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10 cool free Chrome extensions

The Chrome browser has evolved into a platform of its own, in large part due to the ability to add functionality through extensions. These are some of the most useful.
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1 of 11 James Kendrick/ZDNet

10 cool Chrome extensions

The Chrome browser has millions of users for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the ability to extend its usefulness by adding extensions. These are downloaded from the Chrome Web Store, and vary from simple utilities to full-blown web apps.

There are extensions that stand alone, and others that add value to existing apps and web services. Some are so useful that Chrome users should take a look and see what they are missing.

Extensions can be installed on any Chrome browser on Macs, Windows, and Linux systems. That means they can also be used on Chromebooks without issues.

Take a look at the 10 cool extensions in this collection, you just might find one or two that meet your needs. All of these extensions are free, so there's nothing to lose.

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2 of 11 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Awesome New Tab Page

Good home screens get even better when they can be customized by the user to provide information at a glance and easy access to apps. This extension does all of that and more, with its own collection of widgets that can be installed on the home page.

The Awesome New Tab Page becomes the default screen displayed when the user opens a new tab in the Chrome browser. It replaces the new page that Chrome throws up by default.

The page is built by dragging apps and widgets to the desired location on the page. Once the page layout is just right it can be backed up to the cloud to restore on any Chrome installation.

Widgets designed to work with Awesome New Tab Page are downloaded individually from the Chrome Web Store. They can then be placed on the home page with drag and drop. Widgets installed on the page shown above are the clock, weather, and the long calendar displayed to the right of the Facebook icon.

Awesome New Tab Page download

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3 of 11 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Checker Plus for Gmail

This extension is a full-blown app for those using Gmail that is as good as they get. It sits in the upper-right corner of the browser window and signals when new email comes in.

That's useful but the least of the functionality found in Check Plus for Gmail. The icon in the browser bar shows how many new emails came in via a counter badge. 

Tapping that icon is when the fun begins. A popup appears showing a rich list of each unread email. This includes the sender and a short summary of the email. Tap an email in the list and a full preview opens up that allows interaction with the email, including replying.

Drop-down lists in the extension provide full email functionality. All of this takes place in the extension, the Gmail window is never opened. It makes it possible to quickly work with new email without moving away from the current tab.

There is a nice accessibility feature, voice notifications, that has the extension notify you by voice when new email comes in. It will also read the email aloud. This can be toggled on and off in the settings.

This is the most useful Chrome extension I use.

Checker Plus for Gmail

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4 of 11 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Checker Plus for Google Calendar

From the same developer as the Checker Plus for Gmail extension in the previous slide, this app brings much of the same functionality to those using Google Calendar. 

The icon in the upper-right corner of the browser shows the time for the next appointment. Tapping it opens a calendar window that can be set to day, week, month, and agenda views. 

New appointments can be entered in the calendar window in natural language. An example of this is "7pm Dinner at Bob's".

All calendar functions are performed in the extension without opening the Google Calendar web page. Like native Google Calendar, this extension handles multiple calendars.

Checker Plus for Google Calendar

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5 of 11 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Elegant Calculator

This extension pops open a fully functional calculator when its icon is tapped. It has both a basic calculator and a scientific calculator as pictured above.

It doesn't do anything fancy like provide a paper strip of calculations, but it does the simple functions very well using an attractive display.

Elegant Calculator

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Write Space

Those needing a simple text editor may find this extension to be useful. It presents a blank editor window completely devoid of distractions.

Write Space saves data locally and avoids cloud storage for those leery of the unknown. It auto-saves the work in progress with every key press so it will never lose any data no matter what happens. It remembers where you left off when you last exited the extension, and all work is done offline so no web connection is required to use Write Space.

It is designed for heavy writing and keeps track of the word count.

The user can set the background and font to make it look as desired.

Write Space

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7 of 11 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Boomerang for Gmail

This extension attaches itself to Gmail to provide the ability to schedule when a particular email should be sent. An example of a scheduled email could be that you remember a friend's birthday in the future so you write an email and schedule it to send on the day of the event.

Boomerang adds a strip at the bottom of the Gmail compose window (pictured above) to provide options for scheduling the email. The regular options (without scheduling) are still there, so Boomerang is easy to use when desired but is out of the way when not needed.

Another good feature of Boomerang is the ability to have it move messages from your inbox into a label/folder automatically. You can then set a schedule for them, and they will reappear in the inbox at the top of the list at the specified time. No more forgetting to deal with those messages of less importance.

Boomerang for Gmail

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Google Dictionary

The best extensions are those very simple in nature, yet that perform very useful functions. That's the very definition of Google Dictionary.

Once installed, double clicking on a word on any web page in the browser pops up a window with the definition for that word. It couldn't be any easier.

Tap any word in the following languages and Google Dictionary will translate to the default user language:

  • Brazilian Portuguese
  • Chinese (Simplified)
  • Chinese (Traditional)
  • Czech
  • Dutch
  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Korean
  • Russian
  • Slovak
  • Spanish

I use this extension constantly in my work and have come to rely heavily on it.

Google Dictionary

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My Chrome Theme

Sometimes you need to have fun, and this extension is just the thing. It allows making custom themes for Chrome that are nothing fancy, but colorful. It's nice to personalize the browser you spend so much time looking at each day.

The graphical theme editor is totally point-and-click in nature, and personal background images can be uploaded for inclusion in custom themes.

My Chrome Theme

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Save to Google Drive

This is another of those useful utilities that does one thing but does it very well. It allows saving web pages to the user's Google Drive for later access.

Whole pages can be saved to the cloud and the extension adds a right-click menu for saving hyperlinks and media. 

Save to Google Drive will let you automatically convert Microsoft Office documents to Google Docs formats. Your mileage may vary with the quality of the conversion, although simply formatted Office docs convert fine.

Save to Google Drive

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11 of 11 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Gmail Offline

This extension does what its name states, it allows working with Gmail without a web connection. It synchronizes the user's Gmail the first time it's run, and thereafter keeps the offline stuff synced with the online service.

Users of Gmail Offline can work with email received while connected, including read, respond to, search and archive. All activites performed are synced at the next web connection.

The extension uses a simpler interface than the Gmail web site to optimize the offline experience.

Gmail Offline

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