Google Chrome Extensions: What are they, why should you use them and which ones are recommended?

Google Chrome is one of a few browsers that allows users to install extensions from its integrated app store.

Extensions provide the user extra functionality beyond what Chrome can offer as standard, from Adblockers to Screen Capture apps.

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The benefit of using extensions range from showing you whether a site is trusted or not, to saving and storing emails and passwords in one location so you never need to remember them again.

An extension like WoT (Web of Trust) for example gives you the site reputation (in the shape of a circle) of websites next to search results in search engines, using the 3 universally recognised colours of RED for untrustworthy, AMBER for be wary and GREEN for trusted by other web surfers. This gives you a glance at whether or not the website you are about to visit can be trusted or not (a grey circle indicates there is no current rating). As with all things on the internet, discretion is still always advised, but WoT allows users to sign up and add their own ratings to websites they visit.

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If you use Avast Antivirus, this also comes with a Chrome plugin which functions similar to WoT. This extension places a GREEN tick next websites that are trusted. You’ll notice in the image above that the WoT site has both an Avast tick and its own circle.

Let’s quickly run through how to install extensions and then take a look at some of the best ones to have.

  1. First, with Chrome open click on the Apps button on the left hand side of the menu.
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  2. Now you’ll reach a page showing all of the common Google Apps. You want to click on the Web Store button.
  3. This will take you to the main app store. You can browse categories, editor’s choices etc, or do a search from the left hand side.
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  4. Let’s search for Web of Trust. Once the results come up, you’ll need to scroll down to the Extensions section where you’ll see the Web of Trust extension. Click on the Add To Chrome button to install the extension.
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  5. You will get a popup asking if you want to Add the extension. Click Add Extension.
  6. Once installed the icon for the extension will be added to the right of the search bar. From here you can click on the icon and change any settings (if the extension has any).
  7. That should be it for installing an extension. Some more complex extensions may open up a new tab with full options for you to tweak, but something simple like Tabby Cat (a new cat for every tab – its brill!) won’t have any options.

Now that we’ve looked at how to install an extension let’s have a look at some of the best ones to have, in my opinion.

WEB OF TRUST
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As we covered above, this gives you handy little guide to whether the website you’re about to visit from search results is trusted or not.

ADBLOCK PLUS
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Adverts on websites tend to be rather invasive and overwhelming. While it’s understandable there are a lot of websites that rely on advertising to help fund the maintenance of the site, sometimes it’s just too much and so this plugin will help squash most of those pesky adverts. There are websites that seem to be able to circumvent what AdBlock Plus does, however this extension allows the user to hide (block) any elements on a website they’d rather not see – so if an advert has somehow managed to slip through, you could click on the AdBlock Plus icon and select to Block Elements, then highlight and click on the offending area to add it to the block list. The example below is Eurogamer.net without and with AdBlock Plus. You can see there is huge blank space where the background advert has been blocked, but this can be targeted separately to hide it completely, as per the third image which pulls all the content up to the menu bar.
eurogamer_comparisonThe only downside to using Adblock Plus is that you will get websites that now detect that you’re using Adblock Plus and will show a pop-up asking you to disable the extension or in some cases, donate a small fee to eliminate adverts from the site without needing to block them, but this is a minor inconvenience compared to the benefits.

BLUR
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This extension created by Albine allows you to mask your email address from any website you sign up to, while also providing an easy way to store and manage all your accounts usernames and passwords. So when signing up for Blur, you would use your actual real email address, but from then on any website you signed up for you could choose to use an opayq.com email address as provided by Blur. Any emails sent to that opayq.com email would be forwarded onto your real email, plus each individual site you sign up for is given its own opayq.com account.
Blur also allows you to mask your phone number and credit card, which works in very much the same way as with email addresses.
The concept therefore, is to give you more control over your personal information by limiting it to just one place (Blur) and then masking it whenever you require those details elsewhere with especially created email addresses, passwords, phone numbers and credit cards.

BUT WHAT IF I WANT TO REMOVE AN EXTENSION?!
There are two ways to remove an extension from Chrome. The first is to click on the icon of the extension and see if it gives you the option to uninstall it directly from there. If there is no option, then you can click on the ‘Hamburger’ icon to the far-most right of the browser extensions, More Tools and then Extensions.
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To remove an extension, you then just click on the Trashcan symbol and confirm.
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IN SUMMARY
We can see then that Google extensions can provide you with extra functionality, added security and convenience while browsing. And this is just scraping the very surface of how you can extend Chrome’s usefulness. Have a look around the app store and see if there’s anything else that catches your eye!

While other browsers may also have their own extensions and addons, it is my opinion that Chrome still remains the best browser and best place to improve your web browsing.

 

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