The Firefox Hacks You Must Have
With the release of the new version 1.5 of Firefox, there’s never been a better time to download the open-source browser, take it for a drive, kick the tires and see what it can do. In the case of a browser, mainly what it can do is show you web pages, hopefully quickly. So the real satisfaction comes from finding enhancements and add-ons because you can only have so much fun timing page loads with a stopwatch.
Fortunately, Firefox is famous for its pluggable extensions architecture, which allows you to download little snippets of code that act as the software equivalent of small consumer electronics devices, only they are free.
From Firefox’s Tools menu, select Extensions to see what is already installed. Then, at the bottom of the window, you can see a little link that says “Get More Extensions.” To fully experience Firefox, click on that and continue downloading add-ons until your browser stops working. Version 1.5 is more robust than earlier revisions, so this may take a while. Persevere. Eventually, enough extra browser functionality can paralyze any computer.
Some extensions don’t yet work with the new version of Firefox, but most actively maintained add-ons have been updated or will be short. If your favorite isn’t there yet, you can always e-mail the developer. They love that.
To get you started, here’s a list of the Firefox extensions you absolutely can’t live without.
You didn’t know your browser could do that
Some of the best Firefox add-ons are dedicated to making an existing web application much more convenient to use. That’s the case with the del.icio.us extension.
Del.icio.us is a social-bookmarking application that hit the big time Friday when it was acquired by Yahoo. It works like this: When you find a site you want to keep, you put it on your del.icio.us account with descriptive tags you invent to keep track of it.
The bookmarks are all public, which means you can access them from any internet-connected computer, anytime, neatly filed under the tags of your choice. More importantly, so can everybody else. So if you’re looking for sites about cats, for example, you can search for everything tagged “cats” and find a treasure trove of feline fun.
For a while, the only problem with del.icio.us was a dearth of user participation: Who could be bothered to go to a web form and put in their bookmarks? The latest Firefox del.icio.us extension (and there have been many) is the smoothest yet: It puts the link to visit del.icio.us and the link to tag a page on a convenient toolbar that sits next to the Forward and Back buttons at the top of the browser. This raises del.icio.us bookmarking to the navigation level, where it belongs.
Originally considered a tool of developers, Greasemonkey is an extension for more extensions. It lets you add bits of code and HTML to the web pages you visit in the form of “user scripts.”
At this point, thousands of user scripts published on sites like userscripts.org satisfy the most niggling desires of web users everywhere. Want to see if book titles on Amazon.com are available at the Cleveland Heights Public Library? Greasemonkey is your platform. Would you like to remove all the ads from ESPN.com? Again, Greasemonkey makes it happen.
DownThemAll is a bulk downloader that allows you to copy everything you want from a website at once. Whether you need to grab handfuls of thumbnails from a picture album or a page full of interesting MP3s, this tiny app gets them all with a single click.
Once you’ve used DownThemAll, the thought of clicking on each link to download a group of objects will seem like emptying a fish tank with a shot glass.
Make the web less annoying
Everyone hates registering on sites that want to know a little about you before letting you see their content; making up all that demographic data is hard work. That’s why the BugMeNot extension has long been one of the most popular enhancements for Firefox. It allows you to use the web-based, registration-avoidance system of the same name without the hassle of surfing to it and querying its database by hand.
With this baby installed, you just right-click over virtually any popular website’s login form, and the plug-in will tap BugMeNot, find a usable name and password donated by an existing user, and log you in.
BugMeNot doesn’t actually restrict itself to free reg sites. Sometimes pay/subscription sites have perfectly workable BugMeNot registrations as well. But don’t use them. It’s theft.
A lot of people swear by Adblock and other advertising-blocking extensions. But none have the versatility and pure, fly-swatting satisfaction of Nuke Anything Enhanced.
The concept behind this add-on is simple: Point at something and right-click (on PC) or cntl-click (on Mac) and select “Remove this object.” Whatever piece of the page you clicked on just goes away — poof!
This is invaluable for trying to get rid of page bits you don’t want to print, or for killing a sidebar or annoying navigation toolbar. Sadly, it doesn’t work on Flash. But overall, this extension makes vindictive web surfing more satisfying than ever. Great future features would include replacing the “Remove this object” with something like “kill, kill, kill.”
Tab Mix Plus is all about the tabs: the tabs on your browser, the tabs on the user-configuration area, the tabs inside other tabs. It gives you fine-grained control over how tabs work. It’s ultra-configurable, powerful and — best of all — lets you move tabs around the browser page, which vanilla Firefox doesn’t do.
If there’s one drawback to Tab Mix Plus, it’s that the extension doesn’t make it particularly easy to close an open tab. That’s why it’s best mixed with Tab X, which gives each tab a little “X” close button.
Recently featured in Lifehacker and Boing Boing, Viamatic foXpose gives Firefox one of Mac OS X’s most popular features, albeit without the neat zooming effect. Click on an icon in the corner of your browser, and all the tabs become small windows into the pages you have open. From there you can navigate around them or close them easily.
Finally, SessionSaver provides the one completely indispensable feature Firefox doesn’t come with, and it’s on the extension list of every alpha geek and power web user I know. It saves your tabs so that if you quit your browser, or it crashes, you come back up with the content of your tabs perfectly preserved.
More fun than you’re supposed to be having right now
If you’ve been getting too much done lately, the StumbleUpon extension will fix that.
StumbleUpon is another social bookmarker, like del.icio.us, but different. The extension gives you a toolbar with options for rating and submitting sites of interest, and for using StumbleUpon’s missable social-networking features.
But mainly, the toolbar has a shiny, candylike, blue-green button guaranteed to derail anything you’re trying to accomplish. Pushing it takes you to a random website submitted by another user.
Hours later, you’ll have compared the size of the Death Star to the USS Enterprise, listened to kittens sing rock anthems, watched weirdly stirring homemade political propaganda and read through a couple hundred of the 2,000 uses for WD-40. For bonus fun, try to remember what you were doing before.