HolidayBuyer's Guide

Set Firefox on fire

Firefox's many new extensions can make a good browser into a great browser. We show you how.

Firefox Extensions

Firefox's extensions can make a good browser into a great browser. We show you how.

While Microsoft's Internet Explorer still rules the roost in terms of sheer numbers, there's a growing crowd of Net users flocking to the open source free alternative offered by Mozilla.org, namely Firefox. The little browser that could scores over the established Internet Explorer in a host of areas -- better pop-up blocking, better security, tabbed browsing, and, above all, a host of customisation options that make IE look like it's stuck in the mud.

There are two routes you can go down to make your copy of Firefox your very own. If you're a dab hand at programming, then the interfaces are all available to you to modify just about every element of the browser's appearance and performance. That's fine if you're a programming type, but what if you're not?

Well, there's no need to despair, as Firefox has robust support for what it calls Extensions -- little snippets of pre-written code that can radically alter the way that Firefox handles its many tasks -- and even a few it wasn't designed to do in the first place!

Installing and checking your extensions within Firefox is as simple as clicking Tools>Extensions. A little pop-up window will emerge, letting you know which extensions you've got installed. From here you can configure them, uninstall them, and check for updates, as well as visit the main Firefox extensions page at Mozilla Update to find new extensions. Here are a few extensions that every Firefox user should check out.

What do you think? Which extensions make Firefox truly compelling? Let us know your thoughts below!

Searching, Surfing and Security

Flashgot
This handy add-on is the most popular at the Mozilla extension site, and for good reason. In concert with your download manager, you can right-click a link and use FlashGot to download the content from an entire page of links.
StumbleUpon
Most people tend to repeatedly visit the same Web sites, whether for news, sports, or shopping. StumbleUpon offers a new (and great!) way of browsing the Web by randomly picking high-rated sites from categories you select. If you like surprises, this extension delivers.
GooglePreview
GooglePreview is an interesting extension that allows you to see thumbnail images of search results from Google and Yahoo. When a search is performed either from Firefox's built-in Googlebar or directly from the Web site, this extension retrieves thumbnails of all resulting Web sites from Thumbshots.org and Alexa.com and displays them to the left of each entry in the results. It also returns stock charts and preview images for items sold on Amazon.com.
Gmail Space
Google's email service Gmail upped the ante for webmail with more than 2GB of storage for most users. Use your Gmail account to easily store files with this useful extension. An FTP-style interface lets you transfer local files directly to your Gmail account.
Sage
Instead of searching for stories, do you want the news delivered to you? Sage turns Firefox into an RSS feed aggregator that makes getting the latest news easy. Using the left sidebar, Sage displays your available feeds, lists your feed history, and then shows stories with summaries and images in the main window.
SiteAdvisor
With the threat of spam, spyware, and pop-ups lurking around the Web these days, it's tough to know which sites have them and which don't. The folks from SiteAdvisor run tests regularly so you can see which sites to avoid before you go to them. You can even get a full security analysis of particular sites with a click of your mouse.
Adblock
Do you have a favourite Web site that takes a long time to load because of certain ads or images? With the Adblock extension, you can pick and choose which content elements of the page will load so your favourite site comes up quickly every time.
IE Tab
Do you have a favourite site that only shows up correctly when you use Internet Explorer? Great for both users and Web developers who want to see how their pages look in Microsoft's browser, this plug-in lets you open a link in a new tab that uses IE Web standards and architecture.
Mouse Gestures
What has long been a built-in function of the Opera Web browser has been implemented in Firefox thanks to Extensions. Mouse gestures are a quick way to execute common functions such as Back, Forward, New Tab, Close Tab/Window, Home and so on. Rather than using the keyboard, menu or toolbar to perform these actions, you hold down the right mouse button and flick the mouse cursor left (to go back) or right (to go forward), for example. While it can take a little time to learn the correct mouse movements, it soon becomes second nature and speeds up browsing immensely.

