Updated: August 10, 2009
I would like you to congratulate me on the corniest post this year yet. There have been a million posts on this subject, all over the Web, each offering the author's unique view of the 10 holy extensions each Firefox user should be using ... And here's another one.
Seriously, while I have recommended a variety of Firefox on several occasions, I have never given them a proper formal treatment. While there is a fair chance you have already heard and read about some or maybe even all of the extensions mentioned here, you may still be interested to see my palette.
What makes extensions worthy of mention? Well, for me, it's the matter of practicality. I use extensions because they help me do my work better and faster. You'll be surprised to hear that security is not the primary concern, although it's a nice, fat bonus. The idea of extensions is to extend the basic functionality of the browser - and this is exactly what I use them for.
In this article today, you will read about the 10 extensions I find helpful in achieving better productivity when working with the browser, improving the speed and clarity of Web-related work, reducing the web page clutter and accompanying poor coding practice errors, reducing down-the-throat nagging, helping automate tasks and save tremendous amounts of time, and lastly, allowing me to carefully track down and maintain large quantities of data that I come across in my Internet adventures.
So here we go, the 10 Firefox extensions, in no particular order:
ScrapBook is a download management extension. It helps you save entire web pages in one go. No different than clicking on File > Save Page As ... the skeptics might say. Well, ScrapBook is much more than just that.
While the normal save will only download the basic HTML, CSS, scripts, and images, ScrapBook allows you to save all linked content, including sound and movie files, archives, PDF documents, and more. Furthermore, it has the in-depth Capture option, allowing you to follow links. This allows you to mega-download entire web sites, including all the pages and galleries hidden in the menus and sub-menus.
Downloaded content is managed in the ScrapBook library, where you can work on the offline content, highlight and annotate sections of the pages, attack files, delete links, frames or scripts, and more.
Zotero is a powerful, versatile extension that can help you collect and manage online resources. You can think of Zotero as of a Bookmarks menu on steroids combined with ScrapBook.
Zotero allows you to link to websites, take snapshots of currently viewed pages, download files, add notes and citations, manage references, and more. It allows you to export reports and integrates with Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.
Other options include the ability to extract metadata from PDF files, use thousands of bibliography styles, remotely backup and sync your library, take rich-text notes in any language, and many other features.
Adding new items can be done in several ways. The simplest way is to open Zotero and add items. On Zotero friendly sites, you will see an icon in your address bar. Clicking on the icon allows you to automatically save all bibliography and reference items (some or all) without losing focus or going through them one by one.
Zotero is a serious research tool. For many more details, I encourage you to take a look at the official screencasts demonstration the full power of this extension.
Sage is a simple, friendly, lightweight RSS and Atom feed aggregator (reader) that integrates into your browser. For those of you who wonder what RSS and Atom feeds are, they are an excellent way of keeping up to date on website updates.
Sage can automatically look for available feeds on pages you are visiting and add them to your collection. You can also set the time intervals between updates. Sage is very useful in saving time. Instead of hunting for updates all across the web, you get small, compact news bulletins straight into your browser.
Noscript, alongside Adblock Plus, is usually listed first on the list, which is why I chose to move it to slot 4, just for the uniqueness' sake. However, the slot number does not diminish the importance of Noscript.
Personally, I think it is one of the most valuable extensions available. First of all, Noscript adheres to the healthy default-deny principle, allowing only a selected list of trusted sites (i.e. whitelist). This means that should you stumble across a site heavily loaded with potentially malicious content trying to exploit known and unknown (zero-day) vulnerabilities in your browser engine, they will simply not run. This means you can browse safely even if you miss Firefox patches. Furthermore, Noscript makes browsing cleaner and faster, as scripts do not run, potentially slowing down the loading of web pages. You get static HTML only. As a side effect, most advertisements are also blocked. All combined, these features make Noscript an extremely valuable asset.
