Now here comes another „my favorite Firefox extensions“ article. Hopefully it’s helpful for someone. (It will be helpful for myself when setting up a new computer soon.)
I’ve tested many more extensions than described here, but have removed a lot because they were either buggy, hampering performance significantly (I’ve still to find an add-on that improves performance), too intrusive with the way I work with my browser, not working together with other extensions smoothly, or simply redundant (other extensions doing very much the same thing).
I’m following some Mozilla feeds, looking for other useful extensions (officially called Add-ons in Firefox), so this article will most likely need an update pretty soon. The (German) RSS feeds I’ve subscribed to are:
So here’s a short description of each add-on I use, in lexical order (as Firefox displays them):
- Adblock: This was probably the first extension I’ve installed when I started using Firefox years ago. As the name indicates, it sits in the status bar, ready to block advertisements. I’ve disabled all the browser’s context menu entries it adds at installation time, because I’m happy to click on the status bar and choose either „List All Blockable Elements“ or „Overlay Flash“ whenever I want to get rid of ads on pages.
- Beagle Indexer: This extension is installed by SuSE Yast when installing Firefox, so it was done by the root user, and I’m too lazy to start Firefox as root in order to remove it. Maybe some day I’ll develop dementia, and will find that file system indexers such as Beagle or Google Desktop are more than just a bunch of crap that slows down the computer. If that happens I can simply re-enable Beagle Indexer to index all the web pages I’m visiting.
- clicks4: This extension adds a tool bar that enables you to go shopping while donating to charities, NGOs, etc. at the same time. I have it enabled most of the time because I don’t go shopping on the Web so often, and the extra tool bar is something I don’t want to have around all the time.
- ColorfulTabs: I have about a dozen tabs open most of the time. This extension helps me grouping them by color (for example, all documentation-related tabs are in yellow), thus making it quicker to spot the tabs I’m looking for.
- Deutsches Wörterbuch: Just a German dictionary, nothing spectacular. I wish I could have a) one dictionary for all applications I’m using, b) one dictionary for all computers I’m using, c) one dictionary for all languages I’m using (mostly just German and English, but anyway). Instead, I’m using at least 3 different dictionaries (Firefox, Thunderbird, OpenOffice), times 2 (for English and for German), times 4 (on the four computers I’m switching between). That’s 24 dictionaries which all need to be updated separately. What a waste of time!
- Dictionary Switcher: Sits in the status bar and lets you switch between the installed dictionaries (English and German in my case). It discovers which language is used automatically, and switches the dictionary used accordingly. It works flawlessly and reliably. (While I’m writing this, it says „auto: en-US“ in the status bar.)
Update regarding Thunderbird: The same extension can be used for Thunderbird and Sunbird. In Thunderbird, the extension never worked flawlessly for me, though. When switching between German and English mails (like I frequently do), I had to click the status bar entry twice in order for Dictionary Switcher to switch to the correct dictionary (e.g. it displayed „de-DE“ but used the English dictionary instead, so I had to switch to „en-US“ and then back to „de-DE“). This is fixed, though, by setting the configuration value of „extensions.dictionary-switcher.autodetect“ to „true“. After restart, Dictionary Switcher auto-detects the language, and does this properly at least for German and English. (The auto-detection jumps in when you press the Return key.)
- Dictionary Search: Adds 4 configurable menu entries to the browser’s context menu. The ones I use are for looking up marked words on 1) dict.cc, 2) dict.leo.org, 3) German Wikipedia, 4) English Wikipedia. I’ve used this extension for years, but I’ll probably get rid of it soon because the Research Word add-on does pretty much the same thing, and it takes only one menu entry to do this. (I truly hate context menus that are huge.)
- DownThemAll!: I use this one very rarely, for example for downloading a bunch of PDF files from a web page. I wouldn’t want to miss it for this purpose, though. This extension is very easy to use and provides all the settings I’m looking for to download exactly what I want.
- Easy Youtube Video Downloader: I’m using this one rarely, too. It allows you to download YouTube videos not just in Flash format but also in MP4 (and other formats, but I haven’t tried any other than MP4). It’s easy to use and works as advertised.
- FoxClocks: I couldn’t live without this one, and have it installed in all Firefox and Thunderbird instances I’m using. I’ve configured it to take as little real estate as possible, just displaying UTC time in the status bar. („Do, 10:24“ is German for „Thursday, 10:24 UTC“.) Hovering the mouse over the status bar entry pops up the other time zones I’ve configured, and the flags let me quickly identify the time zone I’m looking for. Another feature I really like about FoxClocks is that you’re able to export its settings, because setting it up to look and work just the way you want it to can take some time. So whenever I make changes, I export the settings to a file in an SVN repository, and import from that file on another computer (or in another application, Thunderbird or Sunbird).
