By Jay Garmon
Firefox has quietly become a forgotten browser lately, with Google Chrome taking on the mantle of preferred geek browser. Don’t let the hype fool you. Firefox holds roughly 30% of the browser market, second only to Internet Explorer. And while Google Chrome may grab headlines for its excellent extensions (including the fake ones), Firefox takes a back seat to no one in the browser plug-in department. Below is the top 10 best Firefox add-ons to improve your browsing experience.
1. Xmarks Bookmark and Password Sync: Anyone who uses multiple PCs will appreciate Xmarks since you maintain one set of bookmarks across all PCs. Just install Xmarks into Firefox and it will record your current bookmarks roster, as well as the saved passwords in your Firefox password manager. On any other computer running Firefox, just download Xmarks, use your Xmarks login, and all your passwords and bookmarks are ported into the current browser. Sign out and the import is revoked. As a guy who logs into multiple VPNs on several machines – each with long, convoluted URL structures – Xmarks is a lifesaver.
2. Web of Trust (WOT) Safe Browsing Tool: Similar to the McAfee Site Advisor we previewed in our Internet Safety Guide, Web of Trust appends starred safety ratings to search results, so you know how “safe” a page is before clicking a link. WOT works with every major search engine, and the safety rankings are derived from WOT user feedback. Don’t let the crowdsourcing angle throw you off, WOT is among the most popular Firefox add-ons out there, so it has more than enough support to provide accurate and timely safety ratings.
3. Google Gears: An oldie but a goodie, Google Gears is the Firefox add-on that’s not a Firefox add-on; you can use it with any browser to store your Google Web app data to your hard drive. Why would you want to drag your Gmail, Google Calendar or Google Docs offline? So you can use them without a Web connection, of course. Frequent air travelers will understand how helpful this can be, especially since it’s easier to get free Wi-Fi in-flight than at airports these days. Google Gears also works with several non-Google Web apps, including Remember the Milk and Zoho Office.
4. DownThemAll!: For you compulsive downloaders out there (who, me?), DownThemAll! is what you’ve been looking for. It’s a highly customizable download manager that lets you pause, resume, accelerate and automate your Web downloads. Best of all? It offers the option to download all the images or links on a page, saving you the trouble of endlessly right-clicking every element of a gallery or, say, a list of great Firefox add-ons.
5. Adblock Plus: Yes, blocking ads will kill your favorite websites(or not), but a lot of us have had our fill of autoplaying video ads, scroll-preventing takeover ads or pages that never load because the ad server stalls. Enter Adblock Plus, which recodes web pages on the fly to exclude annoying advertisements. You’ll never browse faster or with more peaceful sanity than the moment after you install Adblock Plus.
6. Session Manager: Don’t just bookmark web pages, save them with Session Manager. What’s the difference? Any tab you save with Session Manager can be reloaded exactly as it was when you saved it, with your credentials logged in, your preferences entered and even form-fields filled out. Want to open your private corporate web mail without jumping through three login challenges every time? Just save your inbox with Session Manager. It’s more useful than you’d expect.
7. FastestFox: A virtual researcher’s Swiss Army Knife, FastestFox allows you to save on-page video to your hard drive, even if there isn’t a download link. Highlight on-page text and FastestFox will offer a Wikipedia definition as well as quicklinks to multiple search engines to query against the selection. If you click the Wikipedia link, all related Wikipedia articles are preloaded into a handy left-column list. If you query Google instead, you’ll never have to click Next Page again, as FastestFox autoloads each successive results page so you can scroll seamlessly forever. If you regularly research on the Web, FastestFox is your new best friend.
8. Copy Plain Text: Its function is in the name: Copy Plain Text offers you the option of copying text from a web page (or Thunderbird email) without taking the bold/italic/underline/link/font style with it. Very handy for quoting source materials or just cleaning up those punchlines before pasting them into Facebook status messages.
9. IE Tab: Some websites remain stubbornly coded explicitly for Internet Explorer, especially where Microsoft-centric products like Outlook Web Access are concerned. That’s where IE Tab comes in; it creates a new Firefox tab that simulates all the native functionality of Internet Explorer, but without requiring a second browser.
10. Feedly: An old school print newspaper meets a modern RSS feedreader, Feedly Firefox automatically imports your Live Bookmarks, Google Reader Feeds and Twitter followers, and combines the data into a clean, eye-friendly magazine interface that’s immediately readable. While you won’t scroll quite as fast through your data with Feedly as you might in GReader, you will enjoy the content a bit more, and you’ll have access to more of it from the homepage. Recommended for information junkies everywhere.
Didn’t find what you’re looking for? Mozilla curates an almost exhaustive list of Firefox add-ons on its website. Look around; you’re likely to find an add-on that sounds useful to you.
One final note: Greasemonkey is an add-on conspicuously absent from this list. This is because Greasemonkey is an add-on designed to replace all other add-ons by virtue of lighter, faster userscripts. Unless you know your way around userscripts, Greasemonkey is of questionable value. Once you’ve got the hang of Firefox add-ons, Greasemonkey is a logical next step, but it’s not one I recommend most users adopt right away.
Greasemonkey notwithstanding, if you think I’ve overlooked a vital Firefox add-on, feel free to name it in the comments area.