Monday, March 14, 2011

My Favorite Firefox Add-ons

By now, I'm sure you're all familiar with Firefox - the best internet browser since Netscape.  But what you may not be familiar with are all the wonderful "add-ons" that make it the best internet browser available.  Many argue that Google Chrome, Rockmelt, Opera, and (hopefully not) Internet Explorer have their advantages, which they may, but no browser provides you with the options for customization and personalization like Firefox does.

You can do almost anything you want your browser to do with available add-ons.  They're similar to "apps" on the iPhone.  Everything from display themes, to tab control, to music playback, to downloading assistance, to coding - there's something for everyone.  People can even create "Sometimes, a vast array of options can be overwhelming.  So, I'm going to take some time to outline my favorites, organized from the most important to the least important - at least for my use. Please, feel free to add comments with the add-ons that you use.  I'll be happy to check them out!

First, understand that I'm doing a review of add-ons based on Firefox version 3.6.  Firefox 4 is in development, and not all of these add-ons are guaranteed to work with that newer version.  Here's a link to the Firefox Add-on Website.  For links to each individual add-on listed below, click the icon for it.

 AdBlock Plus
This add-on is a must have.  You know all those annoying advertisements on the sides of many websites?  AdBlock Plus effectively blocks ALL OF THEM.  The ones on Facebook are especially annoying - "Single and alone?" "New jobs in your area?" etc.  You won't have to worry about them anymore. Gone. Like magic. The magic of Firefox Add-ons!

IE Tab 2
Although Firefox has overtaken Internet Explorer in terms of popularity, there are still many websites that were designed to run correctly on IE and don't work right in Firefox.  This is especially the case with lots of internal company websites (my employer included).  This handy add-on renders the website you are viewing in Internet Explorer without having to leave Firefox!  Very handy.

Download Statusbar
Isn't it a little inconvenient that every time you want to download something in Firefox, that pop-up window appears and shows you the status of your download.  Who likes pop-ups?  The answer to that question since 1998 has been "no one."  This add-on appears on the bottom bar of the browser only when you've chosen to download something and displays all the information about the current download.  Then, it disappears either after you've double clicked it to open the download or after a specified amount of time.

"WOT" stands for "Web Of Trust."  According to the developer, "Traffic-light rating symbols show which websites you can trust when you search, shop and surf on the Web."  It's based on many factors including other user's ratings of a specific website.  The symbols will show up next to your search results on Google or Bing to let you know which sites may or may not be spam.

 Tab Kit
This was an add-on that I realized would be beneficial as soon as I started using Firefox almost 5 years ago.  There are lots of options to control your tab behavior included, but the one that I find most beneficial is the tab-coloring and tab-grouping options.  This is very helpful for those of us who open a lot of tabs during a browing session.  You can collapse a group of tabs (all the same color) into the size of one tab.  Combine this with the next add-on, and you can really save yourself some space on the tab bar.

As described by the designer (who is Japanese), "The width of the specified tab becomes small, up to the size of the favicon."  If you don't know what a "favicon" is, it's the small icon next to the name of your tab.  You can set it to shrink size by double clicking, Alt+click, Ctrl+click, etc.

 Facebook Toolbar
What a strange symbol!  What does that "f" inside of a blue box mean?  As if you weren't already connected enough, you can integrate your Facebook life into your browser with this add-on.

 ForecastFox Weather
This is pretty self-explanatory.  Forecastfox creates a small forecast in one of the specified "bars" of your browser.  I choose to put mine in the same bar as "File" "Edit" "View" etc. but on the right side of the browser.  It is very easy to customize.

I just recently discovered this gem after asking myself, "I wonder if I can designate shortcut keys to access my favorite sites."  As promised, you can do almost anything with Firefox Add-ons.  With this add-on you designate a combination of "action keys" to initiate the add-on, and then a shortcut key to open the site. Example: "Alt+S, F" launches Facebook in a new tab; "Alt+S, G" launches Google.  It's just a quicker way to get to your favorite sites without having to locate the links in your bookmarks bar.

Read It Later
This add-on should probably be higher on the list, since I use it all the time.  Once you create an account on Read It Later's website, you can save pages to read later simply by clicking the little yellow icon in the URL bar of Firefox.  It's a reading list that travels with you across different computers and devices (iPhone, iPad, Android, etc.).  It also installs another icon on your browser that you can click to drop down a menu to view the webpages you've saved to "read later."

Smart Bookmarks Bar
Do you have a lot of bookmarks in your bookmarks bar? This add-on simply hides the names of the bookmarks in that bar until your mouse is over the one you want to click.  Then it expands the name next to the favicon.

If you listen to music while you browse the web, this add-on is definitely useful.  FoxyTunes lets you control almost any media player and find lyrics, covers, videos, bios and much more with a click right from your browser.  It will also automatically detect what current program is playing music or video and switch to the controls for that program (iTunes, Windows Media, YouTube, etc.).

Echofon for Twitter
The only reason that this add-on is so far down the list is that I know there are still lots of people who don't use Twitter.  Why?  I'm not sure.  But this add-on is a must-have if you ARE cool.  It looks kind of like Facebook Chat, but for Twitter in your browser.  Supports multiple accounts.

Firefox Environment Backup Extension "allows you to quickly and easily backup your Firefox extensions. In fact, it goes beyond just backing up -- It will actually rebuild your extensions individually into installable .xpi files."  What this means is that you won't have to worry about losing your awesome collection of Firefox add-ons, bookmarks, history, etc. ever again.  It will back up your "environment" so that you can transfer it to a new computer or other location.

And finally... a few add-ons simply for fun - the descriptions of which I will simply copy from their developers on the Firefox Add-on website.

The about:me page provides a fun way to see personalized patterns in browser usage, including trends in browsing history and download activity.  (If you put "about:me" into the browser address bar it will display a page the shows your browser usage).

Cubs Watcher
 Unobtrusive updates on today's game.  Refreshes every 100 years.  (Just kidding about that last part.)

AddThis for Firefox is the best add-on to make sharing and bookmarking simple. Have all your favorite web 2.0 social networking, bookmarking, blogging, and e-mail services at your fingertips. Share any page, anytime, with anyone.

Screengrab! saves webpages as images.  It will capture what you can see in the window, the entire page, just a selection, a particular frame... basically it saves webpages as images - either to a file, or to the clipboard. It captures Flash too!

 Personas Plus
Personas are free, easy-to-install "skins" for Firefox. Personas Plus extends that built-in functionality to give you even more control and easier access to new, popular, and your own favorite Personas.

I know that it's been a long time since I posted on World Wide Wilson, but this was a topic about which I've wanted to write for a long time.  Hopefully it's been beneficial for you and will make your browsing that much more convenient in the future.  Till next time...