- Google Gears: I’ve installed this one proactively because you need it to work in off-line mode with Google web applications. But I’m not using Google-anything except the Google search engine, because I still think that, 5 years after it was released, that the story of EPIC is a very real future threat.
- Interclue: This is one of the most useful extensions when viewing web sites with many links, such as newspapers. Interclue displays a little icon (usually a favicon) when hovering over a link. When moving the mouse onto that icon, it pops up an area that displays the link target. When clicking outside that area the window disappears. That saves me from opening many tabs or windows, or from going back and forth when reading news. Interclue can be disabled for particular domains.
- Menu Editor: My most recently installed extension. As said above, I truly despise long context menus. Menu editor comes to the rescue here. It allows to either disable (make invisible) or completely remove menu items from any Firefox menus, including the context menu.
- Neo Diggler: It’s probably overkill to have this extension installed. It does a few things I don’t need, plus one thing that I like, mostly because it looks so KDE-ish: It places a tiny icon next to the address bar that clears the bar, or gives a context menu with a few basic things like displaying a domain-specific history and a few search options.
- NoScript: I’d probably use lynx to browse the ’net if this extension wouldn’t exist. It disallows all kinds of „active“ contents by default: Flash files, iFrames, etc. With just a click on the status bar icon, you can allow particular sites (configurable for whole domains or just subdomains) to use active contents, though. NoScript has built-in anti-phishing and anti-XSS abilities, and particularly if you don’t know what these things mean you should better install NoScript right away.
- Open With Konqueror: This extension is useful only in KDE, and from the name it’s pretty clear what it does. On a few web sites, video files aren’t displayed properly in Firefox, so I click on the little Konqueror icon to close the tab in Firefox and open a Konqueror window instead.
- Read it Later: A highly useful extension to prevent you from keeping open too many tabs. This extension adds a little „check“ icon to the address bar which is used to add or remove pages from the Read-it-Later list. I use the list in condensed format and as a rollable list, which saves me from clicking „next“ when the list gets long. I also like the filter which works like the bookmarks filter. You can store the Read-it-Later list on-line, but I’ve decided not to do so for confidentiality reasons (I have company pages on that list, t00) and also because it might conflict with the online synchronization that Xmark does.
- ReminderFox: Another one of the add-ons I’ve been using for ages. ReminderFox is a calendar and a to-do list; I just use the to-do list feature. ReminderFox runs in every instance of Firefox and Thunderbird I’m using, on every computer I’m using, so my to-do list is always just one click away. This, of course, means that the to-do list needs to be synchronized across machines. You can either do that by using a free ReminderFox web space, or by using a WebDAV server of your own (like I do). The to-do list is still local, which is advantegeous for example when you’re airborne. The list itself is very easy and quick to handle.
- Research Word: Adds one (1) context menu entry for looking up marked words in a variety of web services, such as Dictionary.com or Wikipedia. It’s also customizable which I consider a Good Thing.
- Sun Cult: Adds an icon where you want it (e.g. in the status bar) that displays sunrise and sundown times, moon phases, and more, when hovering the mouse over its icon.
- Tab Mix Plus: I’ve probably installed this extension on the first day of using Firefox. It adds what I’d consider the Firefox killing feature of the early millenium – tabs. I also use the TMP session manager which is much better than the one built into Firefox.
- TinyUrl Creator: This extension probably makes me look old. I’ve been using it for so long that I’m using it over all the other URL-shortening services that have popped up since. I’m even using it for Twitter.
- United States English Dictionary: The other dictionary I’m using.
- Web Developer: There’s no way to even shortly describe what this extension does. It does all kinds of good things for web developers, including sizing the browser window to 800 x 600 or online editing of CSS files. I use it rarely these days, but I wouldn’t want to miss it.
- Xmarks: Formerly called Foxmarks, Xmarks synchronizes bookmarks and passwords stored in the browser so that they become available in all my Firefox instances. By default, Xmarks stores files in a free web space, but I prefer to use my own WebDAV server for this.
- Yoono: Can you avoid Web 2.0 altogether? I thought I could but found that was an illusion when you’re working in IT space. I use Yoono for displaying Facebook and Twitter feeds, and NoScript takes care of keeping most of the ads that Yoono displays in the sidebar away from me. I like Yoono’s little button in the upper left corner that makes it fast to expand or collapse the extra sidebar it adds to the browser window. When collapsed, it takes just like 30 pixels which is tolerable for me.
I got good comments from Giuseppe, Serg, and Lenz on extensions I’ve been missing. Needless to say, I’ve installed the extensions they’ve recommended, except for those that I had already installed before but decided not to keep them. I’ll comment on all of these add-ons in any case.
