Must-Have Firefox Extensions
Plugins and extensions—they're what made Photoshop such a bonanza from the late 1980s onward, and they gave it the market push to triumph over competitors who preferred to keep their tools and development completely in-house. It was a great idea—make your own product more valuable by letting other people enhance it for their own benefit—and it worked famously. In the graphics world, everyone's got 'em now. But, in the browsing world...well, it takes an open-source project to apply that kind of functionality across categories.
Firefox did it, and it's one of the innovations that has helped Mozilla claw its way up from the bottom of the stack in the browser wars. Even though Internet Explorer still comes bundled with Windows, and Safari with Mac OS, and Konqueror with KDE, users across platforms opt for Firefox with greater and greater frequency. It's not just the tabbed browsing, or the built-in pop-up blockers, or the standards-compliance or the built-in search box—it's also the add-ons.
The Mozilla Project's plugin-based architecture turns a solid application into a customizer's paradise. The projects available on the Mozilla Add-ons site now stretch into the thousands, which gives the end user the opposite problem of the no-choice straitjacket of certain other browsers. The embarrassment of riches means too much choice, and figuring out how to narrow it down is no mean task.
The extensions come in a variety of flavors—from add-on applications to interface tweaks to toolbars. Here are a few that most users will find very handy. They extend functionality, enhance privacy and give users a leg up on taking their favorite content with them wherever they wish to go.
Web pages are great things. The democratization of media that the Internet brings us means that everyone has a Web site, and it's a great thing. There's only one problem with everyone having a Web site: everyone has a Web site—even people who think it's cute to have their own personal radio station running any time you log on to one of their pages.
I may be a curmudgeon, but as much as I care about the teeming masses of humanity on-line, that affection does not extend to being willing to tolerate someone else's attempt to soundtrack my corner of the universe. It's been the case for several years now that if you wanted to surf around on MySpace or thumb through your Aunt Estelle's family photo albums on her personal site, you had two choices: endure the autoplay music, or turn your speakers off.
Not anymore—not if you surf with Firefox. Sun Chun-Yen's Stop Autoplay extension automagically toggles off all autoplaying media, and it allows you to blacklist Flash media providers if they get on your nerves. With Stop Autoplay installed, instead of embedded media assaulting you before the page finishes rendering, you are presented with a little red box with a Play button inside it. If you are inclined to listen to the embedded media, you have the option at your fingertips. If you're not, it won't bother you. It's a beautiful little plugin. It's simple, elegant and “just works”. It also can help save you from vicious attacks by coworkers who don't like the autoplayed music either.
Protecting you from your boss (who actually expects you to be working when you're on the clock) is the noble quest undertaken by another add-on, Panic. Panic sets up a hotkey that, when pressed, will close all open tabs and open a tab containing the URL of a page you're actually supposed to be looking at. Note that it closes the tabs, it doesn't hide them. Once you press your user-definable hotkey, they're gone. Sure, trudging through the browser history to re-find that amazing article on “Linux Home Automation: the Ultimate Internet-Controlled Gun Cabinet” can be a drag, but when it saves you an unpleasant conversation with your boss, it's worth the price.
On a related note, there is an extension that protects you from inconvenient questions from young children, nosy roommates and casual snoopers at neighborhood coffee shops. If you've ever heard the words “Mommy, what does 'stud' mean?” or “Daddy, what's burka porn?” from a five-year-old who has apparently appeared at your elbow from a neighboring dimension, you know what I mean. The Net sucks you in, and sometimes someone walks up behind you and starts reading over your shoulder—or worse, reading the names of the other tabs you're saving for later—and you don't notice them for a few hours...um, minutes.
Enter TabRenamizer, an extension that lets you protect your privacy by renaming the tabs in your open browser windows. It integrates seamlessly with Firefox, sitting as a menu option in the Tools window that lets you set it either to rename all future tabs or to rename all open tabs randomly. You also can rename an individual tab selectively by right-clicking on the tab title and selecting the now-present rename this tab option from the context menu. This gives you a renaming dialog so that you can give the tab any name you want.