The top 10 Chrome Extensions of 2013 for Productivity

Google Chrome is a great browser.

It’s fast, lightweight and has great support for developing technologies such as CSS3.   It scores a 463 out of a total of 500 points on the HTML5Test website which means it’s the second best browser when it comes to support for bleeding edge web technology.   It’s also fairly reliable: when I command Chrome to action, it’s at full attention ready to execute my requests with alacrity.

And like FireFox, Chrome comes with a myriad of extensions.  As of today, Firefox has 10,529 available add-ons for download)  It’s harder to know the exact number of extensions for Chrome because it isn’t conspicuously placed in the Web Store, but even on slight evidence, my best conjecture is that Chrome has well over 10,000 extensions especially since on December 10th of 2010 MG Siegler from TechCrunch first observed it exceeded the 10,000 mark.   That was over three years ago so it’s reasonable to deduce that there’s an even larger number of extensions in the Web Store now.

If you’ve been to the Chrome Web Store lately, you’ll see extensions for everything from blogging to shopping, productivity to accessibility and social to photos.

With so many browser plugins available, how do you know which ones have earned the right to enter Vonnie’s list of the 10 best Chrome extensions for 2013?

We’ll I’ve done the work for you.  Here’s the criteria I used as I evaluated the best extensions:

  • My Personal opinion after using the plugin
  • Popularity based on number of user downloads
  • User Reviews
  • The opinion of other editors in the technology industry

The Top 10 Chrome Extensions of 2013

Let’s dive in working our way down to the best of the best.

10. Invisible Hand
9. Bit.ly
8. Pocket
7. Ghostery
6. OneTab
5. Feedly
4. LastPass
3. Google Mail Checker
2. Chrome Remote Desktop
1. Adblock

10. Invisible Hand

When you want to automatically get the best prices from over 600 retailers on thousands of hotels, rental cars, flights and merchandise in the US, UK and Germany, get Invisible Hand.

As the a product you want get’s cheaper than everyone else, Invisible Hand automatically notifies you with a link to the product.  And when you find a steal, you can even share deals directly through Twitter and Facebook.

The biggest benefit is obviously the savings you get but also there’s the elated feeling you get from knowing you got the best price for something.

Below, I did a search for the iRiver AK100 mp3 player I really want.

Chrome Extension Invisible Hand

Unfortunately, I’m a hapless buyer because the AK100 isn’t on-sale anywhere.  Hopefully you can find a better deal with your products!

Invisible Hand Compare Prices

9. Bit.ly

Bit.ly is perhaps the most popular link shortening service in social media.  It’s pretty vogue on Twitter and has been around since 2008.  In addition to making your tweets more concise, Bitly gives you click analytics so you can track and promote your most popular links.

The Bit.ly Chrome Extension makes it even easier to share content on Twitter and other sites because you can save and shorten links with a single click.  Furthermore, the extension stays active even as you switch tabs and windows.  There’s also a nice preview function so you can see what the link will look like before you share it.

After installing the link, it’ll request permission to view your account.  Click Allow.

Bitly Chrome Extension

Next, you’ll be presented with a few options.  Auto-copy bitly links is unchecked by default, but I enabled it because I don’t want to be bothered with the Ctrl+c part of the copy and paste dance.

Now, my links will automatically copy to the clipboard and all I need to do is Ctrl+v them into my tweets.

Chrome Extension Bit.ly options

Now when I find a link to share, I can just right click it and choose Save to Bitly.

Bitly Chrome Extension Save to Bitly

8. Pocket

Pocket is a nifty little plug-in adored by over 2,000 happy users.  It let’s you save content with one click for offline viewing across all devices.  Basically, when you find something online that you need to look at later, but won’t have a wireless signal, use Pocket to save it for later and sync it across your mobile devices.

This is how it works:

Surf the net like you normally do.  When you find something you like, click the little Pocket icon in the upper right corner of the Google Chrome window.

My mouse cursor is pointing to it in the graphic below.

Clicking that little icon saves the page and makes it accessible to your laptop, phone and tablet – plus, it enables offline viewing.

Chrome Pocket Save

The first time you click the Pocket icon you’ll need to sign in with a Pocket ID.  Creating one takes less than 5 seconds so that’s not a problem.

