Blog Archives

After the Deadline Improves Spelling and Grammar Checks in Chrome [Downloads]

Chrome: After The Deadline, a powerful spelling and grammar checking tool, has arrived as a Google Chrome extension with all its text-fixing powers intact. It catches typos and lazy writing, and allows you to customize rules for key phrases and web sites. More »







Turn Off The Lights Dims Chrome for Enhanced Focus [Downloads]

Chrome: If you’re a fan of previously reviewed Firefox add-on YouTube Cinema, you’ll want to grab a copy of Turn Off The Lights for Chrome to enjoy the same screen-dimming focus for video, document editing, and more. More »






The Easy, Any-Browser, Any-OS Password Solution [Passwords]

Whenever we talk passwords, we always preach the same thing: Use strong, difficult-to-remember passwords, and different passwords for every site. Easy to say, extremely difficult to do through sheer willpower. I’ve tried many password-remembering systems, and this is what I’ve stuck with.

To paraphrase photographer Chase Jarvis, the best password manager is the one you have with you. Of all the password management utilities out there, I consider LastPass the most elegant compromise between convenience and security, and if you’re not using it already, I recommend you start. It’s mostly free, plugs into nearly any browser or smartphone, is KeePass compatible, and just works.

Why LastPass?

Why not just use KeePass for all my passwords and be done with it? It’s secure, open-source, extensible, and geeks like Gina have sworn by it as a password solution. Oh, and many readers love it, too. If I only used Firefox, KeeFox would provide a pretty good browser integration, and I could use Dropbox as a universal KeePass syncer.

I like KeePass. KeePass is friendly and locks down pretty tight. But when it comes to filling in web passwords, I want the path of least resistance—and I want to convert my friends and family into more secure practices, too. LastPass offers a few advantages over KeePass:

  • Universal: KeePass has a nice collection of extensions and plug-ins, but they’re all over the place when it comes to support, updating, and platforms. LastPass offers extensions for Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Safari on Windows, Mac, and Linux. There are a few gaps (Opera, mainly), but they’re covered in large part by free auto-filling bookmarklets (covered below) and desktop, portable USB apps, and mobile software, offered to LastPass’ premium subscribers.
  • Simple: LastPass has a multitude of options, settings, tools, and other knobs to twiddle, just like KeePass. If all you want, though, is a better kind of universal password manager that remembers your log-ins, simply install the browser extension, log into LastPass, and let it do its thing. It automatically prompts you to save passwords and form data—though you can turn that off—and fills out username/password fields, with an easy switch to another login name.
  • Secure, yet dummy-proof: My one fear with systems like KeePass, where I'm keeping my own database and, potentially, safe-keeping my own encryption key file, is that I'll do something stupid and delete that file, or forget that ultra-secure master password. Sure, sure—you're a superhero of forethought and memory, and would never do such a thing. Me, I've had too many brushes with Dropbox sync screw-ups (my ow fault for tinkering, usually) and memory gaps to leave it up to myself to serve as my own knight to protect the Holy Grail. LastPass uses a single master password to log into your account, sure, and if you lose that, you have to jump through quite a few hoops to get it back. But it is, technically, recoverable.

The short version of LastPass’ safety and privacy setup, and its technology is that the only thing stored on LastPass' servers is a heavily encrypted bundle of your passwords and the sites they belong to—a form of host-proof hosting. They don’t have the encryption key to your passwords (only you do), and the encryption and decrypting all takes place on your own computer, where a backup copy of LastPass’ records is always kept. If LastPass became evil, or got hacked, the nefarious doers would have to buy one of Google’s server farms to break into its users’ passwords. And the service strongly encourages using strong, secure, randomized passwords with web sites, and it ends the use of insecure password storing by browsers.

Switching to LastPass is easier than you’d think too, mostly because LastPass lets you import passwords from KeePass and many, many more password management apps and sites. Heck, if you only want to use LastPass for your web passwords and still keep your more intense security concerns in KeePass, go ahead. You can actually store non-web passwords and data in LastPass, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Intrigued? Even just a little interested? Here’s how LastPass can make your web browsing, or maybe the browsing of a friend with really weak passwords, more convenient and secure. Go ahead and create an account if you’d like, but LastPass actually recommends creating that account from a browser extension or software download.