Information and Entertainment

ForecastFox
Are you a weather nut? Even if you're not, this add-on comes in handy, letting you see the weekly forecast in Firefox's menu bar. If the sunny, cloudy, and rainy icons aren't enough, simply mouse over them for a more complete forecast.
FoxyTunes
FoxyTunes is an essential add-on if you're in the mood for music while you browse the Web. It integrates a simple set of player controls into the toolbar (which can be dragged anywhere you choose), and integrates with just about every music player known to man, letting you skip and sort songs without ever having to leave your browser.
Dictionary Tooltip
When surfing the Web, sometimes you'll come across words you don't know the meaning of. Instead of reaching for a dictionary or heading to its online equivalent, use Dictionary Tooltip. With this extension you only need to double-click a word to bring up a window with pronunciations, definitions, and thesaurus entries.
Grocery List Generator
More a standalone application that lives inside Firefox, this full-featured extension lets you add recipes and ingredients to a customisable database, then create grocery lists based on what's next for dinner. Save lists as Web pages, or print them out for your next shopping trip.
Bandwidth Tester
Bandwidth Tester's own interface warns that it might not be reliable outside the US, but in our experience it's a solid little utility to check your current connection speed -- especially to sites in the States. It's also great for comparative testing of your connection. With the option to pick your download files for testing, it also works well in a local Australian context.
DictionarySearch
With this add-on, all you need to do is select a word, right-click and choose "Dictionary Search for … " and a new tab opens up with the Dictionary.com definition. This extension is especially useful when researching unfamiliar topics online or simply to help brush up on your vocabulary as you surf.
Translate
A useful extension that translates entire Web pages (by clicking a button on the toolbar) or highlighted text (by right-clicking and selecting "Translate from … ") to English from different languages including French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Portugese and Russian. Translate uses AltaVista's BabelFish Translator for context translations and Google's translation engine for Web pages.

Firefox Fixes

Tabbrowser Preferences
Tabbed browsing is quickly becoming the standard for most power users. If you want more control over your tabs and how they behave, this extension offers several options designed with you in mind.
SessionSaver
When you're doing research for work or planning a trip, you'll often have several Web sites open at once with all of the information you need. With SessionSaver, you can save the whole group of tabs so you can easily come back and open them all at once.
Duplicate Tab
This handy little extension adds the kind of functionality that you don't know you need until you have it. With Duplicate Tab, you can duplicate your currently tabbed site with all of the same history so you can use the Back or Forward buttons on the new tab -- very useful when doing research.
Tab Mix Plus
There are a lot of Firefox extensions that customise tabs and a few good session savers, but none does both as well as this handy add-on. Edit everything possible about tab appearance and behaviour, and also save Firefox sessions in case of a browser crash or unexpected shutdown.
All-In-One Sidebar
Taking a page from the excellent browser Opera, this extension makes your bookmarks, extensions, themes, downloads, and Web history all available from one handy sidebar. You can even view HTML source, a second Web page, or a built-in newsreader like Sage.
Reveal
Firefox Showcase is a strong competitor, but Reveal narrowly beat it out with its polished look and additional features. Simply hit F2 or Alt+~ to see thumbnail images for all open tabs for a window. Hitting the Insert key brings up thumbnails of the history for any tab or all of them, and the Back and Forward buttons also provide small thumbnails of each link.
Separe
Those who use a lot of tabs when they browse the Web will love Separe. This simple add-on lets you keep tabs tidy by adding a separator to the tab bar. In addition to being able to divide up your sites into groups, you can click on the separator to get a thumbnail of the pages in each tab so you can find what you need quickly.
Download Statusbar
If you ever get annoyed when the Download Manager pops up during a download, Download Statusbar is for you. With this handy add-on, once you initiate a download, a small window opens up on the lower left of your status bar showing the progress of your download -- without interrupting your browsing. Mousing over the window lets you see all the information about the file.
Down Them All 0.9.4
Down Them All is an extension for the downloader in us all. It launches an external window that strips down any Web page to its component elements, letting you download discrete elements by extension type -- invaluable if you're downloading a lot of picture or audio files, for example, especially as it'll filter for any given file type.
Tabbrowser Extensions
While the official Firefox extensions page promotes Tabbrowser Preferences -- which in itself is a solid little extension, and has its blessing in terms of bug fixes -- it can't compare to the flexibility and sheer scope of the excellent Tabbrowser Extensions package. You've got to go a little further to find it, but with inbuilt support for different tab profiles, and absolute and total control over every single window that Firefox launches, this is a great extension. Care should be taken, however, as it's not unknown for Tabbrowser Extensions to cause a few bug issues here and there

