Thursday, March 08, 2007

Real Must Have Firefox Extensions

Computerworld has recommended 20 "must have" Firefox extensions. While the concept is good, I can't say I agree with their choice of extensions. The Computerworld recommendations that make my list are Greasemonkey, Firefox Showcase, Foxmarks bookmark synchronizer, IE Tab, and FireFTP. That makes 5 out of 20.

Other things, like colored tabs, are nice, but they're not not really "must have"... after all, you can tell your tabs apart easily in Firefox simply because they're labeled with icons. So what are the real must have extensions missing from this list? What's cooler and more useful than Computerworld's recommendations? Try these on for size:

6. Adblock Plus. I have no idea how Computerworld missed this one. Adblock allows you to block all those stupid flashing, blinking, animated, thoroughly annoying ads on a page. Believe me, once you've gone back to browsing without those distractions you're never, ever going to want to go back.

7. Image Zoom. This allows you to zoom in on images on a page using a menu or your mouse wheel. As screen resolutions increase, thumbnails and small images appear ever smaller. This is really a must-have.

8. Linkification. This very handy utility converts text links like http://www.cratchit.org/dleigh into clickable links, even if the web page author didn't put a link there, and even if you're viewing a plain-text file. If you had Linkification installed you'd be able to click right through to my personal blog.

9. McAfee SiteAdvisor. This doesn't appear on the Firefox add-ons site. So what? It's a fantastic addition (and incidentally, there's a version for MSIE in case you're bogged down with a "legacy" browser. Firewalls are useful, anti-spam and anti-spyware programs are useful. But what if you could know before you visit a site whether it's dangerous or not? That's what SiteAdvisor does. When you're using the Yahoo! or Google search engines, SiteAdvisor places colored icons next to your search results to warn you of dangerous sites or reassure you about sites that are OK to visit.

10. NoScript. While we're thinking about security, it's a fact that many of those dangerous websites are dangerous because they exploit the scripting capabilities of your browser. NoScript closes that hole while still allowing you to easily select those safe websites for which you want to allow scripts. Once again, anti-malware programs are good: not getting infected in the first place is even better.

11. Sage. This really improves Firefox's ability to organize and update your RSS feeds. Don't simply poke around to see if your favorite blogs have been updated! Sage will let you know.

12. Video Downloader. Downloads videos from Google, YouTube, iFilm, and over 60 other sites. Now you don't have to watch these films in that little box in your browser. You can watch them full-screen, with all the capabilities of your media player! And you won't have to worry whether a link has been removed.

13. DownloadThemAll. This is great for pulling a batch of files from a website. Some great uses are pulling all of the wallpapers linked to from a page, or all of the .OGG or MP3 files from a free music site. And since you can tell DTA to limit itself to a single connection, the site's security won't freak out and block you for hitting it too often at once. It also allows you to pause and resume downloads at any time!

14. Launchy. Simply, Launchy will open links and mailtos in external applications rather than using plug-ins. This is great if you want a full-featured program to handle the link.

15. Google Toolbar for Firefox. What can I say? It's Google. This allows you to quickly search other sites, selectively block pop-up, enhance your Autofill capabilities for web forms, and quickly access your Blogger or Gmail site. Again, this one's not on the Firefox add-ins site, but who cares? It's too good to pass up.

16. PDF Download. This allows you to choose whether you want to view a PDF file in your browser, in your full-featured PDF viewer (I use Foxit Reader), or whether you want to download it. Choice is good.

17. Permatabs. This is a bit of major coolness. It turns tabs of your choice into permanent tabs, meaning that you can't close them by accident and they'll always be loaded and available when you start Firefox. With more and more people turning to Web 2.0 apps like Google applications or Thinkfree Office, this gives you a great way of getting straight down to work in your browser.

18. Quick Preference Button. This adds a menu that allows you to quickly change some of the more frequently used Firefox preferences, such as browser spoofing or cookies.

19. SwitchProxy Tool. This one's not for everybody. But if you're like me and you work on a laptop from both home and client sites, then it's an absolute must have. This allows you to have multiple network configurations so you're browser's able to adapt to any situation. I've tried more full featured proxy tools, but I like this one. It's got the "Goldilocks factor" (not too much, not too little... it's just right).

OK, so I'm one short. So I'm going back to Computerworld's list and giving you a choice for number 20. If you're a web developer, then Firebug is certainly a must-have tool. But we're not all web developers, and for those that aren't, Chromatabs do ease the eyestrain. If you want ease of use then iMacros may replace Greasemonkey in your toolkit. Personally, I find mouse gestures and page previews annoying, so I'd stay clear of those.

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