Browser extensions enhance the experience of trawling the Internet. A handle can save you time, money and sanity, while protecting your security and privacy.
Everyone has their favorite add-ons. And as you’d expect, PCWorld staff favorites tend to overlap. For example, my colleague Mark Hachman’s list of the 5 best Edge extensions is a kind of overview of my own range.
But while you’ll see the same themes appear, my actual choices differ. There are plenty of choices on this planet, which means you can customize your experience to suit your needs and interests. Mine revolves around web safety, finding deals, and not letting social media get the best of me. (None do my part here, but if you need to protect your traffic from prying eyes, also check out our list of the best free VPNs for Chrome.)
Oh, and Edge users, you can join this party too. Most of them exist as native Edge add-ons, but you can also install them from the Chrome Web Store.
Ads are an unfortunate vector for Internet diseases, i.e. viruses, malware and exploits. You can stay safe on the web by installing an ad blocker, which cuts off that route for malicious activity. Combine it with direct support for the sites you love, for example, a subscription or a recurring donation, and everyone is better off in the end.
Using an ad blocker also improves your browsing experience. Your computer may feel sluggish or sluggish due to the time it takes to fully load a website’s advertisements and additional scripts. Without ads, the sites appear quickly and also look elegant and refined.
You still retain great flexibility over what gets filtered. Can’t afford to donate money to a site? You can add them to an allowlist so their ads will always show. You can also fine-tune the settings to allow certain tracking sites to load, which may be necessary for newsletter links or search engine shopping suggestions to work.
The strength of uBlock Origin is that compared to rivals like Adblock Plus, it actually blocks everything ads. (ABP allows some “non-intrusive” advertisements to pass.) It also has less impact on your system resources. I switched from Adblock Plus years ago and haven’t looked back since.
(Note: If you’re looking for this extension, be sure to find one created by Raymond Hill for Chrome and Nik Rolls for Edge. Beware of similar options.)
Facebook can drive a person crazy, especially when you’re only on the service because of certain people or engagements. Social Fixer makes the experience much more tolerable. You no longer need to browse what the algorithm feeds you – this extension puts you in control of what content appears on your feed. (Yeah!)
Want to hide posts based on keywords? Easily done. Tired of seeing “people you may know” or “suggested posts”? Gone in the blink of an eye. Want to filter posts by content, author, or something else? Absolutely possible.
You can also customize the interface, force Facebook to list posts in order of most recent, make timestamps show as exact dates, and remove all interactive fields so you can browse without accidentally commenting or liking. a publication, among other things. The result is a neatly curated stream free of endless politics, spoilers for TV shows and movies, incessant messages spouting about a significant other, or anything else that drives you up a wall. You can also save yourself from your worst tendencies and not comment on things that you know will trigger fights. (I’m speaking purely hypothetically here.)
The best part? Developer Matt Kruse is constantly working to keep up with Facebook’s changes and add even more features. And these efforts are completely free – you’ll only see a small donation request when you first install it.
I’m listing Bitwarden here because their free service is great and their premium features only cost $10 a year, but really, you can trade in any password manager. LastPass, Dashlane, 1Password and other services also offer browser extensions. Heck, even KeePass has browser extension plugins.
Browser add-ons play a huge role in how well a password manager fits into your life. With one installed, you don’t need to log into the service’s website and search for the necessary entry, or manually type in that information while looking at a phone app. Instead, the extension recognizes the site you’re on and can autofill your credentials. You can also easily create new passwords on the fly or change existing ones.
Backing up your password vault is also a breeze. Simply configure the extension to automatically lock after a certain period of time, with a password or your full password needed to regain access. This reduces the likelihood that someone borrowing your PC (or someone gaining remote access without your knowledge) could wreak havoc on your digital life.
Many excellent browser extensions exist for creating watch parties, including my previous pick, TwoSeven. But these days, I don’t attend watch parties as often anymore, which makes my subscription to TwoSeven pointless, especially since Netflix Party has become Teleparty.
Teleparty works with Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, and Amazon Prime, which has ample coverage for the occasional movie night or highly anticipated series release. It also offers a simple interface that lets you watch directly, with support for up to 1,000 users in a single game. You simply connect to your streaming service of the day, like everyone. Then, to start a game, you click the red TP button on the extension next to the address bar and share the generated link. (Don’t see the Teleparty icon? You may need to pin it to the Chrome toolbar first.)
The extension has its limits. The choice of people authorized to control playback must be defined before creating a party. You cannot change the setting after the room is created. Refreshing the page also kicks you out of the room, and you’ll need the direct link to get back there. (I sometimes miss TwoSeven’s reusable surveillance party rooms.) But it works great, that’s all you can really ask for from a free service.
(Bonus tip: Want Netflix to stream in 4K on a watch party? Use Edge. Cross-browser parties are supported, so your friends can still be in Chrome.)
This expansion is the newest addition to my lineup, and one that came as a tip from Jon Phillips, head of PCWorld. Distill.io can be used to track any changes on a website, which is extremely useful for keeping up to date with price changes on hard-to-track items. (Its developers even promote it to this effect on their website.)
Prior to this, my bargain hunting system had nothing in the way of direct tracking. Instead, I scoured crowdsourcing sites like Slickdeals and /r/buildapcsales, followed Twitter accounts and joined Discord servers, and waited for alerts to come to my phone. Distill.io reduces this work, as well as the delay in jumping on a deal. I haven’t needed to use it often, but it has added one more tool to my arsenal. And with inflation currently taking its toll on prices, I imagine I’m not the only person using all the tricks in the book to save money.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on April 19, but has been updated to include a link to our new story of the best free VPN for Chrome.