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Official and Unofficial Google Chrome Extensions

If you like Google Chrome's speed, but miss the extensibility of Firefox, you're in luck. The Chrome team announced the developer program around Chrome Extensions this week, and unveiled part of the site that will eventually serve as the official mothership for Chrome add-ons. If you can't wait until then, we've got a round-up of resources for unofficial scripts and extension that should keep you occupied until the wraps come off.

Google Chrome has been giving Firefox a run for its money in performance and stability, but Firefox still has a commanding lead in terms of features — especially when you factor in the massive ecosystem of Firefox add-ons. Google is looking to narrow that lead in the near future with the announcement of its extension gallery. The site is only open to developers to upload extensions at the moment, but you can find plenty of unofficial sites and extensions already.

What Google announced last week is the official extension gallery and a bunch of documentation on how to create your very own extension.

You might notice that the instructions on creating a Chrome instruction seem a lot simpler than creating a Firefox extension. Chrome sticks to technologies that Web developers know, and don’t require learning XUL.

The Unofficial Chrome Ecosystem

Even though Google hasn’t officially unveiled extensions, it hasn’t stopped developers from creating their own. You can find links and information about unofficial extensions on Chrome Plugins and a directory of extensions on Chrome Extensions. What will happen with these sites once Google rolls out its official directory is unclear, but for now they’re the best place to find extensions.

Google is building in its own sync for Chrome, but if you haven’t moved to Chrome full time, Xmarks is a much better solution. It’s in alpha right now, and mostly works, though I’ve seen quite a few Xmarks errors about syncing while using Chrome.

Greasemonkey Scripts

Another source of add-ons for Chrome is UserScripts.org. Some, but not all, of the scripts will work with Chrome as well as Firefox and Greasemonkey, without the need to install an additional add-on to make them work.

I tried several different scripts, with varying degrees of success. The YouTube Download script seemed to work right out of the box. I also tried the Flashblock extension and it seemed to work just fine as well.

If you’re a Wave user, you might not like the non-native scrollbars that the Google Wave team has inflicted on users. You can find a System Scrollbars for Google Wave extension on UserScripts.org. It replaces the non-native widgets with the browser scrollbar widgets, and does seem to improve performance in Wave.

Generally speaking, you should be able to find extensions to do most of what you want in Chrome, if they’re available for Firefox as well.

Installing Scripts

Installing scripts is easy. Most sites that link to scripts have an “Add to Chrome” button or similar. Clicking on that will download the script and pop up a notice in the bottom of the Chrome window that asks if you are sure you want to install the extension, with the choice to discard the script or continue the process. Sometimes a extesion will trigger a further warning, such as a notice that the script will have access to your browsing histoy (in the case of the Things to Do extension.

If you’re developing your own scripts or installing a script that doesn’t have an easy installer button, go to the extensions page and click the plus icon next to “Developer Mode” at the top of the page. Then click “Load Unpacked Extension” to and you can browse the local filesystem to find your extension. Not difficult at all.

Extensions are not immediately activated in tabs that are already open. You don’t have to restart Chrome itself to get an extension working, but you will need to open a new tab for it to be recognized.

Now is a good time to point out that you’re installing most of these extensions at your own risk. Yes, Chrome may give a warning, but there doesn’t seem to be any real review process on the extension sites. Scripts might cause Chrome to crash, or could theoretically do something behind the scenes with your data.

Getting Flash in Google Chrome

Flash isn’t an extension, of course, but I thought it might be useful to people trying Chrome on Linux for the first time. When you install Chrome, it won’t pick up on Firefox’s Flash plug-in. So you need to do two things to use Flash on Chrome — copy the libflashplayer.so file from Firefox’s plugin directory to one Chrome will see, and use the --enable-plugins option when starting Chrome.

On openSUSE, the directory you want to copy to is /opt/google/chrome/plugins — assuming you installed Chrome from the Google repository. If you got your packages elsewhere, the path may vary. You’ll need to manually create the plugins directory, and then copy libflashplayer.so to it.

After you’ve done this, start Chrome with google-chrome --enable-plugins and you should be good to go. On my system, using 64-bit Chrome and Flash didn’t work so well. Each time I loaded Chrome I’d get an error about the Flash plugin crashing. However, 32-bit Chrome and Flash run just fine, even on the 64-bit system.

Given Google’s push towards completing Chrome OS to have it ready for holiday shoppers next year, and Google’s reach with Web developers, expect to see an explosion of Chrome extensions throughout the next few months. We’ll revisit Chrome’s extensions soon with a roundup of the most useful extensions.

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