12 August 2007

#33: Fabulous 15 Firefox Favorites

Welcome to another Sunday brunch at Jonathan’s Tool Bar & Grill, where I dish up delicious recommendations for great free and cheap utilities and useful Web sites.

Last week I noticed that well over one-half of Tool Bar visitors get here with Mozilla Firefox, the free Web browser that has exploded in popularity in the last two years. That is evidence of your above-average sophistication, because Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) still has nearly 80% of the browser market (down from over 90% a couple of years ago), and Firefox has under 15%.

I have been using Firefox since version 0.4 several years ago, and am devoted to its advantages over IE in usability, functionality, speed, and security.

Though Firefox is not perfect, it is an open-source project, which means that any programmer can improve on it. A burgeoning community of programmers is doing just that – developing cool add-ons (also known as extensions) that bring new capabilities to Firefox and help make it the browser of choice among knowledgeable techies. (Perhaps that is why the excellent but proprietary Opera browser, which pioneered tabbed browsing and leads in speed, failed to seize the public’s imagination as Firefox did.)

Plain Firefox is like a single Santa doll perched on your neighbor’s chimney at Christmas time. Firefox with add-ons is like Santa with his sleigh and reindeer on the roof, surrounding by blinking lights, strobes, dancing elves, rotating candy canes, and a blanket of snow, with “Jingle Bells” blaring through the loudspeakers.

It’s not easy to identify the most useful add-ons among the thousands available. So to get you started, here I present some of my favorites. These are the add-ons I consider most essential or too useful to be without:

  • IE Tab – If you encounter a Web site that Firefox can’t display properly, IE Tab uses Internet Explorer’s rendering engine to show the page properly in the same tab.
  • NoScript – Blocks all Web services from running scripts unless you expressly exempt them, either temporarily or permanently. This helps keep you safe from the increasing danger of drive-by Web attacks (as described in post #29, 15 July 2007).
  • McAfee Site Advisor – Warns you of malicious or annoying Web sites that might harm your computer or subject you to spam attacks (featured here in post #10, 25 January 2007).
  • Download Statusbar – Replaces the Firefox download manager, displaying the progress of file downloads in a tool bar just above the status bar, with a number of other convenient download management functions.
  • Tab Mix Plus – Adds a host of helpful options for displaying and managing tabbed pages.
  • ScrapBook – When you don’t have time to read everything, ScrapBook saves the entire Web page and its linked page (you choose the depth) for your future perusal.
  • Google Notebook – one of several competing add-ons that enable you to clip, collect, organize, and annotate Web pages or parts of them; essential for researchers. A popular alternative is Clipmarks, but I have not tried it yet.
  • Gmail Space – Enables you to store files to your unused Gmail (Googlemail in the UK) space (often more than 2 GB). If you don’t use Gmail, which I think is the best Web-hosted mail service, this is another reason to start.
  • FEBE – When you have ad many add-ons as I do, you need Firefox Environment Backup Extension. It creates a backup file of all your add-ons (and other parts of your customized Firefox environment at your choice – bookmarks, preferences, passwords, etc.). You also can use this file to replicate your environment on another computer.
  • AdBlock Plus – Blocks pop-up advertisements and banners, and gives you control over what to display.
  • Update Notifier – For compulsives like me who need to know when an update is available for Firefox or one of your add-ons.
  • Morning Coffee – Opens groups of Web sites that you regularly visit on certain days.
  • Forecastfox – Displays the current conditions and weather forecast for your selected location, so you almost never need to leave your computer and see the real world. Highly configurable.
  • Foxy Tunes – Now that your face is buried in your browser all day, use Foxy Tunes to control your music without leaving Firefox (works with most popular media players).
  • Fasterfox – Claims to tweak Firefox settings for the best performance. I can’t tell if it really works, but I feel better thinking that it might.

These are just some of the extensions I use; the list could go on and on. All these add-ons are completely free, though some authors accept donations (and deserve them). You can find these and many more at https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox (you can select different languages from a list box at the bottom of the page).

Every Firefox user has his own list of favorite add-ons, so I’m sure this post will generate a tsunami of emails reminding me of great add-ons that I failed to mention. Bring ’em on, Tool Bar patrons. I’ll share the best of your suggestions with the entire Tool Bar community. You can comment below or write to jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com. I’ll look forward to seeing you back here next week!