Browser Extensions

The primary means of getting your username and passwords into your web sites. They're all slightly different, but work basically the same: you click an icon, log into LastPass with your One True Password—making sure not to set your extension to remember that password—and then just go about your browsing. When you hit sites that ask for a username and password that you already know, LastPass will drop down a tiny little toolbar and ask if you want to save them. If you need a new username and password, you can have LastPass generate a random, highly secure couple, save them, and never worry about remembering them again.

Here’s LastPass’ (somewhat clinical) explanation of how their extensions work, demonstrated on Firefox:

One-Time Passwords

If you’re in a foreign land or on a sketchy Wi-Fi connection, the last thing you want to do is pass your universal LastPass password over the insecure airwaves. Luckily LastPass has a brilliant solution: Set up your account with some one-time passwords, then use them whenever you’re somewhere not entirely locked down. As soon as you log in, that password becomes invalid, and, as mentioned before, your passwords don’t fly over the open air in any case.

Bookmarklets

As we’ve previously shown, when you’re on a system where you can’t install your LastPass extension, or if you only like to occasionally fill in a form or login/password field, you can use LastPass bookmarklets to get at your stashed-away passwords. They work on nearly any browser with decent JavaScript capabilities on most any platform.

Secure Notes

Let’s say you’re looking for a universal password, PIN, and other security data database, like KeePass and its ilk. If you find LastPass convenient, you can store any data as a Secure Note, and it gets the same kind of password-protected, blindly encrypted treatment as your passwords. Helpful for those “virtual keyboard” passcodes that banks often use, telephone PIN numbers, and other non-simple security schemes.

Smartphone Apps, Portable Apps, and a Mobile Site

Small screens, tiny keys, and microscopic text fields are a reality of many smartphones. Even if your phone handles password input well, it’s hard to find a password syncing solution that meshes well with every browser and system (Mac users have 1Password, but that’s a very Mac-universe app). LastPass has dedicated apps, with free 14-day previews, for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Symbian, and Palm WebOS (phew). They generally offer both simple password retrieval databases and in-app browsers for jumping right into a site.

If your phone isn’t covered by an app, or you don’t want to pay the $14/year for a premium subscription, you can hit the LastPass mobile site to get at your security goods. If you’re the type to keep a USB thumb drive handy at all times, you can grab a Firefox Portable extension, or “LastPass Pocket,” from the downloads page and launch either one right off your drive.


That’s why I dig LastPass, and it’s why I’ll be quietly trying to move the other computers in my house, my family, and, not so quietly, my fellow editors onto this service. If you have other reasons you dig LastPass, or another web or desktop-based password management scheme, tell us all about it in the comments.




“You’ve Got Waves”: How to Get Google Wave Notifications [Notifications]

Once you're active in Google Wave, you want to know when something new happens there—even if you don't have Wave open in your browser. These notifier tools monitor your Wave inbox, letting you know you've got new and changed waves.

The following is an excerpt from the all-new Chapter 9 of The Complete Guide to Google Wave. Got feedback? Let me know in the comments and help write the first book on Wave!

Google Wave Add-on for Firefox

If you use Mozilla’s popular web browser, Firefox, the Google Wave Add-on puts a Wave icon on the status bar at the bottom of your browser window. That icon displays alerts when you’ve got new, unread waves and keeps a running total of how many unread changes you’ve got in your inbox. Click on the icon to open Wave in a new tab for quick access. Set your Wave login information in the extension’s Options dialog, as shown in Figure 9-1.

Figure 9-1. The Google Wave Add-on for Firefox adds a Wave icon on the status bar of your web browser, which displays the number of unread and changed waves in your inbox.

Download the Google Wave Add-on for Firefox at addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/14973. As of writing, the extension is listed as “experimental,” which means it hasn’t been reviewed by the Mozilla Add-ons editors. Check the box next to “Let me install this experimental add-on” to download and install it in your copy of Firefox.

