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Simplify the Web with these free Chrome extensions

The Web doesn't have to be one-size-fits-all. Eliminate distractions from the entire Web, and you can focus on the content that suits you.

A Web page can be a busy place. Numerous elements vie for your attention. Animated banners, comment threads, buttons, and options you never use all conspire to detract from whatever you're trying to read or view. It doesn't have to be that way: Below are four free Google Chrome extensions that give the Web some breathing room. By stripping away extraneous content or highlighting what's important, these utilities will help to make your browsing more peaceful and focused.

(For links to all of these Chrome extensions in one convenient list, see our "Simplify the Web with these indispensable Chrome extensions" collection.)

FlashControl

HTML5 is slowly replacing Adobe Flash, but many websites still use Flash for videos, banners, and games. Flash videos and animations consume resources, and may even make your browser unresponsive. And of course, they also move and bounce around, sometimes making it difficult for you to focus.

FlashControl offers a simple solution, allowing you to enable Flash selectively. After you install it, Flash elements show a simple static placeholder by default. Click the placeholder, and the Flash content loads and starts playing. FlashControl also lets you whitelist websites, so you can enable Flash on Vimeo, YouTube, and other sites on which it is essential.

If you wish, you can dig deeply into FlashControl's preferences: The default configuration interface is simple, with only a handful of options. Switch on the Advanced interface, and new tabs and options suddenly appear, permitting you to customize the extension as much as you want, right down to changing the placeholder color.

Readability

Even after you replace Flash objects with placeholders, sitting down at your desk and focusing on a lengthy read might prove challenging. Maybe the article has distracting banners, or the font size is too small, or you'd rather curl up in an easy chair to read the article. Readability is an elegant service that can solve all of those problems and more.

Readability's Chrome extension appears as a simple button. Click the button, and you can opt to read the article now, read it later, or send it to your Kindle. If you choose to read it now, Readability extracts just the text and images for the article and displays them on a distraction-free page with large, attractive typography. You can customize the colors, width, and font size, and even hide images and convert links to footnotes.

Choosing to read the article later adds it to your reading list, which you can access on the Readability website. And once you configure your Kindle to receive email from Readability, sending articles to read on your electronic-ink screen takes just one click.

Gmelius

Web apps can be distracting, too. Sporting numerous buttons and options you may never use, Gmail's rich interface is a prime example. To be fair, Google packs a lot of functionality into the Gmail interface, but no interface is perfect for 100 percent of its users. Gmelius is a simple Chrome extension that lets you determine which features to display, as well as how you want to use them.

Gmelius's interface consists of a long list of settings with checkboxes, but it's divided into sensible sections and gets the job done. With one click, you can hide Gmail's top bar, and toggle it back by pressing the slash key (/) when you're in Gmail. Another click moves the labels to the right side of the email line, and yet another adds icons to email threads showing the types of attachments they contain. Gmelius also permits you to remove ads from Gmail, as well as to homogenize the formatting of incoming email so that even if someone writes you a message in, say, Comic Sans, it shows up in Gmail's default font.

Magic Actions for YouTube

YouTube offers an endless supply of excellent videos, but its interface leaves much to be desired. For instance, you have no way to stop videos from playing automatically as soon as the page loads. If you want to watch a high-resolution version of a video, you must select it from the video menu each and every time. And on top of that, each page is full of distracting elements such as comments and video recommendations. Chrome extension Magic Actions for YouTube lets you fix all sorts of issues.

With Magic Actions for YouTube, you can customize just about any aspect of your interaction with the video site. You can stop videos from playing instantly as you load the page, automatically pick the highest resolution available (or a resolution of your choice), automatically use a wide player, and more. You select customizations using a simple interface that consists mainly of checkboxes.

Magic Actions for YouTube also shows up as a bar under all videos on YouTube, so you can easily access its settings and see what percentage of the current video has buffered so far. It lets you hide page sections, too--so if you don't like the comment threads on YouTube, you can make them all go away.

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