Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Must-Have Firefox Extensions & Add-Ons

Firefox Extensions, Add-ons and Plug-ins
Provided by TechnologyNomad.com

If you're a Firefox user, then you already know that one of the things that make this open-source browser so popular is its extensibility --the big galaxy of useful extensions you can use with it. I for one, have a couple of add-ons/extensions/plug-ins that I simply cannot continue online without. I'll even go out on a limb and say that Firefox's extensibility is the reason the browser has become my very desktop. But what are those browser extensions that turn Firefox from a regular browser to a down-right necessity?

Let's think of this in a different manner. When you buy a new computer, or you land a new job or whatever it is that presents you with the opportunity to start fresh, what are the first things you do?

You see for me, the first thing I do is jump on the native browser that came with the machine and go download Firefox. And I won't go into what other applications I download and/or seek; but for Firefox itself, I immediately start looking for the following core extensions:

It's worth noting that I'm using "extensions" to include add-ons, plug-ins and extensions (of course).

Like all extensions & add-ons, if you don't like one you can always uninstall it; which's much cleaner & simpler than uninstalling a full-blown application.


God, I can spend all day on this alone.

The Greasemonkey add-on allows users to install scripts that make on-the-fly changes to most HTML-based web pages. Basically, as Greasemonkey scripts are persistent, the changes made to the web pages are executed every time the page is opened, making them effectively permanent for the user running the script.

These scripts do not actually change the web site itself, but it changes the way Firefox interacts with the HTML on a web page to make it act in a way that is more user-friendly and/or befitting of one's needs. This change only occurs in your Firefox browser and only for the current session. It does not change any coding on the server side or to the web site itself. It simply changes how Firefox reads the code on the page and redisplays it to you with the aesthetic and functionality based on the directions/code of the script(s) you have installed. Every time you visit the web site, the script changes the page for you without you noticing it. There is no delay in the changes visible to the naked eye, usually. Some scripts allow you to auto-fill forms. You can even automatically retrieve data from other sites to make two sites act as one ... very mashups-like.

Greasemonkey allows you to stipulate what pages (and sub pages/directories) to run the script of your choice on. And the reverse is also true. Greasemonkey allows you to exclude certain sites/pages as well.

By itself, Greasemonkey does none of these things. In fact, after you install it, you won't notice any change(s) at all, until you start installing what are called "user scripts."

The "Swiss Army Knife" of Firefox extensions may seem like it requires a bit of ramp-up to get going, but it does not. You simply install those "user scripts" without as much as restarting your browser. There are literally thousands already written for you. To install these "user scripts," first you must install the Greasemonkey Firefox extension. Then head out to Userscripts.org and search for a web site or page you'd like to see optimized and in what manner and you're sure to find something.

Like I said, I could write about Greasemonkey alone. The fact is, there are definitely some "user scripts" that I seek out and install under Greasemonkey; but this is not the time or the place for that. I will tell you that you can find some for most popular sites. There are some that modify how Google presents search results, others that modify YouTube, some that add functionality to StumbleUpon, enhance Flickr, etc. What Greasemonkey scripts are amongst the must-haves is truly a personal thing.


Formerly known as Foxmarks, Xmarks syncs all your bookmarks (and bookmarklets of course) across all computers. As a fan and advocate of cloud computing (with some personally-put restrictions), Xmarks simply puts all your bookmarks & bookmarklets into the cloud so you can access them from any other computer connected to the internet. In addition to online backup, Xmarks is available for Firefox, Internet Explorer (IE) and Safari; so if you add a bookmark in one browser, it will automatically become available in your other browsers as well.

Xmarks has many other features that go beyond the scope of this specific post. One worth mentioning, however, is that Xmarks offers profiles allowing you to display certain bookmarks at certain locations (you may not want certain bookmarks, for example, to automatically be shown and/or available at work). For me, this is an absolute must, since bookmarklets I have created cannot become property of the company I work for; or disputed at any point to be so. Should you leave a workplace for which you had a profile location, you simply disable that location in your profile and they're gone once you sync up.


Ever wanted to download all the articles, images (only GIFs, only JPGs, or both) on a web site but wish that you could grab them all at one time? DownThemAll does just that. DownThemAll is a selective, powerful download manager. It makes short work of snatching all the images on a page (including those links to the "bigger" or "zoom" versions), all the MP3s off a music or podcast blog, or any other kind of filter you can set up.

The only way to elaborate any more on this wonderful add-on is to build a small walk-through of it; which again steers away from the intention here. So ... I encourage you to try it out yourself and go from there. I'm confident you'll like it.

Better Gmail 2

It's no surprise that Gmail has become the web-mail of choice for many of us. However, there are some nuances that many have expressed; including the inability to use folders (as oppose to Gmail's labels). Better Gmail 2 addresses that and many others.

Better Gmail 2 is sure to impress you with what it offers. Amongst its lesser known features is the gem of hiding labels on the message rows. Only on mouse-over do you see the label that the message was tagged with.

Download Statusbar

Once you start downloading any thing, you're sure going to seek a much better tool than the one native to Firefox. When you are dealing with multiple downloads, it’s easy to get confused and lose track of your files. Sure, there are lots of download managers out there, but sometimes you want something that’s so discreet you barely even notice it. Is there a tool that will do the job?

Download Statusbar is a Firefox add-on that is very low-key. In fact, when you are not downloading, it is invisible, and when active, it is very, very discreet. Download Statusbar completely integrates Firefox's standard release, so there is nothing to configure before you start to use it. When you download a file, a very small download indicator (the statusbar) will appear at the bottom of your screen. From here you can control the download, pausing and re-starting in one click, running the file once it downloads, copying the URL and visiting the source website.

The Download Statusbar display makes it very easy to see what files you are downloading and how close to completion they are. If you open the add-on’s configuration options, you’ll find that the display and download are completely customizable. There are also a series of hints available on the Download Statusbar website that make your downloading even quicker. Simply put, it is effective, low-maintenance and very simple, and if you are a frequent downloader, it’s a must-have extension.

This, of course, serves a different purpose than DownThemAll (mentioned above), which allows you to download (automatically) several files at once. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I use & highly recommend both, and for different reasons.


Most other extensions, plug-ins and add-ons are usually added later as you come across them. What I mean is that when you visit YouTube you'll quickly learn that you need to install the Flash plug-in; and if you visit an audio site that serves RealAudio files, you'll need to install that plug-in. And so on and so forth.

Without a doubt, there are other Firefox add-ons that I have installed; but they are specific to my needs. For example, I like having a tab-centric application (like Tab Mix Plus), an easier copy (as in copy & paste) solution like AutoCopy, and a few others. There are extensions that cater specifically to Developers, ones that cater to bloggers, and ones that cater specifically to laptop users ... to which I highly recommend FireFound and Meebo. The web-based instant messaging (IM) site offers an extension that especially goes well with portable (run off of a USB drive or something similar) versions of Firefox. Again, I'm sure there are many other extensions out there, but these are the ones I rush to add when I have a fresh copy of Firefox.

As a Firefox user what extensions/add-ons are the ones you rush to add when you have a fresh copy of Firefox? Share those with us in the comments.  ▣

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