Optimising Firefox

PDF Download
Adobe Acrobat files (PDFs) can be a major source of Firefox sluggishness. When a plug-in like Acrobat Reader is loaded in Firefox, it isn't unloaded until you quit the browser. This helpful extension will ask whether you want to open a PDF file in Firefox, translate it to HTML (via Google), download it locally, or cancel the link.
NoScript
One of the biggest complaints against Firefox is how it handles JavaScript. This invaluable extension blocks all Java and JavaScript by default, then lets you add sites to your whitelist as you surf. If you're the micromanaging type, this one's for you.
Flashblock
On the opposite pole from NoScript is the simple, yet beautiful, FlashBlock. It replaces all Flash movies with play buttons that give you control over when or whether the movie plays. Even if you don't care about enhancing browser performance, it's a great tool for saner surfing. However, it doesn't function with NoScript enabled, and I suspect that many of my recent browser crashes may be related to FlashBlock.
FireTune
This executable is not an extension, but rather a collection of optimisation settings that can be automatically configured with Firefox. Simply input your computer and connection speeds, and FireTune does the rest. It won't likely reduce memory usage, but it should speed up your browsing, especially on lower-end systems.
Control animations with about:config
If you've never used about:config, you're missing out. Type about:config into your Firefox address bar and hit Enter. One easy configuration change is limiting animated images. Double-click image.animation_mode and change it to none to stop all animated images, or once to let them run through once. You can revert to the default behaviour with normal.
Clean up downloads
Does Firefox ever stall slightly when you begin to download a file? One possible problem could be that you've got more completed downloads than the Firefox Download Manager can handle. Hit Ctrl+J to bring up your recent downloads, and if you've got more than 20, clean them out.
Back-Forward cache
Back to the about:config screen: Firefox has a special "Back-Forward cache" for recently visited pages that works differently than the regular browser cache. The default setting for browser.sessionhistory.max_total_viewers, "-1," will save up to 8 pages if you have more than 512MB RAM on your PC. Reduce the number to zero for maximum memory savings.
Zap and other bookmarklets
It's not an extension, but one of my favourite ways of disabling annoying scripts, plug-ins, and event handlers to improve performance is the Zap bookmarklet, which I found via the excellent Jesse's Bookmarklets site. Bookmarklets are small JavaScript programs that can be saved as bookmarks. Simply drag the Zap link into your Bookmarks Toolbar and hit it whenever you want to kill annoyances on Web pages.

(Note that the "Zap" links above don't take you anywhere; they simply remove background images, scripts, etc.)
Disable/uninstall extensions
Yes, Greasemonkey and Platypus are extremely cool to play around with, but how much do you actually use them? Are you OK with restarting Firefox every time you want to use Gmail Space? For faster performance, disable extensions you don't use often, and uninstall those you never use. Don't be this guy.
Start in Safe Mode
For Firefox and Thunderbird, Mozilla enables a Safe Mode that loads the application without themes or extensions. If you've lost the included shortcut, you can start in Safe Mode by clicking the Windows Start button, then selecting Run, and entering "C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\firefox.exe" -safe-mode. If you notice a dramatic improvement, it's likely an extension or theme that's slowing you down. Disable them one by one until you find the culprit.

User favourites

Over the past year, we've offered our favourite Firefox extensions to you in four different categories. From the simple genius of PDF Download to the more advanced tools, we think we've done a good job of collecting the cream of the existing Firefox add-ons. However, when we asked for your own favourite extensions, you responded heartily with excellent choices. We narrowed all of your suggestions down to a list of 10. As always, it's never too late to chime in with your own favourites.

Tell us about your own favourite Firefox extensions at the bottom of this page. If you don't have Mozilla Firefox, get the official release now.

Web Developer
Once you find it, you won't know how you ever lived without it. A godsend for anyone who publishes Web pages, this Extend Firefox winner makes validation, design, and CSS work much more efficient.
Google Browser Sync
This add-on from the search engine leader allows users to sync all of their Firefox browser settings, such as bookmarks, passwords, and persistent cookies, across multiple computers.
CookieSafe
If you're the type who stays on top of your browser cookies, this simple and effective extension might be up your alley. It adds a small icon to your status bar that lets you allow and deny cookies globally or for specific sites.
Colorzilla
Another fabulous tool for Web designers and graphic artists, this helpful extension offers colour readings for items within your browser. You can also measure distances between two points or get information about DOM elements quickly and easily.
MenuX
For those of us who use multiple Firefox extensions, it's easy to be deluged by the wealth of new icons, sidebars, and taskbars. Mark Bokil's nifty add-on helps save valuable browser space with a library of small icons that control numerous browser and extension functions.
Download Embedded
Similar to our Volume III pick Video Downloader, this add-on lets you capture various forms of content embedded in Web pages. Movies, MP3 files, and Flash games are only a few of the possible files types that can be downloaded.
Performancing
Bloggers using a variety of platforms like the ease of use and speed of this publishing tool. Drag and drop notes from existing Web pages, take notes for later use, or post directly to your blog.
NoScript
We like NoScript, too. That's why we included it in our Optimising Firefox downloads. Like many of the best Firefox extensions, this add-on does one thing very well: specify which sites can use JavaScript, Java, and other executable code, and shut down the rest.
Tab Mix Plus
Included in our Firefox fixes extensions, this outstanding add-on also makes the grade with our users. Add close buttons to individual tabs or define keystrokes for navigating through and manipulating tabs.
FoxyTunes
Another classic extension, FoxyTunes was good enough to make our collection of Information and Entertainment Firefox extensions back in December 2005, and it's the most popular add-on after SiteAdvisor. Control your favourite media player with controls built right into the browser interface.
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