Essential Firefox add-ons

Part of Firefox’s strength and agility comes from its extensible architecture allowing third-party developers to create add-ons that extend the browser’s capabilities in thousands of ways, some of them highly specialized. I rely on a cadre of add-ons for personal and business uses, many of which I use every day.

I thought I’d share my current faves as of August, 2010. I’m currently running two copies of Firefox 3.6.8 on a Mac (as well as a third copy of the currently in-beta Firefox 4b1).

Add Bookmark Here 2

This is the only add-on I’ve been able to locate that fixes one of the most annoying things in Firefox 3’s terrible changes to the prior bookmarks dialog. In FF 2.x you had a normal Mac OS X dialog box which had a drag handle that allowed you to resize the bookmarks list. In FF 3.x they used a different UI style and removed the resizing functionality altogether, which literally breaks the UI for me. I have tons of bookmarks and an extensive folder list, and I can’t view them all in a tiny window, plus scrolling through to a folder in the R, S, T, etc. range takes forever and a day. This add-on adds back the ability to resize (although it’s really hidden, you have to mouse over a minuscule two-pixel area at the bottom of the bookmarks list), and it also retains the size of the dialog the next time you open it, as well as the last-used folder. All these a very important to me (and really should be the default behavior in Firefox anyway).

Feedly

I’ve just started using this fascinating little RSS reader, which turns feeds into a much more digestible, almost magazine-like format. I haven’t determined whether I’ll keep using it, but that’s mostly because it’s always been hard for me to get into using RSS at all. Or rather, I’ve never been able to train myself to regularly go to one location to read many streams.

FoxyTunes

This simple add-on just lets me turn my iTunes on and off from the browser, and show’s me the title/artist of what is currently playing. I don’t use it a ton, but it’s handy if you spent 85% of your computing time in the browser, like me.

Google Redesigned

I would never have been able to start using Gmail if it hadn’t been for this skin from Globex Designs. Gmail is terrible, horrible, awful to look at, and this skin makes it 250x better. (Requires Greasemonkey)

Greasemonkey

If you really want to take control of your browsing environment, Greasemonkey can help you do it. It allows you to customize many things about how the browser works and how web pages work. For example, you can block all the comments from a particular troll on a forum you frequent, so you never see them. You can remove all the ads from a news site, making for leaner page-load times. And this is just what you can do with the thousands of scripts written by other users; if you know JavaScript you can do much more yourself.

Hyperwords

This powerful little contextual menu add-on puts a ton of control right at your right-click. I use it to highlight words and instantly look them up on Wikipedia or Google Definitions, to highlight a product name and search for it on Amazon or Google, or highlighting an address and locating it on Google Maps. There are many other options.

Password Exporter

Firefox really should have the built-in capability to export or back-up your passwords. If you’re like me, you use Firefox’s ability to store site-specific passwords and logins and secure them with a master password. Sadly, I’ve had several instances where some or all of those got wiped during a Firefox update or a severe crash. If you perform regular back-ups using this add-on, you’ll minimize your loss (the ad-on also enables import, so you can restore from your old export).

PDF Download

I don’t know why Firefox on the Mac can’t view PDFs inline, this has always seemed like a major oversight to me. And I hate when I click on a link on a web page and suddenly realize it was a PDF and now I’ve got to go hunt down where the damn thing was saved to on my computer. PDF Download asks you whether you want to download, open the PDF, view it as HTML, or view it online (the latter two I find somewhat buggy, and they seem to do the same thing). The most important feature to me is that it forces the browser to ask me what I want to do, and where I want to save it on my computer.

Read It Later

I don’t use this one a ton, but looking at how many tabs I usually have open at a time, I probably should use it more. Read It Later extends bookmarking, and even lets you sync across devices and read offline.

Remove Cookies for Site

A simple utility to remove cookie(s) for a particular site, which can come in handy in development when you don’t want to remove all cookies in your browser, for all sites.

Screengrab

This is a life-saver when you take as many full-page screenshots as I do. I used to have to do this one screen at a time, scrolling and capturing and pasting into Photoshop. What a time-saver this add-on has been!

Video DownloadHelper

I use this all the time for downloading videos from YouTube and many other services. It has an active community adding sites to its list regularly, so you can use it on practically any site you’ve watched videos on.

Web Developer

This is probably the most important add-on to have if you’re a web developer or designer, adding tons of functionality that helps you tweak and debug your code, view others’ code, and much more.

Xmarks Sync

I tried many, many bookmark syncing apps and extensions a couple years ago, and I settled on Xmarks (then called Foxmarks), which allows me to keep my home and work bookmarks synced. It works with IE and Safari too, and it also allows you to sync your passwords (optional). Your bookmarks are uploaded to a secure location you can access from other browsers too, in case you’re at a meeting somewhere and need something you bookmarked. You can share sets of your bookmarks as well, which is handy if you’re organized like me and you have a whole folder of CSS stuff you’d like to share with someone. They’ll get just those bookmarks you choose to share, and not have access to the rest of your private ones.

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