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Best Firefox Extensions and Customizing Tips

Scot's Newsletter's Firefox 1.0: The New World Wide Web Champ crowned the new Firefox Web browser as the King of Web Browsers. This article tells you how to customize Mozilla's Firefox 1.5 by installing program extensions and tweaking little-known settings to make the Web browser work the way you want it to.

By Scot Finnie

   - Document Status
   - Firefox Extension Recommendations
   - Firefox Customization Recommendations
   - How to Acquire and Install Firefox Extensions<

Document Status
Last Updated: April 16, 2006

With the release of Firefox 1.5.0.2, this document presumes the use of Firefox 1.5. Three extensions have been added recently to this list, Image Zoom, Feedview, and Viamatic foXpose. Four extensions have been removed: ChromEdit, UndoCloseTab, Stop-or-Reload Button, and miniT(drag+indicator).

Best Firefox Extensions
Last Updated: April 16, 2006

With so many beneficial Firefox extensions available, I've worked through a long list to arrive at the ones I find indispensable, and those picks are listed in this section. Mozilla.org's Firefox Extensions page lists over 1,400 extensions. So there's no way anyone could have tested them all. If you've actively used a Firefox extension you think offers something unique or powerful and you want me to consider it, please feel free to send me an email about it. Be sure to include a link to an actual page where I can download it.

MUST-HAVE TAB-BROWSING FIREFOX EXTENSIONS

I have a strong preference for running Firefox in a way that minimizes the number of full program windows that open on my desktop. I would like to be able to track the trail of sites I visit as separate pages. But I want those separate pages to appear as tabs. If you try working this way, I believe that you will find that it is very efficient. Of course, what matters is what works for you. But in my use of Firefox, these tab-browsing-oriented extensions have given the browser a huge boost in productivity. And it's no surprise that Internet Explorer 7 will implement tabbed-browsing in a similar fashion.

Tab Clicking Options by Twanno
Double-clicking any blank area of Firefox's tab bar opens a new tab browser. But by default, double-clicking any existing tab has no effect. Tab Clicking Options let's you configure functionality for keyboard and mouse-click combinations related to Firefox's tabs. For example, you can configure it to close any open tab by double-clicking the tab label. Ctrl-double-click on any tab might duplicate the tab and its contents. Other options include resurrect a closed tab and view tab in IE. The program is easy to install and configure, stable, and well worth a couple of minutes to get it going. Best of all, it doesn't try to do too much. It would be nice if it would append its functions on the context menus for tabs and the tab bar.

Viamatic foXpose by Vivek Jishtu
Viamatic foxPose supports Firefox 1.5 and later and it delivers a tab-window thumbnailing feature available under other browsers, including the forthcoming Internet Explorer 7. Very well implemented with a simple but effective user interface.

SessionSaver by Rue
SessionSaver is a useful extension that saves all open browser tabs in the event of a crash. It also lets you save and name sets of tabs, and recall them at will, and has other functions as well. The extennsion was significantly updated late in 2005. The user interface is a bit weak. Some functions are hard to find.

Notes: Another program, Tab Mix Plus (listed later in this document), offers many of the features of Tab Clicking Options and SessionSaver. It may be worth your consideration instead. Also, to truly fix all aspects of Firefox's tab-browsing functionality, I strongly recommend the customizations under the Tab-Browsing Tweaks heading in Best Firefox Customizations section below.

MUST-HAVE UI-IMPROVING FIREFOX EXTENSIONS

Although full-fledged tab-browsing is the functionality that's most lacking in Firefox, there are other areas that also need polish.

DeskCut by Evan Eveland
Lets you right-click anywhere on an open Web page and choose Create deskCut from the pop-up menu to place a Firefox bookmark on your desktop.

IE View by Paul Roub
IE View adds a context-menu item that lets you open in Internet Explorer any Web page currently displayed in Firefox. Works best in conjunction with the next extension the list, FirefoxView.

FirefoxView by Alex Sirota
This unique Firefox extension is in essence the reverse of IE View. It installs in Firefox, and from there, offers the ability install and uninstall a modification to Internet Explorer that lets you right-click any open Web page in IE and choose the option "View this Page in Firefox." Extremely handy, especially when used in tandem with IE View.

Feedview by Tom Germeau
Shows RSS and XML feeds in scannable, clickable plain English. Gives you controls to change article lengths. Very simple utility that lets you *see* any RSS feed's current contents before you subscribe to it. Once you try it, you'll never go back. Author reports that Feedview will be included in Firefox 2.0.

Resize Search Box by Nathar Leichoz, Awan Afuqya
Creates a drag-and-drop resizable version of the Google (or other search engine) search box on your Firefox toolbar. Very well designed, although it may be difficult to figure out how to use it.

