More people use Chrome than any other browser and it’s quite a few secrets up its sleeve

Google Chrome has come from nowhere to become the world’s favourite browser – depending on who you ask, of course. Some sources say that as many as one in two of us are now using Chrome.
The secrets of its success are simplicity and speed. Chrome takes a WYSIWYG approach, yet under the bonnet there are quite a few hidden catacombs that can be raided for cool features that might boost how you work and play. Read on for 20 excellent examples.

Change the Chrome icon

People who had unfortunate childhood experiences playing Simon, the beeping computerised memory game, might find Chrome’s icon objectionable. After all, it looks very similar. Changing the icon is easy, and Google kindly provides a number of alternatives. Open Chrome’s folder on the Start menu and then right-click the icon for the program, selecting Properties. Then click Change Icon. If you get told the path is wrong, click Browse and then enter ‘C:\Program Files (x86)\Google\Chrome\Application\chrome.exe’ in the filename field (complete with quotation marks. Following this you’ll see a selection of also-ran icons alongside the one Google went with for the final release. Click any to make your choice, then click OK. You’ll need to unpin the old icon and repin the new one to the taskbar for the change to be reflected there.

Set individual permissions

By clicking menu button and then Settings you can control system-wide prohibitions, but Chrome also lets you also set what each individual site is or isn’t allowed to do, as well as control what cookies it can store. To do so, simply click the favicon to the left of the URL in the omnibox (this will be the icon for a piece of paper if there’s no favicon). Then make your selections from the menu that appears. By clicking the Connection tab you can also see what kind of security the site uses – if any (and it’s likely that most sites not using https:// will do so).

Create a guest account

Chrome can be configured for multiple users, and while this might be useful to create accounts for your spouse or children if they frequently leap onto your computer, you can also create a general-user ‘Guest’ account to switch to quickly and avoid others seeing (ahem) your colourful omnibox history. To do so, click the menu button (the three bar icon at the top right), and then click Settings. Scroll down to the Users heading and click Add New User. Choose a suitable icon, then type Guest into the Name field. Then click Create. To open a ‘guest’ browser window in future, click the head icon at the top left of the browser window (or tap Ctrl+Shift+M).

Open bookmarks as a web page

Sometimes you might want to share your bookmarks list with another person (or even put it online), but the other person might not necessarily want to import all the bookmarks en masse. They might want to import only those that look interesting. The solution is simple. Export your bookmarks in the usual way by clicking the menu icon, then selecting Bookmarks in the list, and then Bookmarks Manager. Then click the Organise link in the page that appears and select Export Bookmarks to HTML File. Save the file, then simply double-click to open it as a web page in any browser. It doesn’t look pretty but it does the job!

Quickly create bookmarks

Any link on a page can be turned into a bookmark by dragging it to the bookmarks toolbar and either dropping it there or dragging it to the Other Bookmarks folder at the right-hand side and then waiting for it to expand before dropping it into any of the folders you see. (If you can’t see the bookmarks toolbar, tap Shift+Ctrl+B.)

Open Task Manager

Most people who use Windows know of the Task Manager, by which processes and entire apps can be killed if they prove annoying. But did you know that Chrome has its own task manager? To make it appear tap Shift+Escape. As with the main Task Manager, you’ll see a list of processes and also what memory and CPU resources they’re using. If there’s anything you don’t like, just click it and then click the End Process button at the bottom right. And don’t forget to click Stats for Nerds, if you want to see a long breakdown of memory usage per extension and page.

Turn pages into apps

Several websites nowadays like to pretend they’re apps. Examples include the Google Docs feature of Google Drive, or the variety of online photo editing apps like pixlr.com.
Chrome offers a way of running websites like this in a simple window, stripped of the usual browser accoutrements like the back/forward toolbar and the status bar. It will also create shortcuts on the desktop, Start menu and taskbar, if you wish. To set it up, visit the site in the browser and then click the menu icon. Click Tools, and then select Create Application Shortcuts.

Do sums

Ever wanted to do a quick sum or even a little sophisticated maths without leaving Chrome? Just type it into the Chrome omnibox and the result will appear beneath where website suggestions usually appear. Use an asterisk (*) for multiply and a forward slash (/) for divide, but be sure to put spaces either side of each mathematical symbol or it won’t work.

Have many home pages

Although it’s a little old hat, the concept of home pages has been around since the early days of the web and originally referred to a page that you’d always start off from because it contained links to other places. The web’s a different place today, but some people still like to automatically open a certain page when they start their browser. Chrome has this covered and, in fact, lets you open as many pages as you want. Just browse to the first of the pages you’d like to open, then click the menu button and then the Settings option. Then click Open a Specific Page or Set of Pages and then Set Pages. In the dialogue that opens type the next page and hit Enter and so on.

Search Bing instead

Although often scoffed at, Microsoft’s Bing search engine is making serious inroads into Google’s monopoly. Its regular search leaves a little to be desired but many prefer its specialist searches, such as its image and video search tools. To search Bing from the Chrome omnibox, simply type ‘bing’, then a space and then your search term. At the bottom of the omnibox pop-out list will be an option that’ll let you search Bing instead. Simply click it or use the down cursor key to highlight it and hit Enter.

