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
) 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. UK
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll look forward to seeing you back here next week!