Hack & Improve - Chrome, Firefox & Edge
Computer Active UK|December 07 2016

There are thousands of secret settings and extensions that make your browser faster, safer and easier to use. Jonathan Parkyn reveals the best for Chrome, Firefox, Edge and Internet Explorer.

On the surface, web browsers might seem like fairly simple programs. Unlike, say, a photo editing program, which may provide dozens of advanced tools for the clever manipulation of images, browsers only really do one thing: display web pages.

In actual fact, most web browsers are doing some pretty complicated things under the bonnet in order to load and display pages quickly and safely, without putting too much strain on your PC’s resources. Some browsers are better at this than others. But we’re not here to stoke the fires of yet another browser war – Microsoft, Google seem more than capable of that without our help, if recent boasts from Google and counter-boasts from Microsoft about their respective browsers are anything to go by.

Instead, we’re going to show you how to radically improve your web-browsing experience with a selection of tweaks and hacks designed to boost your browser’s speed, security and general usability – whichever one you use. Some of our hacks involve adding extensions that unlock brilliant new features, while others involve tweaking advanced settings that fix shortcomings or improve performance. Most browsers also include little-known ways to enable experimental new features and technologies. We’ll be showing you how to take advantage of all these and more.

So, whether you use Chrome, Firefox, Edge or Internet Explorer read on to find out how to make your browser brisker, safer and better than ever.


1 Close tabs and windows faster

Chrome offers a number of hidden cutting-edge features, known as ‘flags’, which can improve performance, add new abilities and more. To access these, type chrome://flags into the address bar and press Enter. At the top of the page you’ll see a warning telling you – among other things – that there are no guarantees these experimental features will work as expected. We’d advise against changing settings here willy-nilly unless you’re confident you know what you’re doing. The flags we’re going to recommend all worked fine for us, but there’s a handy ‘Reset all to defaults’ button at the top, which you can click if you experience any problems.

One way to make Chrome feel instantly faster is to enable ‘Fast tab/ window close’, which kills open tabs and windows faster when you close them by terminating them in the background. It can be hard to find settings you want in the flags list, so try pressing Ctrl+F and typing keywords into the search box – in this case fast tab – and press Enter. Click the Enable link under ‘Fast tab/window close’ (see screenshot top), then click Relaunch Now to restart your browser.

2 Boost page-loading speeds

For an easy speed boost, search the ‘chrome://flags’ page for ‘Experimental canvas features’, which use opaque page elements that require less time to load. Click Enable, then Relaunch Now to restart Chrome.

You may also get a significant speed boost – at least on some websites – by enabling the ‘Experimental QUIC protocol’ flag. QUIC (Quick UDP Internet Connections) is a relatively new web protocol developed by Google that speeds up web traffic, meaning you’ll enjoy faster page-loading. Support for the protocol isn’t universal, but a growing number of websites benefit from QUIC, so it’s definitely worth trying it. Search the ‘chrome://flags’ list for it, select Enable from the dropdown menu and click Relaunch Now.

3 Generate passwords automatically

Chrome has a hidden password generator, which does away with the need for a separate password tool. It automatically detects pages on which you need to create an account, and supplies a suitably secure, randomly generated password when you click in the New Password box (see screenshot below left). To switch this feature on, search ‘chrome://flags’ for ‘Password generation’, select Enable from the dropdown menu and click Relaunch Now. There are a couple of caveats. First, you need to be signed into Chrome with your Google account in order for the feature to work. Secondly, the feature works in tandem with Chrome’s saved passwords feature.

4 Make text larger on specific sites

Chrome lets you permanently increase the text size on all websites – click the top-right menu button (three dots), Settings, ‘Show advanced settings’, then scroll down to the ‘Web content’ heading. Change the ‘Font size’ and ‘Page zoom’ settings to suit your taste. What Chrome doesn’t do is let you set specific text sizes for different websites. To do this, install the Zoom extension (www.snipca.com/22555), then right click the Z icon at the top-right and select Options. Scroll down to the All Zoom In/ Out heading, type a website’s URL underneath, then choose its zoom value in the box to the right. Click Add to confirm the change. You can also add Zoom to your right-click menu by ticking the box next to the Context Menu heading.

5 Load images faster

Here’s another way to boost speed in Chrome. Head back to the ‘chrome:// flags’ page and find ‘Number of raster threads’. In its dropdown menu, select 4 – this will increase the speed at which images are rendered. Click Relaunch Now and you should notice that images load noticeably faster than before.

6 Suspend tabs and free up memory

We all do it, but leaving lots of browser tabs open can seriously eat into system memory – especially when using Chrome, which is a memory hog at the best of times. Rather than constantly closing tabs you’re not using, though, you could use The Great Suspender to help you manage them instead. It’s a free Chrome extension (www.snipca. com/22490) that automatically suspends tabs after a period of time specified by you. Once added, click its icon, then Settings to customise this and other options. Click a suspended tab to reload it or click the extension’s icon, then Unsuspend.

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