The best Google Chrome extensions
Get more from your browser
Chrome is a fabulous browser - fast, well designed and packed with essential features - but that's just the start. Chrome's real strength is in the huge library of add-ons that give it endless new functions and abilities.
With so many options, it can be hard to find what's right for you (even searching for keywords like 'shoes' or 'fishing' return lots of hits).
That's why we've put together this list of 10 of the best Chrome extensions around. There are many more we'd like to have included, but these are a great start, and if you're looking to get more from the browser we'd try these first.
Chrome can soak up most of your RAM without a little third-party help
Session Buddy is an essential extension which gives you complete control over your tabs. When Chrome slows down, save the current session, give it a meaningful name and delete any tabs you don't need. Now you can easily restore that session whenever you like, no need to find the pages again, and often with a much-reduced impact on your system RAM.
If you prefer something simpler, there are also extensions which automatically suspend or close inactive tabs to save system resources. Take a look at Tab Wrangler and The Great Suspender to find out more.
Block out intrusive ads for faster browsing
With your tabs under control, the next way to accelerate Chrome is with a good ad blocker - and Adblock Plus is one of the best.
Installation is quick and easy, and the benefits are obvious immediately. Just point your browser at an ad-heavy site, the Adblock Plus icon displays a running count of everything it's blocked, and you'll probably find most pages display far more quickly.
The other major highlight with Adblock Plus is its extreme configurability. Whether you just want to prevent the extension running on a particular site, maybe to avoid causing problems, or you'd like to use a completely new set of ad blocking rules, the Options dialog has tools to help. All we'll say is that most websites rely on advertising to keep going so maybe think about disabling adblockers on friendly sites like TechRadar!
Weak passwords are a serious security risk. LastPass is the solution
It's no secret that using secure passwords everywhere is a vital part of staying safe online, but when something like gLR6@z!kklEc is so difficult to remember, it's tempting to use 123456 everywhere instead.
LastPass solves the problem by creating a different strong password for every site, storing it locally in an encrypted vault, and automatically filling web forms and logins as required. You just need to remember a single master password, and LastPass takes care of almost everything else on its own.
Even better, LastPass backs up and syncs your passwords across other devices. The free version only syncs with devices of the same type (desktops, tablets or phones), but the US$12 (about £9.20, AU$16) per year premium account syncs with all your devices of any type, and adds support for desktop application passwords and password sharing.
Grammarly for Chrome
Make sure your spelling and grammar are up to scratch when posting online
It's easy to make spelling mistakes online, and although most people won't care, you'll still create a much better impression if you can avoid them whenever possible.
Grammarly is an excellent extension that checks your spelling on social networks, forums, Gmail and just about anywhere else you type online.
What makes the system particularly smart is it doesn't simply highlight spelling errors (theyre), but also picks up when words are used incorrectly (there car had been stolen).
There's nothing to set up or configure. Just type as usual, Grammarly underlines any problem text in red, hovering a mouse cursor displays more details, and clicking a suggested correction fixes the problem right away.
Save to Pocket
No time? No problem! Save interesting snippets to read later
It's the first rule of the web: no matter how much time you spend online, there's always more you'd like to check out, and that generally means a pile of bookmarks to check out later.
Save to Pocket makes life easier by allowing you to save web pages, links, images, files and more to a central list, then automatically syncing the results across all your devices.
It's a great system for web research. Whether you're adding pages or links on your phone, tablet or desktop, they're immediately available for browsing on any of the others.
Give your self-control a helping hand by blocking online time-sinks
It's a familiar problem. You've launched Chrome, ready to start work on a pile of important tasks - yet somehow you've still managed to spend the last 30 minutes browsing Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
StayFocusd helps by limiting access to your choice of the most time-wasting websites. They're not blocked entirely, but your access is rationed, and once you've used up your time allowance the sites can become unavailable for the rest of the day.
While this might sound a little drastic, Stayfocusd is easy to configure to suit your needs. You don't have to restrict entire domains, for instance - the extension can also limit access to subdomains, paths, pages or content types (such as video).
Chrome Remote Desktop
Use Chrome to control multiple Windows devices from afar
If you're a Chrome fan then you probably already run it across multiple devices, and are used to it syncing your bookmarks, passwords, history and more.
Chrome Remote Desktop takes the process to the next level by enabling you to remotely access and control any one of your Chrome devices from the other.
Once you've set up the system, all your online devices appear on a list. Go to your tablet, choose your PC, enter a PIN (for security) and the Windows desktop appears. You can then open files, launch, run and control programs as though you were sitting in front of the other computer.
