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Four productivity-boosting Firefox extensions

Great freeware lets you selectively block scripts, get instant link previews, add PDF options, and improve Firefox's performance.

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

I've been using Firefox as my primary browser for so long that Internet Explorer looks strange to me on those odd occasions when Windows Update or some other automatic Windows setting opens it. There are lots of reasons Firefox is my browser of choice, not the least of which are the great free add-ons for the program that neither IE nor any other browser can match.

Topping my list of Firefox extensions is NoScript from InformAction and Giorgio Maone. The fact is, I'm so accustomed to NoScript that Firefox wouldn't be Firefox without the little blue "S" in the bottom-right corner (sometimes with a red slashed circle, indicating that a script on the current page has been blocked). The extension lets you control which scripts run on the page, so you can allow those from the hosting site, but block those from ad networks, for example. NoScript is free to download and install, but it's donationware, so if you try it and like it, consider contributing a few ducats to the author to show your appreciation.

The NoScript plug-in for the Firefox browser
The NoScript extension for Firefox gives you more control over the type of content web sites can run automatically.

Get a look at that link before you click
It's always perilous to click a link to an unknown site: You never know what kind of popups or other dirty Web tricks await. The Cooliris Previews extension shows you the destination of a link when you hover the mouse over the small blue-and-green Cooliris icon that appears to the right of the link when you highlight it. You can also use the extension to prefetch Web sites, and you can change the preview action from mouseover icon to mouseover link, clicking link, clicking icon, or pressing Ctrl as you mouse over. The options dialog (which opens when you right-click the blue checkmark icon in the bottom-right corner of the Firefox window and choose User options) also lets you customize the options that appear when you right-click selected text in Firefox, allowing fast searches via the service of your choice, and sending links via e-mail, among other options. Another nice feature of the latest version 2.6 of the extension is the ability to view Google and Yahoo image-search results as a slideshow.

The Cooliris Preview add-on for the Firefox browser
Preview links in Firefox by seeing them in a pop-up window when you mouse over them via the Cooliris Preview add-on.

Maximize your PDF-download options
More and more Web searches return PDFs, but downloading the files and opening them in a separate application can interrupt your browser workflow. Nitro PDF's PDF Download add-on lets you decide whether you want to download the file, view it in your Firefox window, or view it as HTML (as long as it isn't copy-protected). After you install the extension, you see a pop-up menu whenever you click a PDF, giving you the option to download it as normal, view it in Adobe Reader or the FoxIt PDF plug-in, or open the HTML version of the file.

The PDF Download extension for the Firefox browser
Get more options when you click a PDF file with the PDF Download extension for Firefox.

Shift Firefox into high gear with Fasterfox
No matter how fast your Internet connection, the Web still makes you wait. You can cut the time it takes web pages to load with the Fasterfox add-on that automatically tweaks Firefox's settings to retrieve data from Web servers more quickly. Or right-click the program's muscled-fox icon in the bottom-right corner of the window and click Options to tweak your browser settings manually (choose Custom under the Presets tab to show tabs for resetting the extension's Cache, Connection, Pipelining, Rendering, and Popups options). The add-in also displays the load time for the current page.

The Options dialog in the Fasterfox add-in for the Firefox browser
Click the Custom option under the Presets tab in Fasterfox's Options dialog to view more tweakable performance settings.

Among the performance settings you can adjust with the program are memory cache capacity, disk cache capacity, DNS cache entries, DNS cache expiration, the maximum number of connections (total and per server), the max number of persistent connections, the max number of pipelining requests, the number of pages stored in memory (for faster Back and Forward page loads), and initial and submenu paint delays (for faster initial page loads, and submenu loads). Fasterfox also lets you disable those sneaky pop-ups that use a Flash plug-in exploit to get around standard pop-up blockers.

Tomorrow: Is free remote-PC access too good to be true?