See that screenshot? That’s actually a partial list of some of the Firefox extensions I have installed on my computer right now, that I’m using as I write this. It’s by no means an exhaustive list of the extensions I’ve found, tested, recommended, or even like, but they’re the ones that I absolutely can’t live without at home, and immediately install as soon as I get a fresh install of Firefox going.
But what do they do? I’m often asked by friends what Firefox extensions I simply can’t live without, either at home or at work. Well, let me run them down for you and what each one of them does. Some of them are useful and I’m at the point where I start doing things in Firefox assuming they’re there–even when I sit at someone else’s computer, and others tweak and improve the user interface in ways that really only I enjoy. Either way, take a look at them all below the jump.
I don’t know what I would do with GMail if Gina Trapani hadn’t written Better GMail 2 while working at Lifehacker. As time has progressed, a number of the features that lived in Better GMail have made it into Gmail proper, which I think is no small testament to how strong an add-on it is.
Better GMail 2 is still useful, and brings a number of useful features to the table, including a new-message indicator in the Favicon; so if you’re like me and have GMail open in a tab, you can tell at a glance at the tab how many new messages you have. Better GMail also lets me hide my new message count in my spam folder – something GMail still annoyingly shows by default. The add-on also gives me attachment icons on my message list (so I can see what kind of attachment is on my message without opening it) and row highlights, among others.
DownThemAll is useful for very specific circumstances. When you’re presented with a page full of content that you’d like to download, whether it’s behind links or presented directly on the page, and you want to grab it all using a download manager that doesn’t suck, DownThemAll is your add-on.
Many people use DownThemAll as their primary download management tool in Firefox (replacing the built-in one), but I know I use it every time I’m looking at a gallery of beautiful desktop wallpaper or video game trailers . Just right click on the page, click DownThemAll. You can even customize which file types are downloaded, to which folders, and more. If you find yourself downloading a lot of one type of file, you can even create filters to scrub for those specific file types.
Foxmarks was on the street first as probably the best bookmark synchronizer and manager for Firefox. Google came along later and a number of other big companies are in the game trying to be the people responsible for storing your bookmarks and passwords across systems, but Foxmarks is still where it’s at. You can use the service just to keep your bookmarks up to date on multiple systems (for example, I bookmark a file at work and when I get home it’s there too), and you can even point the app at your own WebDAV server if you want to store the bookmarks centrally yourself.
If you don’t, you can use Foxmarks’ servers and access them through Foxmarks’ web interface. Foxmarks just announced some huge news too; they’re becoming Xmarks, which offers all of the services that make this a must-have install for me and then some, including site suggestions, search features, and cross-browser support! Check out my AppScout review of XMarks.
A good friend got me caught up in using Mouse Gestures back when Firefox was still called Phoenix (and I liked it a lot for that reason), and now I can’t live without them. Mouse Gestures aren’t great for everyone, but I’ve been using them for so long that when I’m on a system without it I find myself clicking the right mouse button and flicking the mouse upwards to open a new tab.
All in all, Mouse Gestures make it incredibly easy to open tabs, close tabs, and move between tabs. Give them a try!
Google Redesigned makes Google look the way it always meant to look. Seriously! If you’re content with the standard white background or the newly-released Google skins, rock on, but Google Redesigned takes all of your Google apps to a completely different level. From Google Calendar to GMail (which I primarily use it for), Google Resdesigned skins it beautifully, adds features and functionality, and all in all makes your GMail experience much more pleasant. I’ve looked at the available GMail skins and found them all lacking, and Google Redesigned is far superior.
The skin arose as a Greasemonkey skin on its own that was featured on Lifehacker a while ago, and then wound up rolled into Better GMail 2 (with the permission of the designer) when Better GMail 2 had a number of skins you could choose from. Now that GMail has its own skins, the developers rolled out their creation, expanded it to support all Google applications, and released it as a stand-alone extension: one well worth downloading.