Magic Actions for YouTube
A host of extra tools to transform YouTube into the ultimate video player
There are so many YouTube extensions around that it's hard to stand out from the crowd, but Magic Actions for YouTube has managed it with one simple strategy: piling on every feature you could ever need.
The extension can improve the core site by blocking autoplay, hiding ads, customizing elements like comments or hiding many of them entirely.
Smart playback tools include multi-range looping, a simple auto-replay option, and instant volume control by spinning your mouse wheel.
The functions keep coming with a speed booster to improve performance, one-click snapshots to save video frames, ratings previews for related videos, 40 stylish colour themes, and more.
Manage your to-do list in your browser - no sticky notes required
Todoist is a very popular to-do list and task manager, just what you need to get your life organised and stay on track. It only takes a moment to enter a few basic items (like 'get milk' or 'phone Steve') but this excellent extension has much more to offer.
You can split items into subtasks, set due dates (which can also be recurring), assign colour-coded priorities, discuss tasks, assign them to other people, and get notifications when anything important changes.
A handy option to save URLs as tasks means Todoist also doubles as a web research tool. Save your news articles, Wikipedia pages and academic journals, and they're all neatly organised for convenient viewing later.
Always find the best prices and cheapest deals when shopping online
So, ahem, we built Pricehawk ourselves - we think you'll like it! It's designed to be your smart shopping companion - so whenever you land on a shopping page at Amazon, for example, it will give you a nudge if that same product is available cheaper elsewhere. It's designed to always find you the cheapest deals from trustworthy retailers, saving you both time and money. It also has a search function so you can find other products and instantly jump to the cheapest price currently available!
Pricehawk is currently in beta and works best with tech and games products in the US, UK, Canada and EU, but it will soon work with other product categories and in other territories so stay tuned for regular updates!
Best free photo editing software
The best free photo editor
With phone cameras now ubiquitous, we're taking and sharing more photos than ever. But even the best phone camera is likely to produce a dud or two, and even the best shot could stand to be better.
Photo editing, then, shouldn't be the sole reserve of those who can afford to stump up the cash for a subscription to Adobe's Creative Cloud. And no, Microsoft Paint or Apple Preview won't cut it: you deserve more than mere cropping or a few sliders to tweak.
So we've overhauled our list for 2016, and selected the very best free photo editors you can download, ranging from fully-featured Photoshop clones to simple, easy to use ways to add filters and effects to your favourite snaps. These are by no means the only free options, though; if we've missed one of your favourites, let us know in the comments below.
Silly name, exceptional photo-editing software
The elder statesperson of free photo editing, GIMP is the most full-featured cross-platform Photoshop competitor going, and gets our vote as the best free photo editor.
It's not without its crashes and glitches – that's the too-many-cooks open source development philosophy in action – and it lacks the polish of its commercial rivals. Some of the filters, in particular, seem as if they haven't been touched since it was first released 20 years ago.
That said, if you're looking for a desktop free photo editor ready for just about any task, GIMP is it. Its interface will be immediately familiar to Photoshop users, particularly if you switch on the highly recommended single window mode, and it's still in active development, so new features and filters are regularly added.
There's also a plug-in repository to extend Gimp's range (although it's not been updated for a while). We'd recommend grabbing the stable version, but don't overlook the development build if you want to try some new features.
Basic photo editing with layers, filters and plug-ins
Sometimes it pays not to be overloaded with bells and whistles. Paint.NET's simplicity is one of its key features; it leaves it a fast, easy to operate free photo editor that's perfect for those little tasks that don't need the sheer power of GIMP.
Don't be fooled by the name, though. This isn't just a clone of Microsoft's ultra-basic Paint – though it was originally intended to replace it. It's a proper photo editor, just one that lands on the basic side of the curve.
Interface-wise it's reminiscent of its namesake, but as it's grown Paint.NET has added essential editing tools like layers, an undo history, a raft of filters, numerous community-created plugins, and a 3D rotate/zoom function that's useful for recompositing images. Yes, it's lacking in certain areas, but if your machine is lacking in power or RAM we can't think of a better choice.
A simple, unusual editor that can handle more than just photos
PhotoScape is, ostensibly, a rather simple free photo editor. But one glance at its main menu reveals a wealth of features: RAW conversion, photo splitting and merging, animated GIF creation, and even a rather odd (but useful) function with which you can print lined, graph or sheet music paper.
The meat, of course, is in the photo editing. PhotoScape's interface is among the most esoteric of all the apps we've looked at here, with tools grouped into pages in odd configurations. It certainly doesn't attempt to ape Photoshop, and includes fewer features.
