Google helpers: 9 downloads to tweak Chrome, Gmail, and more

Customize and improve on Google's e-mail, apps, searches, and more with these free and affordable add-ons and utilities.

Like everyone else on the Internet, you likely use one or more of Google's many services, from search to Gmail to Google Calendar to Google Docs. And like plenty of other people, you probably have wished that these services could do even more, or that you could make them run exactly the way you wanted.

Your wish is our command. We've rounded up some great downloads that give you power over Google. You'll be able to tweak Gmail in different ways, get Outlook and various Google services to work well together, manage your Netflix queue from inside Google Chrome, and plenty more. And all except CompanionLink are free.

(For links to all of these downloads in one convenient place, see our "Google Helpers" collection.)

Use Thumbnails in Google Searches

Google may be a superb search tool, but it fails to give you one important feature: the ability to see thumbnails of all your search results at a glance, so that you can quickly decide which are most relevant. With SearchPreview for Google, you can do just that. Install this free Chrome extension, and whenever you do a search, you'll see thumbnails of every search result.

Note that SearchPreview works well with Google's built-in preview, which lets you hover your mouse over the search icon to the right of a search result to see a thumbnail of the page. But Google's built-in tool doesn't show you all thumbnails at once, as SearchPreview does.

Manage Your Netflix Queue Inside Chrome

Tired of having to visit Netflix constantly to request new movies or rejigger your queue? You have a simpler way: Install the free Netflix Queue Chrome extension. Right from your Chrome toolbar, you can add DVDs to your queue, reorder your queue, see what DVDs you have at home -- in fact, just about anything you can do from inside Netflix.

Extend Android

Your smartphone these days is an an extension of your computer. But what happens when you find a Website or page on your PC that you'd like to visit on your phone later? Ordinarily you have to go through the laborious process of copying the location to an e-mail message, sending that message to yourself, opening it on your phone, and then visiting the site on your phone's browser.

Instead, use the free Chrome to Phone Chrome extension. When you're in Chrome on your PC and you find a site worth visiting on your phone, just unleash the extension; it will send the URL to your Android browser. You'll need Android version 2.2 or better on your phone, and you'll have to install the Chrome to Phone app on it as well.

Marry Google to Microsoft Outlook

Google and Microsoft may be at war, but that doesn't mean you have to be a victim. Outlook does not naturally get along with Google services such as Google Calendar, Google Contacts, and Google Docs. But downloads can induce them to work together.

For anyone who uses both Outlook and Google Docs, Harmon.ie for Google Docs is a handy tool. It's a sidebar that lives right within Outlook and lists all of your documents in Google Docs; you can get edit access to them merely by clicking. You can also upload documents to Google Docs via Outlook, search for Google documents from inside Outlook, and more.

If you want to use both Google Calendar and the Outlook Calendar, turn to CompanionLink ($40; free trial) for help. Run the software, and it automatically synchronizes the two so that you can use your combined calendar from either Outlook or Google. In addition, it synchronizes your Gmail contacts with your Outlook contacts.

Ensure Your Privacy

Google's Internet reach is extraordinary. That worries some people, who believe that the company is capable of gathering too much information about users. You might not realize that you don't need to visit a Google site in order for information about you to be sent to Google -- visit a site that uses a Google service, such as Google Analytics or Google AdSense, and your information transmits then, as well.

The Google Alarm Firefox add-on can help anyone who wants to avoid sites that might be sending information about them to Google. Whenever a site sends your information, an alarm sounds. You'll also see which Google services the site uses, as well as an aggregate of the number and percentage of the sites you've visited that send information about you to Google. The tool won't block information from transmitting, but it can warn you away from such data-gathering sites.

Improve Gmail

Like Gmail, but wish it were better? First, grab the free Firefox add-on Better Gmail 2. It brings plenty of features that Gmail lacks, adding icons that show what kinds of attachments you have, listing labels in a folderlike hierarchy, hiding Gmail's chat box, playing a sound when you get mail, and more. It's free, and it works without a hitch.

If you want to receive notifications whenever new mail arrives in Gmail, check out the free Spiffy. This lightweight app sits in the system tray, checks up to five Gmail accounts, and notifies you when messages come.

Finally, if you often search through Gmail, you'll want to get the no-cost CloudMagic extension for Chrome and Firefox. It does the seemingly impossible: It searches through your mail faster than Google's built-in Gmail search tool. It displays your results literally as you type.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Preston Gralla

PC World (US online)
Topics: Google, Freeware / shareware, freeware, software, internet, netflix, Gmail, shareware, E-Mail & Internet
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