Googsystray for Windows and Linux

If you’d rather get Wave notifications outside of your browser, Googsystray is a system tray utility for Windows and Linux that plays a sound when new waves arrive and displays unread wave notifications in the corner of your screen, as shown in Figure 9-2.

Figure 9-2. Googsystray plays an alert sound and displays a notification of new and changed waves in your system tray.

Click a Wave notification to open the unread wave directly in your browser. Googsystray is particularly useful if you’re an all-around Google lover, as it also offers Gmail, Google Voice, Google Calendar, and Google Reader notifications. Download Googsystray for free from googsystray.sourceforge.net/.

Google Wave Notifier for Windows

Don’t need all the bells, whistles, and multi-service support of Googsystray? The aptly named Google Wave Notifier is a Windows system tray utility that, like the others, alerts you of new and changed waves with unread content in a pop-up box and icon, as shown in Figure 9-3.

Figure 9-3. The Google Wave Notifier adds a Wave icon in the Windows system tray that displays the total number of new and unread waves in your inbox.

Like Googsystray, you can click on an alert to open the new wave directly. Download the Google Wave Notifier for free from wave-notify.sourceforge.net/.

Waveboard with Growl Notifications for Mac OS X

Mac users who want Wave notifications should try Waveboard. Waveboard is a free, standalone Wave client that adds a Waveboard icon with your total of unread waves on Mac OS X’s menu bar and Dock. Waveboard also provides pop-up Growl notifications, as shown in Figure 9-4.

Figure 9-4. Waveboard for Mac OS X displays an icon with the total of unread waves on the menu bar and Dock, as well as Growl notifications.

To get Growl notifications with Waveboard, download and install Growl for your Mac from growl.info/. Waveboard is also a free download from www.getwaveboard.com/.

XMPP Lite for Google Talk and AIM

Unlike the other notifier apps and add-ons listed here, the XMPP Lite bot is a solution that you put to work directly inside the specific waves you want to receive updates from. If you add the XMPP Lite bot to a wave and then click the subscribe button in the blip it adds, you’ll receive IM updates when that wave changes.

Figure 9-5. The XMPP Lite bot adds a blip with a Subscribe and Unsubscribe button to a wave. Click the Subscribe button to opt into instant messenger notifications of wave activity.

Gotcha: While all the other notifiers mentioned here let you know if you have ANY changed or unread waves in your inbox at all, XMPP Lite only notifies you about the specific waves you’ve added it to, and pressed the Subscribe button in.

XMPP Lite is one of this book’s featured bots. For details on how to use it, head back to the “XMPP Lite (wave-xmpp@appspot.com)” section in Chapter 8.


Like the rest of the book, this was co-written by Adam Pash and myself (in this section, mostly Adam, bless his soul). We’re working furiously on getting The Complete Guide to Google Wave's first edition—a step up from the Preview PDF—ready for print publication. What should we include or exclude? Let us know in the comments, and thanks in advance.






Google Voice Chrome Extension Makes Calling and SMS Even Easier [Updates]

Google Chrome: Google Voice Notifier, one of the 18 extensions we loved at launch, has seen a major update. It now converts phone numbers on the web to automatic dialing links, and initiates calls and text messages from a drop-down box.

The extension previously did little more than notify Google Voice users of the number of unread SMS messages and voicemails sitting in their inbox, as well as doing a little spin animation when updated and opening the inbox when clicked. In the new version, nearly any phone number in a recognizable format is converted into a click-able link. Hit that number, and a pop-up box asks you which phone you want to connect to. Oddly enough, it doesn’t work on Google Maps results, where I’d kind of most want that behavior, but does work from Google search results.

The new version also makes starting a call or text message to any of your known contacts very easy. Click the extension button, and a drop-down box with auto-filling fields appears. You can switch between calls and SMS messages easily, and if you click the extension button when you’ve got messages, you get a quick preview of your inbox.

The Google Voice extension is a free download, and works wherever extensions work with Google Chrome at the moment—Mac users will have to use the development channel version in this case. If you already had the extension installed, you should see it update automatically the next time you load up Chrome.