We'd definitely point this towards the beginner, but that doesn't mean you can't get some solid results. PhotoScape's filters are functional and not at all beginner-like, so it's if good choice if you need to quickly level, sharpen or add mild filtering to pictures in a snap. Steer clear of the rest of the tools, though: you'll find better elsewhere.
4. Google Nik Collection
A professional-level filter selection, now made free
Google's unending determination to corner just about every market sometimes pays dividends for the pincher of pennies. Take its purchase of German developer Nik in 2012, for example - its Nik Collection photo editor plugin range retailed for US$500 at the time, and in early 2016 Google decided to do away with the price tag and release the powerful collection for free.
We suspect support and updates might be somewhat limited going forward, but this does enable you to bag seven quality photo-editing tools as-is: lens and film emulator Analog Efex; colour corrector Color Efex; monochrome converter Silver Efex; noise reducer Dfine; selective colour tweaker Viveza; and Sharpener and HDR Efex, which speak for themselves.
These are perfect free plugins if you're already using Photoshop, and you can add them to compatible host applications when you install them, but they can also be run as standalone photo editors if you hunt down their executable files. They won't appear in your list of Windows apps - you need to look in C:\\Program Files\Google\Nik Collection. To edit a photo, drag it onto the EXE file of your chosen editor. It's a strange system, but it works!
High-end photo editing – and quick filtering – in your browser
An ad-supported online photo editor, Pixlr comes in two flavours: Editor, the more equipped package; and Express, perfect for applying quick fixes without the bloat of the bigger package. It's actually the online editor we tend to gravitate towards, both because of its clean, modern dark interface and because of its efficiency even on systems without much processor muscle.
Some of Pixlr Editor's tools, particularly the filters, can be a bit tricky to use because you're not given a proper preview, but the results – when you do eventually get the sliders right – are almost always satisfactory.
With support for layers, masks, and a fullscreen mode which means it might as well be a full-on desktop app, Editor (pictured) is a consistently pleasant tool to use. And don't discount Express; a bit of low-effort clicking can really make a huge difference to your photos.
Overall photo enhancement in an easy-to-use package
Fotor is a photo enhancer first and foremost, more than it is a photo editor; if there's specific area of retouching you need doing with, say, the clone brush or healing tool, you're out of luck. But it includes a stack of high-end filters that really do shine.
There's a foolproof tilt-shift tool, for example, and a raft of vintage and vibrant colour tweaks, all easily accessed through Fotor's clever menu system. You can manually alter your own curves and levels, too, but without the complexity of high-end tools.
Fotor's most brilliant function, and one that's sorely lacking in many photo editing packages, is its batch processing tool – feed it a pile of pics and it'll filter the lot of them in one go, perfect if you have a memory card full of holiday snaps and need to cover up the results of a dodgy camera or shaky hand.
Give your photos a quick, classic film look
Instagram, eh? Not only has it been an inexplicable social media hit, it's created a love of fancy photo filters the world over. For that classic vintage look on Windows you can't do much better than free photo editor Vintager, a haven of filters, borders, layers and lens-glint bokehs to make your hastily-fired shots seem like they were meant to look that way.
It looks simple on the surface, with a straightforward interface which gives you quick access to filters and overlays, but there's a bit more muscle in here. You can adjust highlights and shadows, muck about with the colour balance of your shots, and even dive into curves and levels. There's also a very handy photo collage mode in which you can compile up to five individually tweaked shots into a single whole.
Vintager is probably not going to be your primary photo-processing tool – there are others which do all this and more besides – but for a dead simple way to add flair to photos before uploading them there's not much better.
8. Sumo Paint
Powerful in-browser editing, but fewer tools than we'd like
Sumo Paint is powerful, no doubt about it. It's a full-featured photo editor that sits in your browser, with various artistic tools and paintbrushes thrown in for good measure. Perhaps its range of polygonal shapes and symmetry tools won't suit being plastered over your photographs, but it's high on the list of options if you're looking more on the creative end of things.
There are sacrifices to be made, though. Notably the appropriately sumo wrestler-sized ads that eat up your screen space, and the slight performance hit you'll get from running it in-browser. If you want to get rid of the ads or run it on your desktop, stump up for a US$4 (about £3, AU$5.) subscription.