Image Zoom by Jason Adams
Ever wish you could get a closer look at an image? About half the time, the quality of the image is good enough that zooming in is a major advantage. Image Zoom is invaluable for this, and it has an excellent set of mouse-based and context-menu based controls and options. You definitely want this one..

Disable Targets For Downloads by Ben Basson
As described by its program author, this extension "eliminates a common error [caused] by many webmasters, which ultimately causes blank windows to be opened when you try to download a binary file." Anyone who downloads frequently with Firefox will come across this problem — before installing this extension.

Ext2Abc by Eric Hamiter
Alphabetically sorts the list of extensions shown in the Extension manager window.

Word Count by Eric Hamiter
While it might only have strong interest for writers and editors, Word Count emulates Microsoft Word's Word Count feature for use on Web pages, and does its job well. It counts the number of words in a highlighted body of text displayed in Firefox.

MUST-HAVE FIREFOX-EXTENSION APPLETS

Not every Firefox extension is aimed at fixing something or adding a simple functionality. Some add little programs that do things like play music, create blog posts, or provide FTP client features. Of these sorts of extensions, there are three that are especially good:

Sage RSS/Atom Reader by Peter Andrews
Very nice light-weight RSS Reader that I find myself using more and more.

ForecastFox by Richard Klein, Jon Stritar
ForecastFox is a weather display program powered by AccuWeather.com. It displays current and forecast temperatures at a glance in the Firefox status bar. It's highly configurable and gives you quick access to detailed weather information localized to your zip code.

FoxyTunes by Alex Sirota
FoxyTunes is like the steering-wheel mounted controls that newer luxury autos offer for their audio systems. This well-done Firefox extension provides status-bar-mounted controls and read-outs for your favorite media player. It supports a wide range of software players for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X, including Winamp, iTunes, Windows Media Player, Musicmatch, RealPlayer — about 30 players in all. FoxyTunes isn't actually a media player itself; it remotely controls the media player you select from its settings. If you select a media player that isn't installed on your computer, it just doesn't work. It's a bit more ambitious and complex than most Firefox extensions, but it's also clearly one of the very best ones I've tried. (Note: This paragraph is an excerpt from the Scot's Take column in the March 2005 issue of PC Today magazine.)

EXTENSIONS THAT HAVE FALLEN OFF THE MUST-HAVE LISTS

  • ChromEdit by Chris Neale - doesn't support v.1.5
  • UndoCloseTab by Dorando - doesn't support .v.1.5.0.2; last updated 2004
  • Stop-or-Reload Button by Caio Chassot - pers. preference, changed my mind
  • miniT(drag+indicator) by Caio Chassot - it's included in v.1.5

    SOME EXTENSIONS ON MY TO-TRY LIST

    IE Tab
    Tab Mix Plus by CPU (see extension conflict list)
    Always Remember Password by Eric Hamiter
    BugMeNot by Eric Hamiter
    Foxylicious by Dietrich Ayala
    Add Bookmark Here by Mark Lindkvist

    TRIED 'EM, DO NOT LIKE 'EM

    Tab Browser Extension by Shimoda Hiroshi
    Tabbrowser Preferences by Bradley Chapman


    Best Firefox Customizations
    Last Updated: April 16, 2006

    Mozilla browsers offer a much higher degree of user customization than is apparent from their Options dialogs. Several of the easiest to implement tweaks for Firefox 1.0 are found on Mozilla's Firefox Tips & Tricks page. Read the information there; it tells you how to make many of the changes I'm suggesting.

    TAB-BROWSING AND UI TWEAKS

  • Disable Other JavaScript Window Features
    I highly recommend this option in conjunction with Decide Which New Windows to Block. If your goal is like mine — to make 90% of the links you click open in a new tab — these customizations provide both that functionality and excellent controls for making sure this works properly with most Web content.

  • Decide Which New Windows to Block
    Allows small pop-up windows spawned by JavaScript to open as normal pop-ups instead of as new tabs in Firefox (which sometimes forces your entire browser window to shrink). I strongly recommend adding this customization in conjunction with Reveal More Tab/Windows Options.

  • Remove the Close Button from the Tab Bar
    Copy and paste these lines to the userChrome.css file. This will remove the X (Close) button from the right side of the Firefox tab bar, which can be a good thing. It's more possible than it should be to accidentally lose a tab by clicking this box inadvertently. And with the Tab Clicking Options extension installed, you should configure things so that you can delete any tab just by double-clicking on its tab label. Thanks to Scot's Newsletter reader T. Antani for pointing out this improved version of the tweak posted on the Mozilla site; it removes the close button on the tab bar while leaving it on the sidebars:

    /* Remove tabs close button */
    #content .tabs-closebutton {display: none ! important;}

  • Prevent Sites from Disabling the Context Menu
    Some Web sites prevent you from right-clicking the page to show the context menu of options that can be carried out on that page. This tweak, which you add as Firefox Bookmark, prevents that on many sites.