In the graphic below you can see what happens after logging in with your Pocket ID.  A Page Saved banner slides in from the top with options to add tags and view your list of saved pages.

Pocket Chrome Extension Site Saved

When you click View List, a new tab opens listing all the sites in your Pocket.

The Mobile App is pretty cool too.  I downloaded and installed Pocket for my Galaxy S4 and can attest to its usability.  You can even save to Pocket directly from the Apps you’re using because it shows up as a Share option in most App.

So when you open an App, just click the Share link and then choose Add to Pocket from the list.

To started with Pocket on your Droid:

Sign-in to the App.  It’ll save your password so subsequent sign-on attempts don’t vex you for credentials.

Google Chrome Pocket Android App Signin

Next, you’ll see your Queue.  I only saved one page to my Pocket so it looks pretty sparse but you’ll fill this up with time.

Pocket Android App Queue

And now you can view it offline and everything syncs.

Notice I’m in Airplane mode so my phone is disconnected from all networks yet I’m still reading the page.

That’s the beauty of Pocket.

Pocket offline viewing

7. Ghostery

I think the best explanation for Ghostery comes directly from Ghostery

Ghostery sees the “invisible” web, detecting trackers, web bugs, pixels, and beacons placed on web pages by Facebook, Google Analytics, and over 500 other ad networks, behavioral data providers, web publishers – all companies interested in your activity.

You can also learn more about the tracking companies Ghostery finds and then block scripts, embeds and images from untrusted sources.

It works by looking for trackers from advertisements and widgets that work behind the scenes to pass your data to third-parties.

Chrome Extension Ghostery

Ghostery totals the trackers in a purple bubble next to the blue little Ghostery icon in the upper right corner of the browser.  A list of all the trackers it found appear in that purple bubble.

If you click the blue Ghost, you’ll get in-depth information about the company and can later decide to permit or block it.

Chrome Extension Ghostery Details

I clicked the blue More Info link for Chartbeat to get the lowdown.

You should also click the Privacy Information and Privacy Contact headings to view the company’s privacy policy and physical address.

Chrome Extensions Ghostery Extension Details

6. OneTab

If you’re like me, at any given moment you’ll have more than a dozen tabs open in Chrome.   Eventually it gets harder and harder to manage your tabs and soon your computer starts feeling lethargic.

But instead of closing tabs to free up memory, install OneTab.  No signup or registration is required and you don’t have to restart Chrome to make it work.  It literally takes 5 seconds to install and really speeds up your browsing experience because it consolidates all open tabs into a list on a single tab.

OneTab claims to save up to 95% of memory but I’m not so credulous to believe seemingly outlandish sales claims like that. And besides, 95% is a pretty high number so I put it to the test.

I opened three dozen tabs, CNN, Hackernews, Twitter, Youtube, basically anything I could think of until I had a total of 36 tabs open in Chrome.

Chrome 36 simultaneous tabs

My computer became virtually unresponsive, but I really wanted to stress OneTab to see if I could break it.

After my computer almost came to a grinding halt, I popped open the Task Manager (Ctrl + Shift + Esc) clicked on Processes and tallied up the aggregate memory used by Chrome.

Windows Task Manager Chrome

1.9GB

Yeah, this is nuts but stay with me.

Next, I installed OneTab.  In about 3 seconds all my tabs coalesced into one super tab with all my previously opened tabs appearing in a list.

Google OneTab extension in action

Okay, that’s nice but how much memory is my PC allocating to Chrome right now?

Chrome Memory Usage

277MB.

So wait, let’s do the math to see the percent decrease

(1900000 - 277) / 1900000 = 0.9999 = 99%

OneTab freed up 99% of my memory, and granted, my example might be extreme with 36 tabs, its purpose was to see if it really worked as advertised.

But maybe you’re still not convinced that its worth it.

I don’t really need this do I?  Isn’t it just going to slow down my browser?

The answer is no, it’s not.  OneTab is definitely the way to go, it’s 100% free, contains no smuggleware or advertisements and does exactly what it claims to do: frees up your memory to improve your browsing experience.

But don’t just take my word for it:  Thorin Klosowski from Lifehacker wrote a brief review of this useful extension and Onetab has a perfect five out of five star rating in the Chrome Web Store from over 800 users.   That’s a pretty cogent reason to check it out – and for all these reasons I’ve included it on my top 10 list.