If you’re looking to sign up with Google Voice but don’t have an invite, we hear they’re getting a lot more invites out to those who ask for them.

Google Voice (by Google) [Google Chrome extension gallery via Download Squad]






Make the Most of Chrome with These 13 Excellent Extensions [Downloads]

Shortly after Google Chrome’s Extensions gallery opened, we rounded up 18 worthy downloads. Now that Chrome’s official add-on market has matured a bit, we’ve dug up more productive, annoyance-fixing, feature-adding extensions that you should consider adding to your collection.

At this point, extensions for Google Chrome work on the Beta and Dev channels for Windows, the Beta for Linux, or the dev channel for Macs. If an extension doesn’t work across all platforms, we’ve noted it at the front of each description.

Checkers & notifiers

Google Mail Checker Plus: There are tons of Gmail and Google Apps checkers in the extensions gallery. So why this one? First off, it handles both standard Gmail and (multiple) Google Apps accounts. Second, its roll-down mail notifier lets you actually act on the messages it shows—archive, delete, spam, mark as read, or reply. Third, if you don't ever want to open the Gmail tab, that's fine—you can read the whole message in the checker window. Fourth, and finally, it offers a wide range of icon styles to choose from, so it meshes with whatever Chrome theme and OS you've got going. Best of class.

Google Calendar Popout: As with Google Mail Checker, this is one of many Google Calendar extensions to choose from. The version made by Google offers a little button badge showing you the time until your next appointment, but for those with multiple calendars, it’s a bit annoying, because it only picks up appointments from the primary/personal calendar. This model simply rolls down a mini-calendar (which you can turn off in the options), shows color-coded appointments, and offers the Create Event and Quick Add links that GCal addicts depend on.

One Number: This one’s simple. If you’re a Google fiend who doesn’t want blow-by-blow pings and notifiers, One Number combines all your Google app notifications into one handy window. (Original post)

Annoyance fixers & site improvers

Better Gmail: Our own How-To Geek had previously rounded up a Better Gmail for Chrome to complement the popular Firefox extension, but Chrome’s extension system and script support has changed quite a bit since then. A very helpful coder rounded up scripts that are still working into another Better Gmail extension, one that includes a lot of the things we like to see available: folder hierarchies, mouse-over row highlighting, footer appending, and much more.

Clickable Links: Forums, blog comments, really old sites—they're full of links written out in text, asking the reader to precisely copy and load the text in their address bar. This extension updates those annoyingly non-interactive links to the modern day.

A Bit Better RTM: It simply tweaks, improves, and makes shortcut-friendly the Remember the Milk webapp for the convenience of serious task management. Based on the popular Greasemonkey script, Bit Better moves your list tabs to the left, lets you hide lists you hardly ever look at, and makes nearly every action do-able from a keyboard. It does those things and more from the background, too, so that’s one less taskbar button to deal with. (Original post)

VidzBigger: This two-for-one add-on reconfigures the layout of YouTube, MetaCafe, and DailyMotion to make the actual videos the (larger) star of the page, and also adds a download link whenever possible to your viewing screen. You can also scroll related videos without having to move your video out of place, which is just the thing for … terribly unproductive web video binges. Sigh. (Original post)

Other cool stuff

IE Tab: Windows only: As you might expect, IE Tab is just like its Firefox counterpart: It renders the web page you’re looking at in a separate tab, using Windows’ built-in Internet Explorer rendering engine. Helpful for developers, and those 476 remaining sites that refuse to accept any browser except IE.

Session Manager: Chrome can automatically pick up your tabs where you left off, and offers a decent tab and web history from its “new tab page.” If you tend to open tabs in batches, though, or don’t always want to pick up exactly the way you left it, adding Session Manager to Chrome is a nice time saver. Open up a batch of tabs, save them to a new session name, and you’re up and running. (Original post)

Everymark: An extension after our own hearts, mostly because these hearts love the light-speed-quick Everything search engine for Windows. Everymark aims to provide that same type of as-you-type convenience for your local bookmarks. Chrome’s own OmniBar (that’s “address bar,” for those who don’t buy into Google’s super-hype terminology) does a decent job of pulling up bookmarks that you’re typing for, but Everymark searches the name, the URL, the date modified, and folder names, all at once.

