This could easily be mistaken for hyperbole, but that would in fact be a mistake: Firefox completely changed the experience I have on the world wide web. It is easily extensible and allows a level of customization that few other applications in general (let alone web browsers) can touch. This enables users to craft a web experience that is highly customized to the interests and habits of that user. The browser can, by the way of extensions, become a powerful tool for web developers, a home-base for social media addicts, or an incredible environment for heavy surfers. This post highlights some of the best extensions for web addicts.
Adblock Plus- The web is a much different place than it was in the ’90s. At some point, companies realized they could advertise on the web. Now, web sites will sell their entire site design off to an advertiser and convert the whole site to an ad for a week or more. You’re going to see ads that try to get your attention by being disgusting. You’ll have animated flashing ads and ads that come up on top of content forcing you to watch before you read the site. It’s the one thing about the old web I really miss. I would almost be willing to go back to the days of the solid-grey backgrounds to dispense with the plethora of annoying ads I must put up with today. Luckily, thanks to a wonderful Firefox extension called Adblock Plus that will block 99% of all that crap, you can lose the ads and still keep your pretty backgrounds. The plugin automatically updates from a list of block rules that will cover most every ad you might see. You are also free to add your own custom rules to block ads the filters might have missed. Adblock Plus is the first extension covered for a reason: it is the biggest part of reclaiming your web surfing experience.
StumbleUpon- You’ve already loaded all your favorite sites into a feed reader like Google Reader, right? In that case, you may be looking for something to do when your feed reader is empty. StumbleUpon takes your interests and delivers a cool page related to one of them with every click of the Stumble button. My favorite metaphor to explain Stumble is that it is channel surfing for the web. Of course, it is far more intelligent than channel surfing. The StumbleUpon toolbar has a thumbs up and a thumbs down button. As you Stumble, you can rate pages using the buttons. This along with the interests you have selected determine which pages you will receive. It also includes a social networking aspect. You can add friends and recommend pages to them. Those pages will come up when they are stumbling. You can add any interesting page to StumbleUpon by clicking the thumbs up button. If a page has never been stumbled before, you will be prompted to provide some information in addition to a review. It’s a really fun way to discover more of the web.
Xmarks (formerly Foxmarks)- Foxmarks has been a great way to keep bookmarks in sync across multiple computers. Link as many machines as you like to your account, and your bookmarks are always in sync on all the machines. Now, the name has changed to Xmarks and features have been added to allow users to discover new sites that may be of interest. The new features are intriguing, but the bookmark syncing alone is enough to recommend this extension to anyone who uses more than one computer. The bookmarks are available online through the web interface in case you can’t or don’t want to install the extension. You’ll never be able to get away from your bookmarks!
Delicious/Diigo- I’m covering these together because you probably only need one or the other. Both are social bookmarking sites that, like Xmarks, store links to your favorite web sites online but unlike Xmarks these services have focused on the social aspects from the beginning. Before the massive improvements made in Firefox bookmarks with the 3.0 update, I used Delicious (and it’s extension) exclusively for bookmark storage. Now, I use both. In fact, I’m currently using Firefox bookmarks, Delicious, and Diigo. Diigo is a more full-featured service but is sorely lacking in the most important part of social experiences: users. Delicious has plenty of users to make the service seem worthwhile. The extensions for the services are similar. Both let you view bookmarks stored at the site without having to navigate to the page. Both allow users to easily add sites from the browser. They also work well with Firefox’s built-in bookmarks with a setting that allows bookmarks to be duplicated in both places. Both are indispensable for users who want to share their bookmarks and find cool new sites.
Edit Middle 2 and Cybersearch- Now, the most obscure extensions covered here. These are not flashy but are very useful. Firefox 3 gave us the “Awesome Bar”â€”a toolbar that is significantly less stupid than its predecessors in every browser released up to that point including Firefox 2+. Now, anything you type in the location bar is searched against URLs and titles of pages in your bookmarks and history. You may notice that searches are halted if you edit letters in the middle of whatever you have typed. Edit Middle 2 fixes this strange behavior and allows search to persist even if you correct a mistake in the middle of your typing. Cybersearch allows the “Awesome Bar” to search one more source: Google. Fantastic additions to an already stellar feature.
Read It Later- You may often find yourself with stories in your feed that are going to require more time and attention than you have at the moment. Read It Later allows you to organize pages and stories such as these. It uses Firefox’s bookmarking but tags the bookmarks you create with it so that it can include them in your reading listâ€”a list of pages you would like to read at some point. Once you have read the page, you can add it to the permanent bookmarks, add it to a number of social news and bookmarking service, or simply mark it as read removing it from your list and bookmarks. This extension also offers syncing of its bookmarks, but you won’t need that if you’re also running Xmarks. The coolest feature of Read It Later is that, upon installing it, your Google Reader will incorporate a Read It Later button next to each of your stories making it easy to mark stories from the RSS reader for later review.
Tab Mix Plus- Firefox tabs are an amazing feature the browser thrust into popularity years ago. The browser’s native implementation improves with each release, but there are still some missing features. That can all be remedied with the Tab Mix Plus extension. You will now have a range of tab options you probably never before considered but soon will be unable to live without. My favorite option is the ability to choose which tab receives focus after you close one. I prefer the opening tab since I usually want to continue surfing that page after diverging to one of the links on it.
Stop-or-Reload Button- Here’s another small and simple extension that is really worth quite a lot. You may soon find that toolbar real estate is a premium in your newly tricked-out browser. This extension reclaims the space of one button which can be devoted to something more useful. How often do you need simultaneous access to both the stop and reload buttons? (That was a rhetorical question. You never need that, of course.) You only need to stop while a page is actively loading. Otherwise, you will instead have access to the reload button.
Download Statusbar- If your travels on the ‘net end up netting you any new files on your computer, you are probably somewhat frustrated with the fact that Firefox wants to pop up a new window when you start a download. It’s annoying. More annoying still is the fact that I have to switch between two windows to track my downloads while continuing to surf. The Download Statusbar puts your downloads at the bottom of the current window in a clean little bar above the status bar. When you aren’t downloading, it goes away. It’s much more elegant than Firefox’s default download manager.
You may find your interface a bit bloated if you install all of these and keep their default settings. You may customize the interface by right-clicking on an empty spot on the Firefox toolbar (try between the location bar and the search bar).
From this menu, you may disable toolbars or click Customize to start rearranging toolbar buttons. I usually end up with all bars hidden except the navigation bar and the bookmark bar. If there are buttons from another bar I want to use, I click the customize option and drag those from their current bar to either the navigation bar or the bookmark bar. Then I hide the other bar to save space. If you’re a Windows user, you can drag your bookmark toolbar to the top of the window next to the menu bar (You know the one. File, Edit, etcetera.) then hide the dedicated bookmark toolbar. Of course, if you’re a Mac user and don’t use the bookmark toolbar, you can just hide it without losing anything. This will save even more space. The key here is to get as much functionality into the smallest space possible to leave the most room for the actual browsing!
I hope you enjoy these tips. These extensions have really made the significant time I spend in my browser much more enjoyable and productive. If you’d like to recommend an extension or a tip for other web junkies like yourself, just drop us a comment!