New tab pages in Google Chrome with a movie theme

Discover a good movie to watch each time you open a new tab
Discover a good movie to watch each time you open a new tab

A few months ago I blogged about a new Google Chrome extension called Momentum that replaces the default Chrome ‘new tab’ page with a beautiful image that changes daily (they have since extended it with a premium version that imports todos from other applications such as Todoist).

Yesterday I received an email from David Gordillo from Noosfeer who have released a similar extension with the less snappy title of New Tab = A Movie to Watch + Watch List, which I shall refer to as NTAMTWWL.

In David’s words,

It is a Chrome extension that delights its users with movie pictures each time they open a New Tab. The more you interact with the extension, the more the recommendations will adapt to your taste.

You have also a Watch List, in which you can collect the movies you want to watch later.

The website, for the company behind it, Noosfeer, however, calls it “a content reader and aggregator.”

Movies

Unlike Momentum, which gives you the same image for 24 hours, in NTAMTWWL the image and movie recommendation changes every time you open a new tab: The Martian (2015), 25th hour (2002), We Are Your Friends (2015), Whiplash (2014).

While you can click on the little plus at the bottom of the new tab page to bookmark that movie, to watch the trailer later, I can imagine that you might easily forget or close a tab before you’ve saved that movie to your list. As I have done a few times since trialling the extension.

Suggested articles

For full functionality you need to register an account with Noosfeer—the usual suspects are available including using your Google or Facebook account.

This is where it integrates with Noosfeer’s content aggregation functionality.

The extension invites you to enter topics that you are interested in, such as technology, movies, etc. Noosfeer then provides links to articles based on your topics. They claim to tailor the articles to your likes as it learns more about you.

Bookmarks

The bookmarks link at the foot of the new tab page takes you to a list of suggested articles based on the topics you have identified, plus movies you have bookmarked, and articles that you have elected to read offline.

The extension page advises that you can synchronise with your Pocket account, but I can’t figure out how—it’s not very straight forward.

Update: It turns out that you need to sign-up for Noosfeer by logging in to your Pocket account. I was expecting that I could create an account (using Facebook) and then from within my Noosfeer account connect to my Pocket account. Simple instructions on the login page may have made this clearer.

Evaluation

Changes too often

My immediate response when looking at the new tab page was that it was attractive. Within just a few minutes I had already found a few films that I never knew about that look really interesting.

If you want to discover new films then this looks like a really ideal and unobtrusive way to do it.

However, even having used the extension for less than an hour I find the continuous change of image distracting. I imagine that if I continued its use it would affect my productivity: always demanding that I pay attention to this new movie to watch… or what about this one? Or this one here? That’s why I like Momentum: I have the delight of seeing a new image each day, but then it becomes part of the background of my day—it continues to inspire but it doesn’t distract.

I would be happy with a new film every hour or two, even one a day.

UPDATE: This has now been changed, so you can select to keep an image for 24 hours.

No 24 hours time format

One criticism I have: I would like to display the time in 24 hours format. While that may be possible, I couldn’t find how to change it. My Windows default is 24 hours format, so it’s not taking its lead from my system.

Noosfeer integration

The settings appear minimal and whisk you off to the Noosfeer website to do nothing more than select topics.

Conclusion

Having used it for just an hour I have discovered a few films that I will certainly look out for. But the continuously changing background I found more distracting than endearing. I just know the way that I work best, and I need more continuity and fewer distractions, but your mileage may vary.

To be honest, personally, I can’t imagine using this extension, as I use Feedly and Pocket almost daily for following the content and blogs that I am interested in. I don’t have room for any more.

But here is perhaps the main issue for me. I expected to be reviewing a plugin that showed different movies on my new tab page, but I’ve ended up writing about a content aggregator.

Overall, I do wonder if this extension is trying to do too much. I felt like I’d installed it under a false pretence. I was surprised after installing it. I was expecting new tabs with movie recommendations. I didn’t expect a content aggregator behind it—I felt a little duped, if I’m honest.

While this isn’t the extension for me, if you are looking for a content aggregator and love your movies then definitely check it out on the Chrome web store.

I do hope they can find a better name, though. Noosfeer New Tab, perhaps.

Beautiful Google Chrome new tab pages with Momentum

Today's new tab background in Google shows a beautiful landscape
Today’s new tab background in Google.

One of my favourite new Google Chrome extensions (plugins) is Momentum.

