Chromebook Mobile: July 2015

Cloud Computing and Blogging w/ Chromebooks, Chrome, and the Google Chrome OS: - 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.