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Saturday, April 13, 2024

How to Use Browser Profiles to Separate Work and Play

Most of us are trying to manage a mass of logins and browser tabs, and not just multiple websites or services, but multiple accounts for work, home life, our hobbies, and more. And while, sure, you could keep dozens of tabs open or multiple windows for each purpose, consider a feature that's been long-baked into your browser that may help: user profiles.

Think of profiles as different identifies you can switch between. They gather up all the usual browsing data—passwords, bookmarks, your browsing history—and keep them in separate buckets. Perhaps the most obvious way to use them is to have one for work stuff and one for personal stuff, but there are other uses too.

If multiple people in a household share a computer, profiles are a good way to keep everyone's browsing apart. But considering how easy it is to switch from one profile to another, it's probably a better idea to use separate accounts in Windows or macOS, if you want any privacy or security there at all. But nothing's stopping you from using multiple profiles to keep things organized. 

Here's how to get profiles working in Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Mozilla Firefox. As yet, the feature isn't available in Apple's Safari.

Google Chrome

To add a new profile to Chrome, click the profile icon up in the top right corner—what it looks like will depend on how your browser is set up (it will show your current Google account avatar if you're signed in), but it's the one immediately to the left of the three dots that lead to the main Google Chrome menu.

Click Add to start the process of creating a new profile: You'll be asked to give the new profile a name, and you'll need to choose a picture from the gallery provided. You then get a brand-new Chrome window, with no history or bookmarks or anything else—it's like you've just installed Google Chrome again for the first time.

You don't have to link a Google account to this profile, but you can if you want: Just click the profile button again (top right) and choose Turn on sync. After you've signed in to your account, you can get at all the passwords, browsing history, and other data associated with this Google account. If you don't sign in, this data is simply kept locally.

The same drop-down menu lets you switch between profiles; you can also select Guest to get yourself a nice and clean Chrome window without having to make a new profile. Click the cog icon and a new dialog box appears—from here you can jump to any of your profiles, and delete any that you no longer need.

Each profile operates independently in its own Chrome window, so you can have different Gmail or Twitter accounts open in different windows, for example—just switch between them like you would any other windows on your operating system. Note that profiles are local to particular computers—Chrome doesn't sync them across devices using your Google account.

Microsoft Edge

Microsoft Edge is based on the same Chromium code as Google Chrome is, so the process of creating and switching between profiles isn't all that different. Click the profile icon in the top right corner, just to the left of the three dots—it may well be showing your Microsoft account avatar—and then choose Add Profile and Add.

You get a new window and a new profile, called simply Profile 2. Click the same profile icon as before (top right), then Manage profile settings to make this profile a bit more personalized: You're able to change the name and the icon of the profile to make it easier to recognize in the list.

Profiles can be associated with a Microsoft account, but they don't have to be. If they're not, browsing data like passwords and history is just kept locally. Click the profile icon and then Sign in if you want to link a Microsoft account—you can have a different account for each profile.

You can also get at your profile data by clicking the three dots (top right) to open the Edge menu, then choosing Settings and Profiles. From this screen, you're able to manage, add, and delete profiles. As with Chrome, data is kept separate in each individual window, and your profiles aren't synced across multiple devices.

From Profiles in Settings click Profile preferences and you can enable a feature called Automatic profile switching: If this is turned on, Edge will attempt to recognize whether or not links you're opening are related to your work and prompt you to switch profiles to (or from) your professional account if needed—it can then remember your choice for the next time.

Mozilla Firefox

Firefox includes profile support, though it's not quite as easy to access as it is in Chrome or Edge. With Firefox open, you need to type "about:profiles" into the address bar and then hit Enter—you should see the default profile listed, together with a button at the top to Create a New Profile.

All you need to do to create a new profile is to provide a name for it and click Finish. You can also choose to change the folder that the profile information is stored in, though there's really no reason to modify this from the default choice. Once created, you'll see the new profile on the "about:profiles" page.

Click Launch profile in new browser under the newly created profile on "about:profiles" and a new Firefox window appears. This is like a brand-new copy of Firefox, with all the browsing history, bookmarks, passwords, and settings reset. As with Chrome and Edge, you can choose to sign in (using a Firefox account) to sync data across devices, but it's not obligatory.

You can use separate Firefox windows running separate profiles onscreen at the same time, making it perfect for keeping personal browsing and work browsing separate from each other. There's no easy way of seeing which profile is in use in which window, unfortunately, but the "about:profiles" page will tell you (and you can delete profiles from here as well, if needed).

Firefox also includes a Profile Manager utility that you can launch when Firefox isn't running. On Windows, type "firefox.exe -p" into the search box on the task bar and hit Enter; on macOS, launch Terminal and enter "/Applications/Firefox.app/Contents/MacOS/firefox -ProfileManager", then hit Enter. This little tool lets you create, rename, and delete profiles, as well as launch Firefox using one particular profile.

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