By the way, here’s a little trick to see how much memory Chrome is devoting to each tab.  This is an innate feature of Chrome and isn’t related to any extensions.

You can also see how much memory Chrome is allocating per tab by entering this command in the location bar:

chrome://memory-redirect/

5 Feedly

Feedly is a beautiful news reader that combines the convenience of a RSS reader with the aesthetics of a digital magazine.

Once you install the Feedly extension, you’ll see all your news feeds in one place.  It’s pure content without the extraneous elements of advertisements, sign-up forms and flashy banners.  The best part is that it constantly updates and it’s super fast because it’s virtually all text.

Over 23,000 people have downloaded Feedly for Chrome and the collective satisfaction rating is a five out of five stars.  I use it all the time to get updates from my favorite news sources like TheVerge and TechCrunch.  It’s a great extension.  You’re really missing out if you don’t install it.

Feedly News Reader Extension for Chrome

And there are a bevy of options to customize your reading experience.  For example, you can change the view to resemble Google Reader or even change the theme.  Or you can organize your feeds into user defined categories or just focus on recently read feeds.

There really isn’t a help file or anything (I don’t think it needs one), just click around and everything will start to make sense and you’re happiness meter will inconspicuously start to rise.

Feedly Google Reader View

Feedly is one of those extensions that just works and therefore it’s hard not to like it.

Give it a shot and you’ll be hooked.

4 LastPass

According to a large scale study of password use (PDF) and re-use habits by Microsoft Research in 2007, the average user has  25 separate accounts but uses roughly 7 passwords to protect them.

That’s bad.

The more passwords you have the greater the chance that you’ll forget them.

Lastpass stores and manages all your passwords and it’s free, easy and most importantly secure.  It’s secure because the password is encrypted with 256bit AES government-level encryption on your local machine so even LastPass can’t get access to it.  Of course this comes with a cost, just make sure you NEVER forget your Master password or else you’ll be completely screwed.

This is how it works:  You create one master password that gives you access to all your pre-existing passwords..  Last password also generates and stores secure password automatically.  So the next time you signup for a site and need to create a password, you can have Lastpass do it for you and then save it securely.  If you ever need to know the password Lastpass created, you can just login to lastpass.com with your Master.

There’s a two and a half minute Youtube video with a pretty good demonstration of how Lastpass works and why you should use it.  Another perk is you can easily import passwords from your existing password management software such as 1Password, RoboForm, KeePass, Passpack and even the built in password managers in Internet Explorer and Firefox.

About 7000 people have already installed LastPass for Chrome and collectively have given it five out of five stars.

To get started, install the LastPass extension and create your account.

Lastpass Setup

You’ll be prompted to create a master password.

LastPass Account Creation

It is imperative that you NEVER forget your master password because even LastPass can’t give it to you if your forget it.  All LastPass can do is send you your password reminder so it’s crucial that you know your master.  You also need to make sure the colorful password bar is filled all the way to the right because a weak Master defeats the purpose of LastPass.

LastPass Are you Sure?

After you confirm the Master you’re done.

Now you can sign-in using your new account by clicking the little LastPass asterisk icon in the upper right corner of Chrome next to the Settings button.

LastPass Chrome signin

You can setup a password vault to store all your passwords after you sign in.

LastPass Chrome Extension

And then manage them through the dashboard.  This is what happens when you click My LastPass Vault:

LastPass Password Vault

From here you can do all kinds of fun things like create Bookmarklets which is a way to synchronize bookmarks across devices.  Or you can create Form Fill profiles so that common form data like your credit card, Social Security Number and phone number are auto populated into the form fields.  Now let me stop for a second: I know this sounds risky, but the key thing to keep in mind is that your data is protected using 256bit AES encryption.

Quick Cryptography Primer

If you’re eyes just glazed over, let me explain:

In Cryptography, the key length determines how feasible it is to crack encrypted data using an attack that tries every possible combination.  This is known as a brute-force attack.

The longer the key, the longer it takes to break and therefore the harder it is to crack.

Difficulty is a function of time.

AES uses a 256bit key length, but let’s say we only had a 2 bit key.  How long would it take to break that?  Well, we just need to take every possible combination.