WOT (Web of Trust): This one showed up in early form, but now ranks as one of the best sanctioned extensions to tell you more about where you’re going on the internet. Using WOT’s research and input from the community, the extension shows you the trustworthiness of whatever page you’re looking at, and provides a link to the rating page with more information.

Firebug Lite: In the hearts and minds of developers who love Firebug, nothing can replace it. But this is a noble first attempt for the Chrome-using set. It comes from the same development team, and it’s basically a JavaScript file, molded into an extension, that emulates some of the Firebug features that let you watch in real time as you change a site’s code.

uTorrent for Google Chrome: Are you a uTorrent fan who’s also a Chrome user? Install this little add-on to your browser and, using the awesomeness of uTorrent’s WebUI, you can remotely control your BitTorrent downloads from anywhere in the world (that has web access). uTorrent itself is only for Windows and Mac systems right now, but this extension can be used anywhere Chrome extensions are allowed.


What extensions have made their way into your must-have list, or just your Chrome taskbar for now? Tell us, and link, your favorite finds in the comments.




18 Extensions Worth Downloading from Google Chrome’s Gallery [Downloads]

Google’s extension gallery for its Chrome browser opened for business this morning. We've taken a look around the offerings—most of them, anyways—and pulled out a few picks that deserve a spot in your formerly pristine browser.

Actually, rating these extensions by “worth the slowdown,” as is often the case with Firefox, doesn’t seem applicable here. Chrome renders pages just as snappily on a Linux install with eight extensions loaded, and the memory use seems not all that different. Your mileage may certainly vary.

We pulled out extensions from the gallery for highlighting that do something a bit different from widely-available bookmarklets, or at least fill a crucial need for those who use the web productively. You can disagree with our picks or tell us how blind we must be to miss a great one—do so in the comments, and if we missed a really great one, we'll update the post.

You need to be running either the Windows dev version of Chrome, the just-released Linux beta, or a daily build that supports extensions. Mac users are, unfortunately, left out of the add-on party for the moment.

Google Mail Checker: Just what it sounds like. It sits in your address bar, keeps track of your unread messages, and opens Gmail when you click it. Take note that the author states it “does not yet work well” with Google Apps mail.

RSS Subscription Extension: Puts an RSS icon in the address bar when standard feeds are detected, and delivers the feed to a reader selection page when clicked. You can add custom readers beyond the standard five using URL syntax.

Xmarks for Chrome Beta: Just like the early Chrome alpha, this extension ties Chrome into your Xmarks bookmark account, synchronizing you between Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, and across multiple profiles, if needed.

iMacros for Chrome: We haven’t had nearly enough time to discover what this cool tool is capable of, but it seems like a nice solution for anyone missing their crucial Greasemonkey scripts and other Firefox-only helpers.

Aviary Screen Capture and Picnik Extension for Chrome: We’ve already spilled some digital ink on the neat Aviary extension, but Picnik does the same type of instant web page capture—and also lets you pick a particular image from a quick list that pops down.

Flash Block and FlashBlock: Both do the basic task of turning off Flash on all web pages, until you turn it back on for all pages from that domain. FlashBlock uses a keyboard shortcut, while Flash Black has a settings dialog with a list you can edit.

AdThwart and AdSweep: As you might guess, they both block ads, though they use different blacklists to do so. We’ve previously covered AdSweep in its early days, and AdThwart looks like a fledgling sibling.

Brizzly: The helpful, time-saving, at-a-glance Twitter/Facebook client for the web integrates smoothly into Chrome. Click the button, and you get a quick read on what’s happening in your social streams, with images automatically shown and videos embedded. You can, of course, also tweet or update Facebook from here.

Google Voice Notifier, Google Wave Notifier, and Google Alerter: The first two do just what you’d think they do, but make lots of sense for services you want right away and might only occasionally check, respectively. The last is a kind of uber-notifier that checks Gmail, Wave, and Reader for new items. If you’re a heavy Reader user, you’ll obviously want to turn those pings off in the settings.

