Three super Firefox add-ons

Turn off ads, track the Web trackers, and maximize your text search options. Just add these extensions to your Mozilla browser: Adblock Plus, Counterpixel, and Hyperwords.

Dennis O'Reilly Former CNET contributor
Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.
Dennis O'Reilly
3 min read

A big reason for the growing popularity of the Mozilla Foundation's Firefox browser is the amazingly creative and abundantly useful add-ons that are being created for Firefox. My three new favorites let you ax the ads on a site, see the tracking pixels on the current page, and gain a wealth of options when you select and right-click text in your browser.

Browse faster by blocking ads
Wouldn't you like to watch TV and listen to the radio without having to sit through the ads that pay the freight? Or dismantle the billboards that line the freeways? I can't help you with TV spots or roadside distractions, but you can kiss Web ads good-bye. Just download and install Wladimir Palant's Adblock Plus extension for Firefox.

After browsing with Adblock Plus enabled for a while, I started to wonder how I ever managed to surf without it. I noticed an immediate increase in the load speed of many of the sites I visit frequently, such as ESPN.com and CNN.com. And it's so much easier to find the information I'm looking for on a crowded page without all the ads getting in the way.

When you restart Firefox after installing Adblock Plus, you're given the option to import a set of filter rules or create your own rules. I took the easy route and opted for the canned filters, which do a good job of removing the ads from the sites I frequent.

You can view the number of blocked items on the current page by hovering the mouse pointer over the "ABP" icon in the top-right corner of the Firefox window. Or click the down arrow to the right to access the extension's preferences and other options.

Adblock Plus information window
View the number of blocked ads on a page by hovering over the ABP icon. Wladimir Palant

Some ads manage to slip past Adblock's filters, but you block them in the future by right-clicking the ad and choosing Adblock Image. There are a wealth of other options in the program; visit the developer's FAQ page for more information.

Know when you're being tracked
I'm usually not very curious about which of the Web-tracking services may have planted a pixel in the Web pages I visit, but knowing which sites use which tracking services gives me a little more information about what I can expect from the people behind the site.

Jan Bogutzki's Counterpixel detects the presence of tracking pixels from 19 different services, including Google Analytics, WebTrends, and Site Meter.

Counterpixel doesn't block the trackers; it merely alerts you to their presence on the current page. This might provide more information than the average Firefox user needs, but the add-on is a great way to find out a little bit more about the sites you frequent.

Get more right-click options for selected text
I've been using the Hyperwords extension for only a few days, which is not nearly enough time to learn all the text tricks this program performs. The first Hyperwords feature that caught my eye was the Translation option, which lets you convert the selected text into more than a dozen languages.

Hyperwords User Settings dialog box
Customize the right-click options that the Hyperwords extension adds to Firefox. Hyperwords

Other Hyperwords context-menu options let you search for the selected text at various reference sites and view other occurrences of the text on the page by sentence or paragraph, among other alternatives. You can also save the selection as a text file or send it directly to your printer.

It's a mystery to my why more people still use Internet Explorer than Firefox or any other competing browser. But I don't get the success of American Idol, either, so it must be me.