You’ll see there are only four combinations:

00
01
10
11

So we could easily guess the correct key in a matter of seconds since there are only four possible arrangements.  But what happens with a 256bit key?  How many possible combinations do we have with that?

1.1 x 1077

How big is 1.1 times 10 to the 77th power and how long would it take to crack that?

It would take the fastest supercomputer, executing 10.51 Petaflops (basically math operations), about 3.31 x 1055 years to crack a 256bit AES password.

Okay, but that’s still an unfathomable value.  I mean, 10 to the 11th power alone is longer than the estimated age of the universe at 13.75 billion years.

But we’re talking about 10 to the 77th power! Remember each power is logarithmically greater than the prior number so 103 is 10 times greater than 102 but 100 times greater than 101.

The bottom line is that AES has never been cracked, and given it will take literally trillions of years longer than the age of the universe to crack, I think it’s reasonable to deduce that your credit card information will be safe.

3. Google Mail Checker

The Google Mail Checker has one purpose in life: Show you the number of unread gmail messages in your inbox so you don’t have to a new tab or window to check.

You can see I have 3,227 unread gmail messages so I probably should start reading those…

Google Mail Checker Chrome Extension

2. Chrome Remote Desktop

The silver medal goes to Chrome Remote Desktop.

CRD, gives you secure remote access to your PC, Mac or Linux box.  Just make sure both computers have the Chrome extension installed and are connected to the internet and you’ll be remote connecting in no time.  In many ways, I like it more than Logmein.  Some people even claim it’s better than Splashtop and TeamViewer.

There’s no sign-up forms, no registration fields or ads, just pure 100% remote control goodness.

To get started, get the Chrome Remote Desktop extension from the web store and launch the App.

Click Continue on the introduction screen

Chrome Remote Desktop

Next, Accept the permission requirements

Chrome Remote Desktop Permissions

Then just pick the remote desktop mode.  You can choose to access your own computer or get started with user-to-user screen sharing.

Chrome Remote Desktop Sharing Mode

If you want to access your own computer, click the Get Started button under My Computers.

It’ll ask you to create a 6 digit connection PIN to protect access to your computer; this is like your permanent key.  After creating the PIN, the App enables your Remote Desktop connection and you’re done. 

Chrome Remote Desktop Enabling Remote Desktop

It’s really that easy..

To connect to the computer, just select it in the list and in a matter of seconds you’ll be connected just as if you were sitting directly in front of it at your desk.

Chrome Remote Desktop connect to your computer

If you need to connect to a friends computer, have him or her download Chrome Remote Desktop then tell him or her to click the first option, Remote Assistance.

The App asks them to share control, just have them click the green share button and give you the concomitant 12 digit key that appears on the screen.

Chrome Remote Desktop Remote Assistance Share your Screen

Amazingly easy and useful.  I freggin’ love Chrome Remote Desktop.

Oh and did I mention it’s free and has no advertisements?

Yep!

Chrome Remote Desktop Remote Assitance 12 digit share code

1. Adblock

Adblock get’s the gold.

Why? Because it blocks ads!

With over 15,000,000 users, Adblock is currently the most popular Google Chrome extension on earth.  It removes all banners, video ads on Youtube, Facebook ads, pop-ups and other related elements like tracking, social media buttons and malware.

Here’s CNN before and after:

Adblock Disabled

And now with Ad-block enabled.  Notice the luxury watch Ad in the right rail is gone.

Adblock Plus in Action

The nice thing about Ad-Block Plus is that you can whitelist certain domains and permit some non-intrusive ads.  This extension puts ad control in your hands so you determine what ads you want to see whenever you want.  It’s like a DVR for web browsing, no commercials, no ads.  So nice.

You can get Adblock for Chrome in the Web Store.

By the way, Adblock is unrelated to Adblock Plus.  The two have similar functions but were created by different developers.

The Bottom Line

In a world cluttered with extensions, plug-ins and add-ons it’s nice to know there are a few elite accessories that actually bring real value to the browsing experience.  2013 isn’t over so it might seem audacious, and premature, to claim the 10 best Chrome extensions for the year but I think these extensions are so good that they won’t be beat before year end.

But hey, if you can prove me wrong please leave your findings in the comments.  I’d love to hear what other Chrome extensions you guys have discovered.

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