An image-viewer with added batch editing and conversion
Tiny, speedy and relatively unique, IrfanView does things that others don't. Utterly free in the classic, non-laden-with-adverts sense, it's predominantly an image viewer. Given its compact size it's perfect in that role, launching quickly and unfussily and making it easy to flick through a stack of snaps quickly. But it's not limited just to showing you your pictures. IrfanView does batch processing and format conversion very well – we keep it around for that reason alone.
It's also useful for screen capturing, and includes support for Adobe Photoshop filters. That means you can use it as a host for, for example, Google's Nik Collection, or any other free filters you might find. Its direct editing tools are reasonably limited and the internal filters aren't particularly stellar or exciting, but give it a try and we're sure you'll find your own reason to keep IrfanView installed.
10. On1 Effects 10 Free
Selective filtering for advanced photo effects
The 'free' suffix offers some indication of what you're getting here: On1 Effects 10 Free is a cut-down version of On1 Effects 10 proper, pulling out just a limited selection of its filters. But we're still happy to recommend it, mainly because of its methodology.
Instead of being forced to apply an effect to a full image, you can use On1's Perfect Brush tool to smear that effect on the areas you're interested in enhancing, which is a great way to create a unique look. Its quick mask and refine brush tools also make masking off areas of your image particularly easy, so you can make elements pop.
Essentially this is an taster for the full version, but its diminished filter range – HDR, vignette, vintage, glow etc – is still useful and worth trying if you're after vibrant effects; you'll have to try another program for sharpening, blurring and noise reduction, so On1 Effects Free isn't great if you want to preserve the honesty of your photos.
We've seen a major move in the antivirus world this morning, as Avast has acquired AVG for the princely sum of $1.3 billion (around £1 billion, AU$1.7 billion).
Both companies were founded in the Czech Republic and are famous for their freebie antivirus offerings – with the obvious expectation being that Avast will be able to strengthen its protection due to bringing AVG's expertise on board.
For its part, Avast says that the acquisition will give it further 'technological depth' and wider geographical coverage, along with improved organisational efficiencies. The company also mentioned pushing forward with security for the ever-expanding Internet of Things – a market which will indeed need security in spades.
The new merged company will cover some 400 million devices, 160 million of which will be mobile devices.
The acquisition is based on Avast forking out $25 per share in cash – a 33% premium over AVG's closing share price yesterday – and has been approved by the boards on both sides. It will now be subject to the usual regulatory and shareholder approval.
Vince Steckler, CEO of Avast, noted that the move will "put us in a great position to take advantage of the new opportunities ahead, such as security for the enormous growth in IoT." He added: "We will use a combination of the brands, and will be blending the two brands as we know there is strength associated with the two brands in different markets."
Gary Kovacs, chief executive of AVG, commented: "As the definition of online security continues to shift from being device-centric, to being concerned with devices, data and people, we believe the combined company, with the strengthened value proposition, will emerge as a leader in this growing market."
Consumers aren't loyal to established brands in the main, and are more than happy to use so-called 'disruptive' technologies from new startups if they're convenient and save them time – and indeed plenty of time is being saved by these sort of apps and tools according to a new study.
The research, commissioned by Rackspace, found that UK consumers are using disruptive apps (on phones and computers) or online services to make an average of 2.2 hours' worth of time-savings per month.
Across the whole country, that amounts to over 51 million hours saved every month (given that 46% of respondents said they'd saved time, and applying that percentage to the total adult population).
The survey found that the main advantage of these disruptive apps and services was cited as convenience (which 51% of respondents said), and also time-savings (45%), with these concerns being way ahead of saving money (25%).
Those questioned were also asked what their priorities were when it came to choosing which apps or online tools to employ, and 66% of respondents said that ease-of-use was their top priority. 54% plumped for time-savings, and slightly more this time – 47% – went for monetary savings.
Don'ts for disruption
What were the biggest turn-offs putting folks off adopting freshly unleashed disruptive apps? The top bugbear here was security on 36%, closely followed by data privacy worries on 33%, and then the simple lack of storage space to be installing software was the third biggest concern affecting 24% of those surveyed.
So the smaller your app, and the tighter your privacy and security controls, the better.
And as for brand loyalty, 68% of respondents said they felt no loyalty to the big-name established players, when it came to switching to other more convenient apps or online services.
Darren Norfolk, UK Managing Director of Rackspace, commented: "Thanks to the sharing economy and a boom in machine learning and cloud capabilities, many industries have seen disruption in recent years – with more expected in the near future.
"With brand loyalty a thing of the past, legacy brands are even more ripe for disruption than they might believe. This means that they must build in some of the same convenience and time saving factors that startups are creating, or risk being disrupted – or even put out of business entirely."