Use search keywords

The previous tip won’t work if you type ‘yahoo’ or any other search engine name. Why Bing is singled out for special treatment is a mystery. However, Chrome does include functionality that lets you use keyboards to switch to using other engines via the omnibox. It just isn’t set up to work in any useful fashion by default.
Click the menu button and then click settings. Click the Manage Search Engines button. This will open a dialogue box listing the various search engines Chrome knows about. In the left column is the name of the engine and in the right column is the URL used for the search. However, in the middle are search keyboards.
As you can see, most are simply URLs – so if you typed uk.yahoo.com into the omnibox, for example, and then hit Space, Chrome would switch the omnibox to searching Yahoo. However, you can shorten the keyboards substantially by simply clicking them and typing something different – yahoo for Yahoo, for example or ask for Ask Jeeves. You can also add your own search engines here too, but you’ll need to find out what their basic search URL is. The one for Duck Duck Go is https://duckduckgo.com/?q=, for example. Try Googling for others. Once you’ve finished click Done.

Use site keywords

The search engine keyword function of Chrome, mentioned in the previous tip, can be adapted to create bookmark keywords. These you can type a word or series of letters in the omnibox to instantly jump to that site – useful if you’re one of those people who like to keep their hands on the keyboard and can’t be bothered clicking bookmarks (you can tap Ctrl+L or Alt+D to move the cursor to the omnibox).
Click the menu button, then Settings and then click the Manage Search Engines button. Under the Other Search Engine heading, type a name in the Add A New Search Engine field at the left; what you type doesn’t matter much, but if creating a shortcut for micromart.co.uk, then something like Micro Mart would be fine. In the keyword box type the bookmark keyword you want to use – something like mm would be great for the Micro Mart website, for example. Type the URL of the site into the right-hand box marked ‘URL with’, but be sure to add the http:// or https:// component. Then hit Enter and click Done. Test it by typing the keyboard into the omnibox and hitting Enter.

See Chrome’s internals

Chrome uses a variety of URLs for configuration purposes and to let the user see what’s going on under the bonnet. Most are fairly boring, to be blunt. But if you fancy taking a look at them, type chrome://chrome-urls into the ombibox.

Image and video search

Unfortunately, Chrome doesn’t feature search keywords that let you specify an image or video search from the omnibox. However, thanks to a useful feature of Google’s main search engine you can do something just as good – simply type images before your search term or type videos. This will cause the search engine to realise what you’re looking for and offer at the top of the results page a preview of what images or movies match your search term, for example.
Other search terms should be obvious – ‘map Birmingham’ as a search term will show a map of that city at the top of the search results, for example, which you can click to take you straight to maps.google.co.uk.

What’s coming next?

The way Chrome’s developers work is to integrate new functions into Chrome in a testing, deactivated state until they’re sure they work correctly, at which point they’re activated for everybody. To see a list of these functions and therefore to take a peek into the possible future, type chrome://flags into the omnibox. If you find something you’re interested in, then click the Enable link beneath. Be aware that not all the functions will be available, however, because some are platform-specific (that is they’ll only work on Linux or Mac, for example).

Sing like a canary

If you really want to see what’s up and coming in Chrome, then you need the Chrome Canary release, which will run happily alongside the main Chrome release. Canary is essentially the version of Google Chrome built every night (and it’ll be updated on your system every day too), so you’ll see what the developers are implementing as they actually code it. Often you’ll see things that are introduced and then disappear in the main release because somebody thought better. But beware – Canary releases are likely to be unstable.

Tear off tabs

If you’ve opened a tab and would like it to become a window, then the answer’s simple – just click and hold the tab in question, then drag it downwards. You’ll see the tab morph into a complete window in front of your eyes. Alternatively, if you’d like to integrate a window’s tab into another Chrome window, click and hold it, then drag and drop it in the tab bar of the existing window.

Reopen a closed tab

Ever closed a tab then instantly regretted it? Simply tap Ctrl+Shift+T and it’ll open again, complete with its history, as if it had never been away! (Quick minitip: As with most browsers, clicking and holding the back/forward buttons in the toolbar will show the history of recent sites.)

View the cache

By typing chrome://cache you can inspect the contents of the Chrome cache. Unfortunately, clicking on each merely presents a list of statistics about it, as well as a hexadecimal view of the item – not much use if you’re trying to track down a picture you viewed at a website but which has since been taken offline, for example.

In fact there’s no way to view an item in the cache using Chrome’s default tools, although a free download lets you do so. Download the ChromeCacheView app, then extract the archive to the desktop (it doesn’t install or even come with any support files). When the program first runs it’ll take a while to scan the cache. Once it’s done so, you can search by clicking the magnifying glass icon on the toolbar. When you find the file you want, select it in the list and then click the Copy icon, which is the third icon from the left. This will reconstitute the file and copy it to a location of your choosing.

Be aware that most files in the cache will be detritus from websites – scraps of HTML or JavaScript, for example. Finding what you’re looking for may take some time although one way to make searches quicker is to click the Content Type header, which will sort files by what type they are.