5. Adblock Plus
Another classic jewel used by tens of millions of Firefox users worldwide. Adblock Plus has one very simple mission - hide advertisements from the user. But it is not limited to just ads. Adblock Plus allows granular control of content, allowing you to hide individual sites or even individual elements on each site. See the (official) example above.
You can subscribe to several adblocking lists, which are updated daily.
Adblock Plus is useful in helping clean the clutter on web pages. This means you can remove annoying or offending objects from surfed pages forever, making them easier to view and improving load times in the future.
6. Tab Mix Plus (TMP)
Tab Mix Plus (TMP) is an excellent extensions for managing your tabs. While some may argue that TMP and its accompanying Session Manager are not needed, I think they help manage your browsing sessions, especially if you're in habit of opening tens of tabs and saving them for later review.
Some of the many features TMP offers is the ability to lock and protect tabs, duplicate tabs, undo closing of tabs, and much more. The Session Manager allows you to save all your open windows and tabs when you exit Firefox or manually save snapshots of your current browsing sessions for later review.
This utility allows to take screenshots of web pages. However, not just the visible bits, it can take screenshots of entire web pages, including many long lines hidden from the current view. It can also work on entire windows or mouse-defined selections.
It will automatically crop unneeded bits, saving you time and hassle of having to manually edit images to remove browser borders and whatnot. Furthermore, the ability to save entire pages is an excellent bonus.
DownloadHelper allows you to easily download and convert video from hundreds of Youtube-like website. It also works with audio and image galleries. This extensions complements ScrapBook as a way of organizing offline content.
After DownloadHelper is installed, you will get a new icon in your browser, similar to the rightmost one in the below screenshot:
Whenever there's Flash content available for download, the icon will turn active; it will become bigger and colored (yellow, red, blue), similar to what you see below:
For example, on Youtube, or any other webpage you wish to download Flash content from, click on the small down-arrow to see what choices you have. Select the file you want to download, choose the name and let the bits flow to your machine.
And that's it. After you download the file, it's on your computer. You can then play it in a media player that supports .flv files. A good example being the most versatile, open-source VideoLAN (VLC).
You can read more about how to work with Flash files in my Multimedia - Flash tutorial.
9. FEBE (+ CLEO)
We have already talked about these two extensions (a combo, really) in my Firefox backup article. FEBE + CLEO allow you to backup your Firefox profile or parts thereof. Although you can do this manually, by copying the profile anywhere, what makes the combo even more appealing is that they can be used to backup only specific parts of your profile, like extensions. This can be quite useful for people with multiple extensions installed.
FEBE, which stands for Firefox Environment Backup Extension will perform the backup itself, including a schedule. CLEO, which stands for Compact Library Extension Organizer allows you to repack all your saved extensions into a single installable .xpi file. In other words, if you intend to migrate your Firefox profile across different operating systems, instead of manually reinstalling extensions, you can use CLEO to create a unified installer that will contain them all - and install them all in one go.
This is a really special extension. If you've read my article Ubiquity - the Web-integrated YOU, you will know what I'm rambling about. Ubiquity is a powerful, multipurpose extension that allows you to perform a whole of items right there, without leaving the pages you're browsing. This means checking the weather or the map location of something you've just read about, inline translation or Wikipedia help, Google searches and more.
If you like your Internet experience to flow, Ubiquity is a perfect solution for you. It won't do anything until you call it. Once there, right inside your current browser tab, you will be able to use it for just about any interactive task you can think of.
There you go, the dirty dozen minus two. Honestly, I believe these ten extensions are really useful. They will provide you, first and foremost, with improved productivity, but also privacy and security, if you're so inclined. Then, they will also help you maintain better awareness of the Web, with Sage to feed RSS into your browser and Ubiquity to turns the whims of your fingertips into a reality. You will also be able to enjoy the tremendous power of serious archiving and will have backups handy. Overall, a great treat.
That would be all for now. If you have a few extensions to recommend, which you swear by and would choose them over your own sister, then feel free to email me and I'll consider adding a small user contribution list.