Momentum replaces the default Chrome ‘new tab’ page with a beautiful image that changes daily, the current time, plus an inspirational quotation, the weather, and an optional to-do list.

I never used to use the shortcuts on the default new tab page, so I find this page much nicer. It’s fun, it’s friendly, it opens really quickly (unlike other new tab replacements that I’ve tried) and it’s inspiring, not just because of the quotation at the foot of the page, but the image giving you a 24 hours glimpse into another beautiful part of the world.

Today’s image is of Geiranger, Norway, © Igor Sukma. For me it is, interestingly my colleagues who are using this extension always see an image unique to them each day, which is neat.

Check out Momentum on the Chrome Web Store.

Software removal tool fixed my problem with Chrome running slowly

Progress cursor shows an egg-timer next to a pointer
They call this progress…?

Me and Google Chrome had another falling out this week. This time it wasn’t about bookmarks but speed.

For some reason, over the last couple of days Google Chrome suddenly felt very sluggish. Whenever I opened a new tab it would take a few seconds to open and a few more to load the page—notably longer than usual.

And a similar experience after closing a tab: the cursor would change to the ‘progress’ cursor (arrow with egg-timer) for a few seconds.

Having put up with it for a couple of days I couldn’t stand it any longer.

Things I tried that didn’t fix it

  1. Running system file checker (sfc /scannow) from an elevated command prompt.
  2. Disable all extensions (chrome://extensions/).
  3. Disable all plugins (chrome://plugins).
  4. Disable hardware acceleration in settings.
  5. Uninstall Chrome, reinstall dev channel version.
  6. Uninstall other recently-installed applications.
  7. Run Malwarebytes scan (0 threats found).

One forum suggested installing the latest NVIDIA graphics card drivers. Another pondered whether it was related to the recent Windows update. Plenty of people advised switching off hardware acceleration (I’d tried that, it didn’t help).

What I tried that did

The Chrome software removal tool — still currently in beta — is a clever application that scans and removes any software that may cause problems with Google Chrome.

This application will scan and remove software that may cause problems with Chrome, such as crashes, unusual startup pages or toolbars, unexpected ads you can't get rid of, or otherwise changing your browsing experience.
This application will scan and remove software that may cause problems with Chrome, such as crashes, unusual startup pages or toolbars, unexpected ads you can’t get rid of, or otherwise changing your browsing experience.

I ran it. I waited, and hoped, and it worked! I have my whizzy Chrome back. I guess that something was corrupted.

As well as scanning for typical malware that can corrupt your installation of Google Chrome it also kindly offers to perform a ‘factory reset’ and return your browser settings to defaults.

In a way I find it curious that Google are only now offering this as a currently beta standalone application when Microsoft Internet Explorer (for all its criticism) has had this built-in for years.

I ran the software removal tool which quickly returned this dialog:

No programs found
No programs found

Nothing suspicious found. I clicked Continue and was invited to reset my browser.

Reset Chrome settings — that's what fixed things for me
Reset Chrome settings — that’s what fixed things for me

That’s what fixed it.

This is definitely another useful tool in my diagnostics toolkit. Thanks Google.

It’s a relief to have had this fixed. That said, I’ve said it before that if there were the same Trello plugins available I would move to Opera tomorrow.

Google Chrome 42’s awful new bookmark manager (and how to switch it off)

UPDATE: Friday 29 December 2017

Google have again updated the bookmark manager and this time it’s really rather good. It has the Material design but it now works the way I expect it to.

I’ve updated the blog title to make it clear that this post was referring specifically to Chrome 42.


UPDATE: Monday 22 June 2017

Google is ripping out Chrome’s awful new bookmark manager

Great news! Google have listened and the new bookmark manager that sparked so much panic and upset is being removed from future versions of Chrome.

For those who did like it, you can use the Bookmark Manager plugin.


ORIGINAL POST: Yesterday my copy of Google Chrome updated at work. It rolled over from version 41 to version 42. No big deal, I thought. Until I went to reorganise my bookmarks…

Google Chrome's new bookmarks manager
Google Chrome’s new bookmarks manager

What the…?!

To my surprise, Google Bookmarks had gone all Material.

My initial response was positive. It looks pretty. The thumbnails look like they could be useful. And I’m generally in favour of Google’s aim to standardise the look and feel of their web applications (whether Chrome OS, web-based, or Android).

But then I tried to reorganise my bookmarks.

It was a nightmare.