- [INSTALLED] CoLT: Useful extension if you’re often copying links for re-use, e.g. for writing forum posts. I find it particularly useful for creating Wikimedia-compliant links such as
[http://webmeeting.dimdim.com/portal/JoinForm.action?confKey=mysqluniversity to this address](I „copied“ the stuff in square brackets by copying a link, using CoLT’s „copy as Wikipedia“ option).
- Cooliris: This extension doesn’t seem to work on 64-bit Linux. After installation and browser re-start, Cooliris complained that Flash wasn’t installed (but it is, version 10.0 r22). Trying to use Cooliris, anyway, for displaying images in breathtaking new ways resulted in a browser standstill and lots of CPU used, until finally I had to kill Firefox. If I get better results on 32-bit Linux I’ll update this note. In any case, Cooliris is quite the opposite of lightweight: The download size of the version I installed was 10.8 MB!
- [INSTALLED] Linkification: Sometimes text that could be a link is just displayed like this: http://example.com, which means you cannot click it, but rather have to copy and paste it to the address bar. If you have Linkification installed, though, you’ll see this text as a clickable link. You can specify which protocols should be auto-linked, and which domains should be excluded from auto-linking (google.com is excluded by default). Also, I’ve configured Linkification to display „artificial“ links in a specific color to make them distinct from „regular“ links.
- Tree Style Tab: I’ve decided not to try this one, because I already have too much „vertical“ stuff in my browser. Tree Style Tabs adds a sidebar where you can group tabs. Grouping tabs can be useful if you normally have a lot of open tabs, but as I said above, I try not to have more than a dozen tabs open at a time, and I „group“ them by using Colorful Tabs, and Read it Later helps me reduce the number of tabs I need to keep open.
- User Agent Switcher: There are a few web sites that don’t like Firefox for some reason (and either display fancy warnings or errors, or display contents in a messed-up manner). It may be nice to be able to trick those web sites into thinking I’m using a different browser, but often enough I’ve found that this doesn’t really work when I’m browsing sites with Opera (which has this feature built in). So what I do is use a variety of browsers to make those web sites do what I want. On my Linux boxes I have Firefox, Opera, Konqueror, and Microsoft Internet Explorer (through Wine) installed, and as a last resort, I can always fire up a Windows virtual machine (through VirtualBox) that has a „real“ Internet Explorer.
- Greasemonkey is certainly helpful if you want to run one of the hundreds of scripts you can find for Firefox, or write a script yourself that does some particular job. I had installed it before, but couldn’t find a use case that couldn’t be satisfied by installing some other extension.
- Inspect This: Admittedly, I haven’t even looked at this extension, because it seems to do the same things I can accomplish by using a combination of NoScript and Adblock.
- [INSTALLED] It’s All Text: This is a useful extension if you’re often editing textarea elements (like I do). Some web applications (like WordPress) provide a neat editing environment that’s so good that I wouldn’t consider trading it for an external editor, but others don’t (including many installations of Wikimedia). Being able to use a plain-text editor of my choice (like Kate) is a great advantage in those cases. It’s All Text places a tiny button at the lower right corner of any textarea element (this is configurable, so you can have that button in other corners). The biggest disadvantage is that you can’t pass an argument for the editor to be launched. I use Kate for most plain-text edits, and I prefer to run only one instance of Kate, so normally I start Kate with „kate %U <filename>“ when editing new files. With It’s All Text, I can’t pass the „%U“ argument, so the extension opens a new Kate window for each textarea I’m editing.
- Mozilla Archive Format: yet to be explored
- Session Manager: yet to be explored
- Source Tools: yet to be explored
- Vimperator: Andrew suggested to install Vimperator, an extension which will make Firefox look and behave much like the Vim editor. I’m afraid I’m missing the point of making a browser behave like a text editor – if I really preferred using a text editor as a browser I’d probably use Emacs, or maybe lynx (which can be regarded a text manipulation tool, too). That said, I do like vi and Vim, but that affection is sort of one-sided. I guess I’m not modal enough for Vim.
- [INSTALLED] Extension List Dumper: This is a great extension, actually one I should have had installed prior to writing this article! It adds a button labeled „List“ to the Add-ons window, which pops up a window with a list of all (or all activated) extensions. The best thing is that you can configure the output on-demand, that is, configuring the list contents instantly updates the list displayed. See below for the list created by that extension (if you have the Linkification extension installed, the links below will be clickable).
Anwendung: Firefox 3.0.11 (2009060200)
Betriebssystem: Linux (x86_64-gcc3)
– Deutsches Wörterbuch
– Dictionary Switcher
– Extension List Dumper
– It’s All Text!
– Menu Editor
– Neo Diggler
– Open With Konqueror
– Read it Later
– Research Word
– Sun Cult
– Tab Mix Plus
– TinyUrl Creator
– Web Developer