I’ve been using Chrome for at least a decade, ever since Firefox got too bloated and slow. (Yes, there was a time when Chrome was “the fast browser.”) Now for entirely separate reasons I should switch off, or in fact, should have switched off Chrome a long time ago. But one feature kept me glued to the browser like a bad romantic match. Fortunately, Vivaldi, that intriguing, aloof newcomer in town, added it and let me give switching an earnest go.
What’s the feature? It’s the one I’ve been evangelizing for almost as long as I’ve been a Chrome user, the shortcut tool. It’s an awkward name, since you could call a bookmark or even a saved URL a shortcut. But this particular shortcut is under Chrome’s main menu > More tools > Create shortcut. And what comes next is the secret sauce in this delicious hamburger of browser usability: “Open as window.”
What this does is create a shortcut on your desktop that opens a Chrome window specifically to a single website, but that window has no user interface. No URL bar, no tabs, not even forward and back buttons. Some people think of it as “installing a web app” or “progressive web app,” because that window won’t leave the domain of the site. For example, if you use Create shortcut > Open as window on your web-based email client, you can navigate anywhere on your email interface, but the minute you click on a link to an external site, it’ll pop out into a normal Chrome window.
This tiny, innocuous little feature is absolutely essential to my daily workflow. I use it for the expanding number of websites that I treat as conventional tools — again, the nebulous term “web app” creeps into the conversation. On my Windows taskbar there are eleven permanently pinned programs, and seven of those are “Open as window” sites — Gmail for my personal mail, Outlook for work, PCWorld’s writing interface, Monday.com for project coordination, Google Docs, Google Keep, and TweetDeck. In my Start menu I have half a dozen more.
Each of these are tools that require much more focus and division than a single browser tab, which I tend to open, forget, and close en masse multiple times a day. No, when these web apps are open I generally want them to stay open and focused, somewhere across my three desktop screens. And when I’m clicking on a link that goes off of those sites, I want them to stick around, not fall into my browser history and off the back edge of my brain.
Obviously I use this in Windows, but it’s a particularly valuable feature in ChromeOS, where there’s very little difference between an application and a website (Linux and Android apps notwithstanding). Using a near-identical setup for both my enormous desktop and a $300 Chromebook is incredibly helpful. The only thing I can’t replicate is Photoshop, and even that I’ll be able to do soon.
But as I said previously, it’s long past time to ditch Chrome where possible, and that starts with Windows. Over the last couple of years I’ve tried all the big alternatives, the newest versions of Firefox and Opera, Brave, even a few more exotic Chromium-based projects. I’ve given Edge a shot, especially now that it can handle Chrome extensions. And indeed, Edge has had this feature for a while (over there it’s called “install this site as an app”), but I resent Microsoft’s heavy-handed attempts to force people onto its browser. They should have learned that lesson almost twenty years ago.
Which brings me to Vivaldi, the hot young single new to town in my increasingly tortured metaphor. Vivaldi reminds me a lot of what Firefox was back when I was in college: a browser designed with power users in mind, includes a ton of tools and options for tweaking, and it doesn’t mind one bit if you feel like adding on some more. It’s far from perfect, especially when it comes to moving tabs around, but it’s well worth checking out. For a more in-depth look at switching from Chrome to Vivaldi, check out Mark Hachman’s great write-up on the topic.
But I’m here to talk about that one particular tool I can’t live without. I’ve tried Vivaldi at least twice in the past, the most recent being about a year ago, at which point it still didn’t have that essential (for me, at least) shortcut tool. Or maybe it did, and I just didn’t dig around enough to find it: you have to right-click on the active tab, then click. Either way, it’s working, and I can replicate my meticulous collection of websites masquerading as individual apps. Huzzah!
Whether you use Chrome, Vivaldi, or Edge, I encourage you to check out this feature (which really needs a more unified and distinctive name). It might just change the way you work, for the better.
Michael is a former graphic designer who's been building and tweaking desktop computers for longer than he cares to admit. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.