As silly as it sounds, I genuinely began to panic. And then started my out-loud commentary to the rest of the office about just how awful an experience it was.

My workflow

Whenever I spot something useful I quickly bookmark it to a folder called “Check out”.

Then every day or two I sort the bookmarks (A–Z) so that the sub-folders move to the top, and I can find the bookmarked page titles more easily.

Then I organise these bookmarks into 3 sub-folders:

  1. Action
  2. Keep track on…
  3. Watch or listen

I often bulk-select items with shift + click.

Truly awful user experience

But with the new, redesigned bookmarks manager this was virtually impossible to do:

  • The sort alphabetically option was missing.
  • I couldn’t bulk select a group of bookmarks: I would have to click each bookmark separately.
  • I couldn’t drag and drop bookmarks. I had to use some awful and clunky, dynamic drop-down-style interface to select which folder to move them to.

This was without a doubt the worst user experience I have encountered in a long time. It was awful. Utterly, utterly awful.

After about five minutes I gave up. Of the 40 or so bookmarks in “Check out” I had moved maybe six or seven. I didn’t have forty minutes to spare just to move bookmarks. Life is too short.

“This redesign has killed my productivity,” I complained to no-one in particular.

After seriously considering moving to another browser, I went looking for a fix… but not before writing some strongly worded feedback to Google.

This isn’t a new complaint

Negative feedback about this new, card-style design isn’t new. It goes as far back as December.

Computer World reported it on 1 December 2014 in an article entitled, Card-style display displeases users who see it pop up in their beta builds. The article notes that

when Google asked for feedback, it got a thumbs down from most users.

How to fix it

My first port of call was the Google Chrome flags page (chrome://flags). This hidden section contains settings that control experimental features of Chrome.

Sure enough, it was there, so I disabled it. Restarted Chrome and sanity was restored.

Enable Enhanced Bookmarks now set to Disabled.
Enable Enhanced Bookmarks now set to Disabled.
  1. In your address bar type: chrome://flags/#enhanced-bookmarks-experiment and hit Enter. (Or right-click that link and select Copy link address.)
  2. Change the drop down to Disabled.
  3. Restart Google Chrome.
  4. Your bookmarks manager should now be the familiar, sortable, draggable version.

Why Google? Why?!

What I can’t understand though is why—even after all that negative feedback in December during the beta phase—Google still pushed out this car crash of a design to the stable channel.

In the Google Material guidelines it says,

At Google we say, “Focus on the user and all else will follow.” We embrace that principle in our design by seeking to build experiences that surprise and enlighten our users in equal measure.

Well, that certainly surprised me. But it certainly didn’t address any of my user stories—it didn’t allow me to work productively. In fact, it did the opposite: it slowed me down, the interface got in the way of what I wanted to do.

I’m not unilaterally against a Material-style design of the bookmarks manager. But it needs to work more efficiently. Something along the lines of how files may be ordered in Google Drive would be a step in the right direction.

In the meantime, I’m sorry Google—I don’t often complain about your stuff—but in this case, after only five minutes I stopped your experiment and returned to sanity.

Matching Google Chrome’s developer tools theme to your text editor theme

Sublime Text 2
Sublime Text 2

My main coding text editor is the excellent Sublime Text 2, my favourite theme is called Tomorrow-Night by Chris Kempson, and my go-to browser is Google Chrome.

Being involved in web design I use the Chrome web developer tools all the time for debugging JavaScript, identifying HTML classes and tweaking CSS. It looks like this:

Google Chrome developer tools
Google Chrome developer tools

But as you can see from the screenshot above, the default view is rather dull: white background, uninspiring syntax highlighting. It’s a shame that you can’t match the Chrome developer tools code panel with my text editor of choice.

User StyleSheets

Well, it turns out you can! Chrome provides a “User StyleSheets” directory into what you can drop a Custom.css file.

Windows
C:\Users\%username%\AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\User Data\Default\User StyleSheets\
Mac
~/Library/Application Support/Google/Chrome/Default/User StyleSheets/
Ubuntu
~/.config/chromium/Default/User StyleSheets/

A number of people have also done the hard work for us and made available ready-to-use CSS files for various themes. These are my two favourite dark themes:

  • Tomorrow
  • Monokai (UPDATED: This version works better when editing code in the Elements tab.)

Having saved the code to your Custom.css file and saved it, Chrome updates immediately:

Google Chrome developer tools with Tomorrow theme
Google Chrome developer tools with Tomorrow theme