Saturday, April 30, 2005

Firefox extensions

I use a few Firefox extensions. Extensions in the browser, for those who are unfamiliar with it, are designed to add functionality to the browser. Unlike IE, Firefox doesn't come as a bloated download that attempts to throw in the kitchen sink along with everything else you won't use. Instead, Firefox extensions tend to be lightweight add-ons. One of the beauty of the extensions is that users can design and program extensions themselves, thereby freeing up time for developers to concentrate on the core product rather than attempting to guess which feature every user will want.

I realized as I was posting earlier about the Firefox hitting the 50 million mark in downloads that I have never posted about the items I've downloaded to customize my browsing experience. FWIW, I use Firefox at home and at work and use many of these features on both machines. There have been many magazine articles on the best Firefox extensions, but below are the ones I've found useful or amusing.

The first thing I do when I load Firefox on a machine is I get the plug-ins for Flash, Quicktime, Shockwave, Java, Real Player, and Adobe Acrobat. Luckily, Mozilla keeps all of the links to these things in one simple place.

Next, Firefox comes with a search box built in that the user can add search engines for. The user simply types in the search term, chooses and engine, clicks "enter" on her keyboard, and the search is performed for the site chosen. I've got engines loaded for: Yahoo,,,, Creative Commons, eBay, FNAC, Gutenberg Project, MSDN, Powell's Books, Scarecrow Video Sales, Symantec,, Wikipedia, HyperDictionary, and UrbanDictionary. There are many more to choose from and many added since I last looked. I've actually pared down some of my engines.

The next order of business for me is to download Firetune. It's a little program that tweaks the settings of Firefox for your PC. These are common settings that will speed up your surfing. Be sure to back up your original settings before making the Firetune settings. The program has a way of doing that and it warns you to do so. However, there's another program called MozBackup, that I've been using for that for several months that's also good for backing up your settings for the Thunderbird email program.

Once all of that is done, I download a theme for the browser. A theme is also known as a skin in other programs. Basically, it just changes the look of the product. For instance, it changes the way the buttons look. People have made a big deal out of this for years, but being a utilitarian sort of guy, it didn't make much difference to me so I didn't bother with it. That is, I didn't bother with it until Pimpzilla came along.

Now, I'm ready for my extensions. Below is my list with links and brief descriptions.

Gmail Notifier - adds a little icon that lets me know when I get a new message in my gmail box.
AdBlock - does what it sounds like: prevents ads from being viewed on the web. This requires some programming to make it work, but you can simple copy and paste some of the stuff from their forum. The programming isn't difficult if you want to get into it.
ChatZilla - IRC chat software.
ieView - Opens IE to view a page in that browser. Useful if page isn't rendering properly, but I rarely use it.
Bookmark Backup - Backs up bookmarks each time you close the browser.
Image Zoom - Magnifies a web image.
TinyURL Creator - If you have a long URL, this will create a smaller one using the TinyURL site
Googlebar - I use this rather than the Google search box because I like the Highlighter feature when searching a page for relevant information.
Bloglines Toolkit - Lets users of Bloglines see if a new post has been made to a feed they subscribe to.
Search Keys - A Google tool that makes it easy to use your keyboard to open a search result from Google. This one I use often.
FireFTP - An FTP client that integrates with Firefox.
Livelines - Also works with Bloglines: makes subscribing to a feed easier.
Spellbound - a spell checker for Firefox and Thunderbird. Open Source.
True Downloader - a download manager that integrates with Firefox. It seems to work, but needs development. Open Source.
GreaseMonkey - Allows user to add bits of DHTML (user scripts) to any webpage. This one is a tad dangerous for non programmers as it allows people to add code used in their browser. Hence, you should read and understand the code before applying it in your browser. I use Butler with this to clean up my Google pages and add links to other search engines, but there are more appearing all of the time.
Minimize To Tray - Minimizes Firefox to the system tray in Windows.
Popups Must Die - a Beta extension for improved pop up stopping. Designed to prevent some new pop up methods appearing more frequently on the Internet.
ChromEdit - A Simple User Profile Editor.
Show Old Extensions - Developed because sometimes Firefox upgrades break old extensions. This will show you which ones are broken. Probably not useful for new users, but I've been using Firefox for a year or more and it has come in handy during that major development time.
Preferential - Advanced Preferences Manager (basically shows you all of the adjustments one could make for the "about:" page without opening that up.
Bug Me Not - Allows user to bypass compulsory registration by getting false ones from the site.
ForecastFox - Shows weather forecasts and extended forecasts for an area of your choosing from the Weather Channel.

And now that I've been through this exercise, I've updated some of the extensions that Automatic Updates doesn't touch. So, it was useful from that stand point. I also note that FlashGot is now working with True Downloader, which is excellent since that is one feature I've wanted. It allows the user to download multiple files from a single site with one click and the use of her download manager. Hm, I might even consider upgrading the download manager to one that's more reliable. I happen to like True Downloader in that it's built on .NET technology and uses very little in the way of system resources, but I'd like to see it become more reliable (it sometimes crashes or doesn't work at all for no apparent reason). Any thoughts on a download manager or other extensions?

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