Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

New Chrome Release Promises to Keep Multiple Google Accounts Straight (Finally!)

The new version of Google’s Chrome helps fix an annoying problem for people who use many Google products: It understands how to keep separate Google accounts open within the same browser.

This is part of a user sign-in feature that is now part of the stable Chrome 16 release, which came out Wednesday. The main intent of the feature is to help people sync their bookmarks across multiple devices, and to separate saved passwords and extensions for multiple people who use a single computer.

(And, of course, some day these Chrome profiles may well be tied into that whole unified Google+ identity system they’re attempting to pull off.)

But, oh man, this could have a greater and more immediate effect on those of us who have personal Gmail accounts and professional Google Apps accounts.

If you use a different email provider, or prefer desktop mail clients, this may not seem quite as cathartic as it does for me.

But for those of us who maintain multiple Google Web mail accounts and use various Google services, Google seems to be perpetually confused about who we are. The various capabilities Google offers for switching accounts are constantly breaking, and when they fail, they often log users out of everything.

The solution that many people — including Google executives! — have found themselves using is to keep multiple browsers open for their different Google accounts. So, for a long time, Safari was my work mail browser, and Chrome or Firefox was for everything else.

One prominent Google exec recently admitted to me that he always has a development version of Chrome and the current release running, so he can keep his personal and professional accounts separate.

But in the new Chrome, users can configure multiple accounts. Then each new window they open, and all the tabs within it, are associated with one of the accounts.

Yesterday, after I downloaded the new Chrome, I created an “ATD” and a “personal” profile, and associated a little cartoon image with each. Now each of my browser windows has one of the icons in the top right corner. And if I open up a Google site like YouTube in an ATD window, it’s logged into that account. Then, over in a personal window, I can have a different self logged into YouTube simultaneously. Whoa!

I know I sound kind ridiculous right about now, but this used to be so hard!

Also, I should say I’m not sure how easy and natural it will be to deal with this extra identity layer. At the start, at least, it feels awkward. Maybe some keyboard shortcuts to toggle between my personas would be nice.

Here’s Google’s explanation of how to set this up:

To try it out, go to Options (Preferences on Mac), click Personal Stuff, and click “Add new user.” A fresh instance of Chrome will open, ready to be customized with its own set of apps, bookmarks, extensions and other settings. A badge in the upper corner lets you know at a glance that this new Chrome browser belongs to you, and you can customize the name and badge as you like. Clicking this badge drops down a menu of all the users on that computer, so you can easily switch between them. In addition, each user can sign in to Chrome to access their own personalized Chrome across all their computers.

A spokeswoman for Google said she didn’t know how many people have both Google Apps and personal Google accounts. However, more than four million businesses use Google Apps, and I think it’s safe to say many of their employees use Gmail, too.


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