Your browser doesn't have to be boring

Defaults are dull (and inefficient).

a macbook in the dark, partially open, with a colorful screen
Your surroundings might be dark, bland, or uninteresting, but your browser doesn't have to be.Wesson Wang via Unsplash

You probably use your web browser daily for both work and play, but you don't have to just accept your window onto the web as it was when you first installed it. Each popular browser actually offers fairly extensive customization options you should really be taking advantage of.

Whether you want easier access to a much-used browser extension, or you've gotten tired of your browser’s default colors, you can tweak the individual interfaces of Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple’s Safari, and Microsoft Edge in numerous ways.

Customize Google Chrome

Google Chrome theme library
Even something as simple as a color change can be refreshing.David Nield

Play around with Chrome's appearance by opening the browser's menu (the three vertical dots in the top right) and choosing Settings, then Themes. You'll find a host of them—from a simple cool blue look to more elaborate designs based on space imagery—all made by other Chrome users and Google itself. Click on any theme to install it.

Next to the Themes link on the Settings tab you'll find a Reset to default button that will revert Chrome to its original look and remove the theme you've got installed. Another appearance customization is directly underneath—a toggle switch that lets you choose whether or not a "home" button appears on the toolbar.

Beyond the extensive selection of themes, however, there are only a few other customization options in terms of how Chrome looks. You can select which extensions and add-ons get shortcuts on the toolbar, though. Just choose More Tools and Extensions from the main Chrome menu, then dive into the individual options for each extension. Sometimes, you'll be able to add an extension to the toolbar by toggling it off and on again on the same screen.

Chrome also lets you drag icons around on the toolbar to reposition them. If your things start to get too crowded, drag the right-hand edge of the address and search bar further to the right—any shortcuts that get pushed out will be added to the top of the main Chrome menu, so you’ll still be able to get to them. You can also right-click on a toolbar icon to choose where it appears (and to completely remove the extension from your browser).

Customize Mozilla Firefox

Mozilla Firefox overflow menu
Too many shortcuts? Drop 'em in Firefox's Overflow Menu.David Nield

Head to the main app menu (the button with three lines in the top right), then choose Customize to change the buttons and shortcuts available in Firefox. Simply drag and drop icons from the main list to the toolbar at the top, or drag them out again to remove them. Firefox also lets you drag icons around on the toolbar to reposition them.

Drag shortcuts up to the top right to place them in what Firefox calls the Overflow Menu (the two greater-than symbols). They won't take up room on the toolbar, but will be accessible in a couple of clicks—another option if you want to keep something close at hand. To go back to the way Firefox was when you first installed it, click Restore Defaults.

To really revamp the look of Firefox, click the Themes button at the bottom, which will let you switch between the browser's built-in light and dark themes. Doing so changes the color of the toolbar, the toolbar buttons, the browser menus, the "new tab" screen, and various other bits of the browser interface.

If you select Themes and then Get More Themes, you'll find yourself in a library of thousands of themes made by Mozilla and Firefox users—get yourself a colorful background image for the tabs bar, change everything in the browser to various shades of blue, or install whatever else catches your eye in the themes gallery.

Customize Apple's Safari

Apple's Safari customization menu
Safari lets you customize both the toolbar and Touch Bar.David Nield

In Safari on macOS, open the View menu, then choose Customize Toolbar. A new panel will appear that will let you drag buttons to and from the toolbar, including those for sharing pages, opening your browsing history, and showing your most-visited sites. Any extensions you've added might have their own buttons, too.

You can also rearrange buttons on the toolbar itself—just click and drag them to a new position. At the bottom of the panel is the default set of buttons, so you can drag this up to the toolbar if you want to undo all your changes and go back to how Safari originally looked.

That's the toolbar, but if you're using a more recent MacBook Pro, you'll be able to customize the Touch Bar above the laptop keyboard as well—it's the Customize Touch Bar option on the View menu. Again, use the trackpad (or your mouse) to drag buttons on or off the Touch Bar. Share, New Tab, and Home are some of the options you'll see.

You don't get many other options when it comes to customizing Safari's appearance—you're pretty much stuck with what Apple gives you. Still, the View menu does let you show or hide various bits of screen furniture (like the status bar that displays URLs as you hover over links), and you can tweak a few other settings (such as the number of sites on the Top Sites page) if you head to Safari Preferences by choosing Preferences from the Safari menu.

Customize Microsoft Edge

Microsoft Edge options
The new version of Edge is still in development, but two themes are available.David Nield

The new Edge, built on Chrome, is still in beta development, but it already has a few customization options. Click the menu button (three dots in the top right), then choose Settings and Appearance. From here, you can switch between the light, dark, and system (default) themes, and choose whether or not a "home" button appears on the toolbar.

As yet, there's no option to browse other themes, but because the latest version of Edge is based on the same code as Chrome, this option could appear in the near future. Developers should find it easy to port their extensions over from Chrome, too.

When you add a new extension to Edge, a button for it appears by default on the toolbar (if the add-on needs one). Right-click any of these icons and choose Move to the menu to do just that—the shortcuts won't take up space on the toolbar but will still be easily accessible via the Edge menu (the three dots).

You can also drag extension icons around to reposition them on the toolbar, and drag the right-hand edge of the address and search bar further to the right to push these icons out to the menu. Right-click a shortcut icon in the Edge menu and you'll be able to reinstate it by choosing Move to the toolbar.