How to enable or disable many hidden experimental features in Chrome

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Chrome has many different options built in that could make your internet life easier, or at least more interesting. Examples of these include side tabs, preventing duplicate tabs from opening and re-focusing on the existing tab instead, different Google/Gmail profiles associated with different tabs, page pre-rendering for faster browsing, just to name a few.

Enabling and disabling these is a simple process that requires you to access the options through Chrome’s wrench menu. Watch out, though, because these options are experimental!

Before I get into this, I will state that I am running a Windows based computer, so while there are possibilities for Google OS, Mac OS and Linux to do some of these things, I personally only tested the Windows version of Chrome. There are a number of reasons why Chrome is my personal favorite web browser. It’s got a kind of simple, utilitarian style and feel to it, not to mention the solid function and reliability with modern pages. Sure, there are other browsers out there that may even be just as good, but one of the things Chrome has that some of the others don’t is the option to wreak havoc and find unforeseen fun with the built-in, hidden experimental options. That’s right, I said ‘experimental options’ and I meant it. Many people know already, but for those who do not, here’s the deal: Chrome, especially the latest version, has lots of these little options that can do all kinds of weird, neat, or even incomprehensible things. The thing is though, that these options are hidden by default when Chrome is installed, so they aren’t something that absolutely everyone knows about or uses.

The reasons to make these options hidden is largely because they are experiments to see how new ideas can work (or not) with modern web sites. As anyone who has dealt with this kind of software can tell you, experimental is a term often synonymous with words like ‘disaster’ and ‘crash’ or, my personal favorite: “Oh my god, is that smoke coming from the…?” On the other hand, some experiments actually yield good things, and in either case you still get data of some kind, which is the whole purpose of an experiment. Paraphrasing Adam Savage: “A failed result is still a result. We like data!” So, in the spirit of that statement, I set forth to fiddle with the experimental features of Chrome.

The first thing, obviously, is to make the experimental features visible so you can work with them. This is a process that was, oddly enough, not a two second find on any search engine. I had to delve a bit deeper than I would have thought to find the following instructions, cobbled together from a few different sources. To make the experimental features visible:

Step 1. Go to the Chrome web page here, and make sure you have the latest version of Chrome installed.  Before the latest version, it was necessary to go into a much more detailed and involved process that consisted of using the Chromium build (the open source basis for what Chrome winds up being) to access what is called, “Chrome Labs” which leads us to

Chrome-Experiment-Screenshot-1

Step 2. Open a Chrome window, and type (or copy+paste) the following into your address bar:      “about:flags”. Do not include any spaces, or quotes or anything.

Step 3: Hit Enter on your keyboard or press the Go button on Chrome’s address bar. You should now see a page that looks, at least somewhat similar to, this:

Chrome-Experiment-Screenshot-2

Now, take careful note of the Warning given on the top of the page. These features, while tons of fun sometimes, can also break or damage various things that you may not be very happy about. Use these things at your own risk, basically. Up to Step 3, you have not done anything that can cause problems, but Step 4 is to start exploring and trying things out. This is where bad stuff can happen but also where good stuff can happen, as is the nature of any experiment. Each of the ‘flags’ or options on this page will have a brief description of what it is supposed to do and sometimes how it’s supposed to do it. Additionally, most of them have a label telling you what operating system each feature is available for its use. Enable or disable them at your own peril but bear in mind that your usage of these things could wind up being helpful to Google in developing the latest versions. For me, the big appeal is knowing I am getting to play with these options before they become standards or before they get deleted as unworkable. It’s like being a part of the ongoing history of Chrome, and by extension (no pun intended), the Internet itself.

Chrome-Experiment-Screenshot-3

One of my favorite things to use in the experimental features is the GPU compositing and the Threaded compositing for web browsing. It took a bit more research and some plain old observation over time, but I will swear that enabling these two options has not only not crashed anything but has also sped up and smoothed out the responses I get when navigating around the Internet. Beyond that, I am still playing with many of the different options available and it looks like I will be doing so for a long time to come, especially if they keep adding more of them over time. So, now that you know what you can do and how, fiddle around (A.Y.O.R.) and of course feel free to post any results, opinions or other relevant comments here.

Until next time my friends!