Chrome is one of my favorite Google products. Google got a few core, basic principles right in its design, and instead of becoming bloated over time like most software, Chrome remained svelte, secure, and very, very fast. That doesn’t mean Chrome can’t be customized. There are countless add-ons in the Chrome Web Store, many of which work well without adding bloat.
But today I’d like to discuss a different sort of customization – a feature built right into Chrome letting you play with experimental, useful, and potential unstable features and changes to Chrome itself. It’s called Chrome://flags.
Careful, These Experiments May Bite
Those are Google’s words, not mine. As soon as you type chrome://flags into your Chrome address bar (or “omnibar” as some call it), you’ll be greeted with this warning, and an additional paragraph of text that bears repeating here. Seriously, take a moment to read this:
WARNING These experimental features may change, break, or disappear at any time. We make absolutely no guarantees about what may happen if you turn one of these experiments on, and your browser may even spontaneously combust. Jokes aside, your browser may delete all your data, or your security and privacy could be compromised in unexpected ways. Any experiments you enable will be enabled for all users of this browser. Please proceed with caution.
A side effect of this stability is that if you’re reading this post a year (or even a month) after it was written, chances are you’ll have new flags in chrome://flags which I don’t have, and that some of the flags I discuss below may not be available in your setup.
Right under the scary warning, you’ll see a list of experimental “flags”, or features you can enable in Chrome. Many of them are quite technical-sounding and have to do with Chrome’s innards in ways that may not immediately be apparent to the user, but they’re all carefully explained. Let’s look at a few of the more interesting ones available right now.
This one is rather unhelpfully described as “Enables the “Action Box” experimental toolbar UI”. When enabled, the bookmarking star on your omnibar goes away, to be replaced with a plus symbol leading to a small menu of page actions:
The “Send this page to your mobile device” functionality worked well when I tested it, instantly popping up a menu showing my Android tablet and phone. With one more click, I was able to send the page to my phone – not bad! “Share this page” is somewhat less useful for me, because it doesn’t include an option to email the page. Still, definitely an interesting change.
Add Grouping To Tab Context Menu
This one “adds items to the tab context menu for grouping tabs“. It basically adds a couple of useful entries to the tab context menu:
These lets you quickly select a group of tabs and drag them all together to a new window. On a side note, you can select multiple tabs even with no experimental flags enabled, simply by holding down the Control key and clicking them in order.
There are Chrome extensions that let you enable smooth scrolling (i.e, the same kind Opera has had for ages), but this experimental flag lets you do it without installing any extension. It just worked, for me.
These days, many users are logged into Chrome itself using their Google account. I don’t mean logged into a particular website, but into the browser application. This is because Chrome uses your Google account to synchronize bookmarks and other settings across multiple browsers. Well, this setting lets Chrome use this knowledge (i.e, what’s your Google account) to offer you a quick way to sign into any Google website when using your browser:
Of course, it only makes sense if you’re using Chrome on your own, permanent and secure computer. Still, it is a nice touch.
There Are More Where These Came From
Due to the temporary nature of many of these flags, providing you with a comprehensive list isn’t so useful. Many of these flags may be gone tomorrow for all we know. But one thing’s almost certain – Chrome://flags itself will still be there, and would still let you reach under Chrome’s hood to play with the latest and most interesting experiments. If you’re feeling brave, go check it out, and share any interesting settings you find in the comments!