I’m a blogger, frequent site commenter, and in general find myself typing lots of things into text boxes on the Web very often. When my browser crashes or I accidentally hit the back button or the site I’m writing on takes a crap right when I click “send” to post my masterful comment or article, it’s probably one of the most discouraging experiences ever. That’s where Lazarus Form Recovery comes in.
This tiny Firefox app keeps an eye out for those times you’re composing a message in text-boxes or writing a blog post and auto-saves for you. If your browser crashes or some other horrible thing happens, getting your text back from the last auto-save is a right-click away. Check out my review of Lazarus over at AppScout – it’ll make your list too.
Linky is a very simple add on, and perfect when you’re trolling forums and someone’s given you a sequence of pictures to view, or has linked all of their favorite Webcomics and you want to open them and peruse them all without having to come back to the page.
All Linky does is allow you to select any text on a Web page, right click, and open all of the links in that selected text in tabs or in new windows. Simple, lightweight, and absolutely perfect when you’re browsing pages of links and you want to click them all.
You’ll notice Fission doesn’t have a screencap – that’s because what the app does is somewhat integral to the browser. In Safari, for example, when a site loads, the address bar fills up with color, showing you the progress of the operation. As the site loads, the bar moves from left to right. Firefox lacks that capability, but with Fission, you can get it. You can choose whatever color you like.
As usual, Fission is an extension I’ve reviewed at AppScout, but this is definitely a “love it or hate it” extension – either it’s absolutely necessary and you have to have it or else the browser simply doesn’t “feel” right, or it’s absolutely useless to you and a waste of resources. Me? I love it!
Unfortunately, the price you pay for surfing in peace is that for each site you come across, you have to enable their scripts. If you try to watch video on a new site where you’ve never been to before, you’ll have to enable its scripts – and while this sounds simple, the sheer number of scripting that’s done on a lot of sites means you’ll be scrolling through easily a half-dozen or more script entries trying to figure out the one (or more) you need to enable in order to make the site work.
In the end, you need patience to use NoScript, and if you have it, it’s one of the most powerful extensions available to keep you and your surfing habits safe from prying eyes. You just have to remember that if something on a site isn’t working while NoScript is active, it’s probably NoScript blocking it.
Ah, YouTube. The bastion of Web video. I love YouTube, I really do, but I absolutely hate YouTube comments. They’re generally a den of idiocy and never really yield useful information about the video, or about anything else for that matter. Thanks to the YouTube Comment Snob, you get control over what comments are shown and which are hidden. Sure, YouTube already has a user-ranked karma system and you can select what threshold to display, but that relies on other YouTube commenters to rank the comments already there, and that doesn’t really give YOU control, does it?
I checked out the YouTube Comment Snob for AppScout too, and found it worked just as well as advertised. The Snob keeps an eye out for things like excessive capitalization, excessive punctuation (perfect for the people who need to end every word with a thousand exclamation points), poor spelling and grammar, or is outright profane. My only complaint about it is that you can’t turn comments off entirely.
Conclusions and Honorable Mentions
So that does it! That’s a pretty solid list of Firefox extensions that I absolutely can’t live without. Don’t worry, this isn’t an exclusive list, and it’s not extensions that YOU should run, just ones that I do! If you have suggestions, definitely leave them in the comments!
That being said, there are a few honorable mentions worth pointing out; add-ons like The Nethernet (formerly PMOG: the Passively Multiplayer Online Game, which I also reviewed back in the day), a free and fun game that I used to play all the time…that was until the art style changed, the toolbar became a resource hog, and there were issues with each patch and revision to the extension. The game is still fun, but went through a rough patch when I stopped playing. I’m curious if it’s any better now, but even if I dropped off the wagon you should give it a try! I’m also a fan of AdBlock Plus, which can handle some of the things NoScript does in the way of ads, banners, and Flash.
So what are some of your favorite extensions? The ones you install all but instantly upon getting a new computer with Firefox freshly installed?