Google Reader and Gmail are two of the most customizable Web apps available today. Need a different inbox layout? Sure thing. Want to change the colours or visual density? No problem. Still, some interface elements, like the Google Bar at the top of the window, will never go away, no matter what you do. If you wish they did, try free Google Chrome extension Minimalist for Everything.

Using user-side JavaScript and CSS (cascading stylesheets) to customize websites is not a new idea. Greasemonkey and Stylish have been around for years, and some browsers now support user styles and user scripts natively. There are many such scripts and styles, each letting you tweak a certain website or group of websites. But they are not easy to customize: For example, the dark Tumblr stylesheet turns the Tumblr control panel dark, but it comes with just that particular colour scheme. To configure it, you need be familiar with CSS, and then unpack and edit its compressed code. Not something most of us do for fun. See all: PC Advisor software downloads.

Minimalist for Everything brings a new level of refinement to the scene. Instead of an all-or-nothing proposition, now you can decide how much of a user style you want to apply. The add-on ships with modules for Google Reader and Gmail, which you can use turn on and off bits of the interface without writing any code. For example, maybe you want to hide Google's legal disclaimer from the footer, or maybe you want the Gmail search bar, but not the search button. Just find the right checkbox, tick it, and you're done. The interface is very friendly, and it's easy to find just the part you want to hide.

But what if you hide the top Google bar, only to discover you do use it now and then? No problem--hover over the top of the window and click the grey bar that appears: The Google bar will pop down. The two styles that ship with Minimalist for Everything contain many such collapsible elements, ideal for netbook computers and small displays.

To get this level of flexibility, user stylesheets and scripts need to be written specifically for the Minimalist for Everything add-on. If you're not a Web developer, you will probably just use the two modules that ship with the add-on. But if you are familiar with CSS and JavaScript, you can use the add-on's built-in tools for authoring new modules. There are no built-in debug facilities yet so writing the right CSS selectors can be tricky, but it took me about five minutes to create a module that selectively hides elements from the YouTube sidebar.

You can also use Minimalist for Everything to install "regular" user styles, but then you don't get the level of configuration the add-on can offer for its own modules.

Minimalist for Everything: Specs

  • Macintosh OS X, Microsoft Windows 7, Microsoft Windows Vista, Microsoft Windows XP
  • Google Chrome
  • Macintosh OS X, Microsoft Windows 7, Microsoft Windows Vista, Microsoft Windows XP
  • Google Chrome

OUR VERDICT

The biggest missing piece in the Minimalist for Everything puzzle is an online repository that would let users exchange modules. Such a website would surely foster a thriving community of modders and customizers. Until that happens, Minimalist for Everything remains a powerful way for Chrome users to unclutter Google Reader and Gmail.

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