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Friday, May 29, 2009

The First Google Chrome Extensions: Block Ads, Check PageRank, and Use IE8 Accelerators

Written by Sarah Perez

During the Google I/O conference this week, one of the presentations from Day 1 was on the subject of Google Chrome's extension system. The long-awaited feature will finally deliver what Firefox and IE users have had for ages: a way to add more tools, services, and additional features to the browser.

If you're playing around with one of the developer builds of Google Chrome, you can test drive this feature before it makes its public debut. Already, there are a handful of extensions available including an ad-blocker called AdSweep, a PageRank checker, and Cleeki, an extension that ports IE8 Accelerators to Chrome.

About Extensions in Chrome

According to articles from both Google Operating System and CIO, here's what we know about how extensions work in Chrome, as described during that I/O presentation:

  1. Extensions use HTML, JavaScript, and CSS so they're easy for developers to write.
  2. You don't need to restart the browser after installing an extension (hurray!)
  3. Extensions will work in all future versions of the browser. Developers won't need to update their extensions with each new release. (No more abandoned extensions!)
  4. Extensions will run as separate processes: one per extension.
  5. Extensions can appear at the bottom of the browser. During the demo, an add-on that displayed new stories from Google Reader was shown in a bar at the bottom of the browser.
  6. Google will control the look of extension buttons to keep Chrome's UI uncluttered and consistent.
  7. Google will build an extension gallery where developers can submit extensions and users can find extensions to install.

Extensions Available Now

There are already some interesting extensions under development, which you can test out now in a developer build of Chrome.


AdSweep is an add-on that hides advertising on web page you visit similar to how AdBlock works. It uses JavaScript to adjust the CSS of a page and is also available as a user script.

Page Rank for Chrome

Page Rank for Chrome (shouldn't that be "PageRank?") is a simple extension that shows the Google PageRank for the current web site.


Perhaps the most fascinating of the three, however, is Cleeki, an extension that delivers the functionality of IE8's Accelerators to other browsers, a list that now includes Chrome. Accelerators are one of the newest (and best) features in the most recent version of Internet Explorer. Available from the right-click menu, they let you quickly perform actions that would have previously required opening a separate web page (e.g. "map this," "translate this," "find on Facebook," "define this," "email this," "Digg this," etc.)

With Cleeki installed (read how to here), you can do many of those same actions, although its appearance is somewhat different. IE8 accelerators are listed in a small right-click menu, but Cleeki actually opens up a secondary window like a pop-up where you can choose from the available actions and see the results.

The size of that window may turn off some users, so it's a shame that Google Chrome doesn't currently allow for a user preference system since Cleeki is actually very customizable (size, skin, behavior, etc.). According to the Cleeki blog, there's a hacking way to customize it, but they haven't shared that info yet...perhaps they will in the future.

Developers, Write Your Own Extensions

In the meantime, while we wait for this feature to hit the public build of Chrome, developers can get cracking writing their first Google Chrome extensions. For help getting started, they should check out these sample extensions and this tutorial which demonstrates how to write a simple extension.