  1. Another great extension is Bookmark Duplicate Detector. Not only does this little gem allow you to find and delete duplicates in your bookmarks, but it also allows you to specify where to store the default file (outside of your profile folder) and where to back it up. If you use a dual boot machine like I do, this means you can set Firefox to use the same file in both operating systems. So if you add/delete a bookmark in Linux, it also takes effect in Windows because it is looking at the same file. This has been a lifesaver for me!

  2. Great suggestion, Sean! I was unaware of this extension, but it sure sounds like something I'd want to use. Thanks very much.

  3. Another great list - I can't live without All-in-one Sidebar, Mr Tech Local Install, Foxmarks,Interclue,Paste and Go, Super DragandGo, Pdf Download,Traction Control,Unplug - most of these make the browsing experience much more fluid

  4. Thanks very much, Anonymous, for your list of must-have Firefox add-ons. I am not familiar with some of these, so I plan to have some fun trying them out.

  5. Shalom Jonathon!

    I'm sure we've seen each other's posts on GotD in the past and I thought perhaps it would be nice to get to know one another.

    I love your blog and have followed it for a little while, enjoying each one. You are a talented writer.

    If you like, you can visit me at "Swan Reviews (Almost!) Everything"

    Our review styles are very different, which could make for some interesting conversations down the road.

    As for the Firefox extensions, I use on a regular basis:

    1: Text formatting toolbar: (I've used it here.) Great for those times when a site doesn't provide text formatting tools for posts - or you just don't want to type it all out longhand. You can choose to use HTML; BBCode or WikiCode on the fly:

    2: Morning Coffee: This little extension is a beauty. You configure it to open a certain set of URLs when you sit down to work at the computer each day.

    Eg: I have each of my 10 blog sites open with a single click each day, except weekends.

    Mon/Wed/Fri I check my site stats and Google Adsense income;

    It's just this little coffee cup that sits in your toolbar and it works like a charm!

    3: Package Mapping tool: Adds the ability to track your sent packages, right for the context menu:

    4: Permatabs: Ensure you never close a tab in error. Right click on the tab and choose 'Permanaent Tab' and you're set. It can't close again until you release it the same way - even after a reboot:

    5: Save Session: I've used this one for so long now, that I never use the x to close down Firefox. Using this little beauty, ensures that you can safely close down FF no matter how many tabs you have open, even if they aren't permatabs. They'll all open again in your next FF session:

    6: Undo Closed Tab: We all close tabs in error sometimes. Right clicking on the tab bar and selecting this, allows you to reopen it again - and several others that have been closed too if you want!

    And finally my absolute favorite:

    Cooliris Previews: This one is a little difficult to explain, so please follow the link.

    Feel free to add these to your list!

    Have a great day and keep on blogging! ;)
    ~ Swan
    P.S. I've already donated to Israel *wink*

  6. Swan, thanks very much for your helpful suggestions, and for your kind words about my blog. I've just checked out your blog, "Swan Reviews (Almost!) Everything," and am very impressed at the thoroughness and detail of your reviews. Where do you find the time? I encourage all Tool Bar & Grill readers to visit Swan's site too.

    As for your suggested Firefox add-ons, I am eager to check some of them out for myself, especially the Text Formatting Toolbar. However, I will note that Morning Coffee already is in my Fabulous 15 list. Also, I know of Cooliris Previews (and a couple of similar add-ons), but I personally haven't found a strong need for them, and I had to keep my list short. Finally, recent versions of Firefox have incorporated the functions of Save Session and Undo Closed Tab, so they are not needed anymore.

    Thanks again for reading and contributing to the Tool Bar & Grill. I hope we both continue to enjoy each other's blogs for years to come.

  7. Also worth noting is that the functions of Permatabs, Save Session, and Undo Closed Tab are all contained nicely in Tab Mix Plus, listed in Jonathan's writeup. If you don't care for the default Firefox implementation of saving sessions or reopening a closed tab, you could try that.

    And Jonathan, thanks for mentioning FEBE. It's a great utility (even with the rough edges) that I didn't know existed but have been wanting for some time. I love it!

  8. One of my favorite extensions is customize google which adds links from other search engines to a google search while eliminating adds and showing suggestions for searches. Another one is stumbleupon, one of the best ways to surf the web in a spare moment.