly average user you're pretty well protected due to the more extreme concerns related with avoiding breaks in the government and corporate infrastructures resulting from computer based attacks. In the end, just set a sturdy Google password and get a good password manager with a different and robust password attached to it. That way, ultimately, you can just have one password for your password manager and the password manager will log you into all your sites from there. Now you can just forget about it and go about doing what you like to do on the web!

Lastly, if you use the LastPass password manager for an additional layer (or layers) of security you can also enable a variety of excellent 2-step or Multifactor Authentication login options with it as well. Again, just remember when logging in via any method, when you get to the "Remember this computer" option, only allow that if you are on your private personal computer. You don't want someone else's computer remembering your security credentials.

Differences: Apps vs Extensions

Google Chrome Web Store browser add-ons: apps vs. extensions. What's the difference?


Do you get Chrome apps and extensions mixed up like we do? In short, remember it this way: apps are maps (or URLs) to interactive web pages (or web apps), and extensions extend the functionality of the Chrome web browser, or the Google Chrome OS, as a whole (or universally).
Red, green, yellow and blue Google Chrome hand drawn logo artwork
Image Credit: sofimiPhan Văn An via cc

99%+ of all apps and extensions are distributed via Google's Web Store (or come pre-installed on your device). Google's Web Store provides a reasonable level of protection against malicious developers (via enforcement of their "Developer Terms of Service" and "Program Policies" guidelines, complemented by user reporting).

We've used a few extensions from outside of the Google Web Store framework in the past (but realized the additional security risks by doing so). We're not going into it here, but a search for "how to install extensions not from chrome store" will give you more info. In general, it's not worth the risk using apps and extensions from outside of the Web Store, and it's best to just search for an alternative or wait until the developer can get his program inline with the standard policies. Often, you won't realize the reason it wasn't available in the Web Store... until you experience a security breach of some type.

The Chrome web browser and the Web Store are both owned by Google, so they have a big interest in "promoting" products that will help Chrome become the premier operating system for the masses. The extensions are (usually) made and maintained by developers outside of Google.

Apps vs Extensions: What's the difference? Google's Web Store extensions and apps are easily confused with one another. If you want to read the whole spiel on how they differ, read Google's official explanation of "extensions" and "apps".

Apps (or Web Apps): We like to think that "apps" are maps because they're generally stand-alone links to interactive web pages (or apps that run in your browser window); like ZOHO, Pandora, Pixlr, Gmail, or what have you. The Chrome game apps are another example of interactive sites. You could get to these same interactive web pages via a simple bookmark, but the web app links are generally accessed via fancy icons in the Google "App Launcher" which is located on the shelf (or taskbar) via a "Rubik's Cube" looking icon (bottom left corner of your screen) in Google's Chrome OS. Note: some Google web apps include more standard functionality than your average bookmark can provide, like the ability to launch apps from you Chromebook shelf (or taskbar). Other "extended functionality" examples would be running Pixlr or PicMonkey as apps (vs just going straight to their web pages via a bookmark) makes incorporating them as your Google Drive default photo editors an option. There are many other Apps that include Google Drive "open with" functionality. Apps generally also load more quickly than bookmarked URLs, plus many include advanced "offline" capabilities as well.

Extensions: Just remember "extensions" extend the functionality of Chrome, usually across all the websites you visit, for example, the "Google Chrome to Phone Extension" adds a function to send links or selected text from web pages you visit to your Android device. Others are more site specific, like the YouTube extensions we featured previously which work mainly just on Google's youtube.com pages. We like to think of extensions as mini-software program bundles that add increased functionality to the websites you frequent. Most include an icon that installs to the right of your omnibox (URL or address bar) on the Chrome web browser. Also, extensions don't necessarily rely on a live Internet connection as much as web apps do. 

If you want to read even more (apps vs extensions information) "straight from the horse's mouth" visit the 2010 developer.chrome.com article by X-Googler Michael Mahemoff.

Finally, if the line between apps and extensions still seems a little blurry, that's because it is. When people first get into the Chrome experience they're generally concerned about offline apps and extensions, but make no mistake about it, the Chrome OS is a cloud computing platform and if you don't have confidence in being able to connect when you need to, you'll generally be limited in your ability to take full advantage of what Chrome and the Chrome OS have to offer, which is basically your personal Google optimized terminal into the auto-updating cloud based super-computer.