Extensions vs Bookmarklets

I’ve been using Google Chrome since the first beta was released back in the fall of 2008, and it quickly became the default browser on my laptop. For over a year, speed and an uncluttered interface were its main selling points, as it lacked the one big thing Firefox had over it: extensions. The ability to customize and extend Firefox in ways unimagined by the Mozilla team has allowed it to become a powerful platform instead of simply a web browser. Then finally, last December, Google opened up its browser

The thing is, after using Chrome for a while, I realized that I didn’t really need – or miss – all those extensions I had collected in Firefox. Instead, I’ve found that since that I’m usually wanting to initial a search or take some sort of action on the page I’m viewing at the moment, simple bookmarklets are almost always Good Enough.1 These lightweight snippets of JavaScript sit out of the way in my Chrome bookmarks bar until needed, when each is just a click away from performing its specialized task. Best of all, since they’re just bookmarks, Chrome automatically syncs them across any Mac or PC I use.

Taking this obsession one or two steps further, I’m now experimenting with a web app called Quix that allows me to access all of my favorite bookmarklets from a sort-of command-line interface. When I need to take an action, I hit the Quix link in my bookmark bar and up pops a text prompt:

Quix Prompt

If I want to format the current page for easier reading, I can type read. To save the page for later viewing on InstaPaper, I type insta. If I’m looking at a page about a book and want to see if our local library has it available, I type odin. You get the idea.

Quix comes with a ton of commands already defined for you, covering a good 80% of what I need. The great thing is that I can define my own command file to override the default Quix commands or add my own custom ones. I’m hosting the text file as a gist on GitHub, so anyone is free to view and customize it for their own use.

There’s a lot to be said about simple solutions, and browser bookmarklets fit that description nicely.

  1. Google added extensions to Chrome late last year, and since then, the only two I use are LastPass and FlashBlock. Both offer functionality that isn’t easily duplicated using the bookmarklet model. 

2 replies on “Extensions vs Bookmarklets”

Hi! Came across this blog; liked it — could you elaborate on what can’t be done with a bookmarklet that can be done with an extension — or any sites you might guide me that are similar in nature to this blog?

A bookmarklet can perform a single task – shorten a URL, restyle a page for easier reading, perform a search, etc. An extension is able to “plug” deeper into the browser, and can therefore have multiple functions, any of which can be more or less complex than a bookmarklet. For example, the Google Voice extension for Chrome adds these features:

  • Click on an on-page phone number to call
  • View new voice mail messages
  • Send text messages to contacts
  • Initiate new calls

So in my experience, a bookmarklet is preferable to an extension that provides the exact same functionality. It doesn’t have sit in memory and there’s no chance for it to cause crashes or compatibility issues with other extensions.

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