    USING ABOUT:CONFIG

    The biggest bonanza of options is something called "about:config". To access it, type this into Firefox's URL bar and press Enter:

    about:config

    A word of warning. There's a lot going on in about:config, and it would be a mistake to make random changes to this page. Educate yourself first. Mozilla.org offers a help page that explains How To Modify Hidden Preferences Using about:config. Even more importantly, these additional documents explain individual about:config settings:

  • About:config Entries
  • Documented Preferences

    The second one is an older document that's really aimed at earlier Mozilla browsers, but it offers slightly more detailed information. There is not a perfect 100% overlap between previous Mozilla browsers and Firefox on the about:config page. But the majority of the options are the same. One way to handle this is to use the first link as your reference, and use the second link to check for any additional information about a specific setting.

    There's only one about:config-based tweak that I'm currently recommending (although I expect to add others in the near future). This recommendation really only applies to people who have fast Internet connections or those who are Webmasters, news junkies, possibly online gaming, anything where it's mandatory that clicking the Refresh button always shows you the very latest information on that Web page. If that describes the way you need or want to work, you can configure Firefox to work the same way Internet Explorer's check for website updates on "Every visit to the page."

    To make this change, find this entry in about:config:

    browser.cache.check_doc_frequency

    The default setting is represented by the numeral 3, and corresponds to "when appropriate/automatically." To change it, simply double-click the browser.cache.check_doc_frequency entry. A small dialog box will open. Type the numeral 1 to change it to "Each Time" and press OK. Here's a description of the available options for this particular setting:

    0 = Once per session
    1 = Each time
    2 = Never
    3 = When appropriate/automatically

    Some other about: screens that you might want to explore include:

    about:cache
    about:plugins

    There are others too, but several of them aren't very useful. About:config is the one to master.

    How to Acquire and Install Firefox Extensions
    Last Updated: November 30, 2005

    There are at least three sites that host extensions for Firefox and Mozilla. Mozilla.org does not host every extension out there and it is sometimes slow to update extension versions, so it would be smart to bookmark several extension sites:

  • Mozilla.org's Firefox Extensions
  • Mozdev.org's Extension Room
  • The Extensions Mirror

    You'll find that in some cases this document links directly to the extension author's home page. That's a conscious choice I've made because I've found that in several cases the author's page does a better job than the hosting sites.

    INSTALLING FIREFOX EXTENSIONS

    On Mozilla's Firefox Extensions site, the listing page for each extension offers a tinted box with the "Install Now" link, which makes initiating the installation of an extension intuitive. That clarity is not present on all other extenion host sites and especially extension program author pages. In some cases, it seems as though an extension page is purposely playing hide and seek with the installation link. It's usually labeled "install" or "installation," but sometimes hyperlinks to that effect lead you to another page where it may not be immediately obvious what to click. Once you get the hang of this, though, the task becomes easier. And because extensions are usually small in size, the process is quick even with dial-up Internet connections.

    The first time you install an extension from any given domain or subdomain plus domain, Firefox will block the download and installation until you specifically add that domain to your approved list. When this happpens, a yellow bar appears just above the Web page window and below the tab bar. Firefox displays a warning in the yellow bar that reads: "To protect your computer, Firefox prevented this site (specfic domain name shown) from installing software on your comptuer." On the right side of the yellow bar you'll find a gray button labeled "Edit Options." When you click the button, the "Allowed Sites - Software Installation" dialog box opens. To allow software to install from this site, you must click the Allow button to add the new domain to your list of allowed sites and then click the Close button.

    What should happen next is that Firefox should automatically resume the process of downloading the extension. Because it's not smart enough to do that, you must reinitiate the process by clicking the "Install" link or button a second time. The good news is that you only have to go through these steps once for each subdomain plus domain you install from. Subsequent upgrades of your extensions, or other extensions on that specific subdomain and domain, go off without a hitch. They can even be run as an automatic process from Firefox's Extensions dialog, which you'll find as a menu item on Firefox's Tools menu.

    Newly installed Firefox extensions are not activated until after you exit all instances of the Firefox browser window and restart the program. So that's the last step in the installation process. Some extensions require the setting of options after they're installed. Usually you can get to the options for any extension in the Firefox Extensions dialog.

  • Back to the January 2005 edition of Scot's Newsletter