Chromium Delicious Plugin: All your recent bookmarks from the Delicious bookmark service, as well as quick saving of bookmarks from selected text/links or manual creation.

ChromeMilk: There are many, many tools that bring to-do manager Remember the Milk into your browser, but this one's notable for popping up your task list right from the address bar—and offering Remember the Milk's very slick iPhone interface as an option for pro membership owners.

LastPass: As previously mentioned, this extension fills in the gap that Xmarks’ lack of password syncing leaves on Chrome.

Fittr Flickr: Adds keyboard shortcuts, additional photo information, lightbox-style galleries, and more to Flickr photo pages, in the style of Gina’s own Better Flickr for Firefox.


What have you found that’s worth installing, and bragging about, in the Chrome Extensions Gallery? Share the links and love in the comments.




Chrome Extensions Gallery Officially Opens [Chrome Extensions]

Right after the Mac and Linux betas of Google Chrome arrived, Google threw open the doors to its Chrome extensions gallery. Jump in, browse the most popular and highly-rated add-ons, and grab something good for your new browser.

As noted, the big letdown is that these extensions don’t work on Chrome’s Mac beta, at least for the time being. On a Windows machine running the dev version, or in the Linux release, it’s a two-click install for most extensions. You can sort by popularity and rating, and see what’s being featured by the Chrome team. You can also browse by most recent uploads, but that seems like it’ll get out of hand before too long.

The obvious point of comparison is Mozilla’s Add-Ons gallery for Firefox. Notably lacking from Chrome’s gallery is RSS feeds for search terms and popular/recent categories. On the other hand, Chrome’s gallery seems far more friendly to multiple, big screenshots, which we all can appreciate.

Find a great app in the Chrome gallery? Tell us about it in the comments. We’re definitely taking a look around, and taking suggestions, for more coverage.






An Early Look at Chrome’s Extensions System [Extensions]

It’s not officially released, but a gallery-like site for extensions has made itself known into the latest development builds of Google Chrome for Windows and Linux. Take a peek at what’s coming, presumably very soon, in these development screenshots.

The Download Squad blog was the first to notice the new new thing in Chrome—namely, a jigsaw-like page corner in Chrome's new tab page, next to a message at the bottom that reads "New! Chrome now has bookmark sync and extensions!", with both the message and the corner piece linking to chrome.google.com/extensions

I saw the same link appear in the extensions page on my copy of Chromium, from a nightly build Ubuntu repository. Clicking that link, however, re-directs you to Google’s home page. But as many are guessing, Chrome/Chromium wouldn’t push out a new link to leave sitting dead for too long, so we’ll keep watching that page to see when a full-fledged gallery pops up.

TechCrunch’s MG Siegler dove into Chromium’s Code Reviews section, and finds screenshots and discussions indicating that Chrome’s extensions will be able to add icons to Chrome’s top toolbar, inside the address bar, and in the bottom-right status bar, and that developers will also be allowed to customize items such as Chrome’s new tab page. Right out of the gate, developers are also indicating extensions from Google itself tied to its Maps, News, and a Gmail checker.

Exciting stuff, and even more so if many of Firefox’s developers take notice and bring over some of the same functionality that hardcore Mozilla users could never imagine leaving behind. Top and bottom photos from TechCrunch; new tab page image from Download Squad.






Extension Manager Makes Chrome Add-Ons Less Annoying [Extensions]

If you’re running the Development (“dev”) builds of Google Chrome and have already jumped in with a few extensions, like Xmarks’ bookmark syncer, recent builds give you a more convenient way to monitor and remove those add-ons.

Type extensions into a new tab, and you’ll see something similar to the screen above. Reloading and uninstalling extensions that aren’t quite helpful is certainly useful, but the buttons on the right-hand side could be a bit better explained. This is, of course, an early version of a tool stuffed into a development channel release, so we’ll expect the look and feel to get a bit more polished in the “stable” channel.

Intrigued and want into the add-on manager? Change your Chrome settings to use the dev channel, and tell us what you’d like to see in a blue-sky Chrome add-ons manager in the comments. [via Download Squad]






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