The simple HTML websites of old knew their place in your browser, but today's sites are bursting with video, audio, and notifications that can be a constant distraction.
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Considering this is a problem so many web users are having to deal with, the built-in options inside these browsers aren't particularly great — though there's always the hope the situation will improve in future versions. Fortunately though, there are some third-party add-ons to help plug the gaps. If you want to regain your focus, here's what to do if you're using Chrome or Firefox.
Open up Settings from the Chrome menu, click Show advanced settings, then choose Content settings. Under the Notifications header you can check which sites you've previously allowed to show alerts and revoke their permissions if necessary; you can also block notifications completely by checking the Do not allow any site to show notifications box.
Incidentally, there's a quick way to quickly mute notifications without diving into settings — just launch a window in incognito mode. You won't be disturbed by pop-ups, but of course you'll need to log into all your regular sites again.
As for audio, you can silence any sounds that start blaring out of a tab by right-clicking the offending tab header (look for the audio icon) and choosing Mute tab. If that's not proactive enough you might want to mute your OS completely or just Chrome on its own — on Windows, right-click on the audio icon in the notification area and choose Open Volume Mixer to do this. On macOS, you need a separate app to mute a single program, like Volume Mixer or Background Music.
We've covered ways to stop autoplaying videos before, but the truth is there's no quick fix guaranteed to work 100 per cent of the time on every format. The best option is to employ the services of a third-party extension, with Disable HTML5 Autoplay one of the better options. As the name suggests, it doesn't cover Flash, but you can block Adobe's ageing video technology from the Content settings box we looked at above.
Speaking of helpful extensions, we'd recommend Silent Site Sound Blocker as a good option for taking more control over audio muting. It lets you block sounds from all sites except for the ones you whitelist, so you can avoid distractions from autoplaying ads while still enjoying Netflix. Mute Tab Shortcuts is also worth a look, letting you quickly mute and unmute tabs en masse with a keyboard combination.
If you're using Mozilla's browser to guide your online travels, open up the main browser menu then choose Options and Content. As in Chrome, you can specify which sites can and can't show alerts (click Choose), but there's also a handy Do not disturb me tick box that temporarily mutes all notifications until you restart the browser.
For the time being there's no option to mute Firefox notifications completely and permanently unless you open up the extended settings page. Type "about:config" into the address bar, hit Enter, then find the dom.webnotifications.enabled preference and change its value to false by double-clicking on it.
Muting a tab that's playing audio is even easier than it is in Chrome — click on the audio icon on the offending tab to mute it. You can also right-click on the tab header to find mute and unmute options. Again, there's also the option of muting Firefox completely using the methods we mentioned for Chrome above.
To stop videos from autoplaying in your browser, head to the about:config page again and double-click on media.autoplay.enabled to change its value to false. There are a number of third-party add-ons that you might prefer using, including FlashStopper (which blocks Adobe's video-playing tech) and StopTubeHTML5 (which takes care of HTML5 videos, at least on YouTube).
Other Firefox extensions that might come in handy are Mute All Inactive Tabs, which does exactly what the name says it will, and Play/Pause, which gives you more control over when HTML5 videos start and stop. You can also try MuteLinks, which lets you mute tabs based on their URL, like Silent Site Sound Blocker for Chrome.