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10 seamless extensions that make Firefox 2 even better

With so many add-ons available, how do you determine which ones will really improve your Firefox browsing experience? Justin James set some tough criteria and then selected his favorites from the extensions that made the cut.

This article is also available as a PDF download.

Picking 10 favorite extensions for any popular program can be a challenging task, especially when the application is as well loved by its users as Firefox is. So to keep the process manageable, I followed a few guidelines in making my selections.

Criteria

The extensions...

  • Must not rely on any third-party Web site, as a change in that site would alter the way the extension worked.
  • Must be free and not require any registration and must not display advertising or otherwise annoy users.
  • Must be stable and reliable.
  • Must truly extend Firefox for purely Web/FTP purposes and not simply replicate desktop application functionality within a Web browser that would be better left outside of the browser.
  • Must be intuitive to work with once the initial installation and configuration is performed; must feel completely natural to use.
  • Must be available through the Firefox extension Web site and easily install as a Firefox extension package, without requiring any external installation systems.

In addition, the Adobe Flash Player is automatically ruled out, since so many Web sites require it.

Although these guidelines may seem a little bit strict (many great extensions were ruled out along the way), this is a list of extensions that enhance the Firefox application in a seamless "Why wasn't that in the program to begin with?" way.

#1: Unhide Passwords 1.1.3

This extension is simple, but it can be quite useful. It just shows the contents of a password field when your cursor is in it (Figure A) and masks it with asterisks when you aren't typing in the field (Figure B). This could be a security problem in an office or other public environment, but at home or in a private office, it's quite liberating. Some sites will lock you out after a few incorrect login attempts, and it's much nicer to see that you accidentally hit Caps Lock or are typing your password wrong before clicking Submit, rather than after.

Figure A

 

Figure B

 

#2: Tab History 1.0.4

One of the great annoyances I've found with tabbed browsing is that while a tab spawned from a page is thought of an extension of viewing that page, the Web browser does not treat it as such with regard to browsing history. Thanks to Tab History, this is no longer a problem. New tabs that are spawned from an existing page now retain the full history of their parent page, allowing you to more easily switch back and forth between particular views of information or content instead of trying to remember which tab contains what history. Any history created after the tab was spawned is not replicated, which makes sense. This is definitely one of those "that seems so obvious now" extensions that's hard to live without once you've used it even once.

#3: searchOnTab 1.0

searchOnTab makes perfect sense, and it works perfectly. It adds an option to the drop-down search menu that allows you to specify whether you want the search results to be opened in a new tab or in the existing tab (Figure C). This is another piece of basic functionality that just makes life with Firefox so much more pleasant. You won't even remember you ever lived without it within an hour.

Figure C

 

#4: Undo Closed Tabs Button 2.0

Undo Closed Tabs (Figure D) allows you to add a button to your toolbars that will reopen a tab you closed. It even retains the original position and maintains a history of closed tabs. Although this functionality already exists on the History menu, promoting it to the level of the toolbar is a nice idea. I generally try to keep toolbars clean and neat, but this is one button I do not mind adding at all.

Figure D

 

#5: Image Download 1.0.2

Don't you just hate it when a page is filled with images you want to save and you have to go through the tedious process of saving each one? Image Download (Figure E and Figure F) cures that problem. Not only does it instantly save all the images on a page, but it also allows you to establish various categories with basic filters and a download destination. Even better, it creates an individual directory each time you use it, with a timestamp to tell you when you downloaded the images.

Figure E

 

Figure F

 

#6: Link Alert 0.5.6

Link Alert changes the standard hyperlink cursor to indicate what type of link your mouse is hovering over. This is a really nice bit of functionality that can help you avoid a silly (or even dangerous) mistake. The basic functionality seems to work well. However, from the Options menu, it seems that this extension is not as fleshed out as its authors would like it to be. It looks like they're going to be adding the ability to customize the cursor based on various filters. That being said, it still does a great job of letting you know that a link will trigger JavaScript, open in a new window, use SSL encryption, and other useful things, all quite intuitively.

#7: ColoUnREaDTabs 1.0

ColoUnREaDTabs (Figure G) is a great, yet simple, extension. All it does is make the text for a tab red, bold, and italic when you open the tab and then changes it to normal text once you have actually viewed the tab. This is such a boon throughout the day you'll wonder how it didn't get included in Firefox (or Internet Explorer) in the first place. I find this to be particularly useful when performing Web searches, research, and comparison shopping. Once you install it, you'll never go back.

Figure G

 

#8: Download Sort 2.5.7

Download Sort (Figure H) requires a bit of initial configure effort, but the results are well worth it. It allows you to specify a set of filters and save options for various types of files and determine where to store the files automatically when they're downloaded. It even lets you tell it whether to create a subdirectory for the download and set rules for naming that subdirectory. It can handle duplicate filenames in a number of ways as well. It also works with image downloads. If you typically perform many downloads of files or mages, Download Sort is for you.

Figure H

 

#9: Colorful Tabs 1.7

One minor GUI improvement that Internet Explorer 7 made over Firefox was having a better visual distinction between the tabs themselves on the screen. Colorful Tabs (Figure I) ends this disparity. It gives each tab a slight tint, allowing you to see them much more easily. Even better, it's compatible with ColoUnREaDTabs. When these two extensions are used together, Web users who like to open a lot of tabs will be much happier with Firefox than they were before. This extension significantly improves the usability of Firefox in an area where improvement did not seem to be needed.

Figure I

 

#10: DOM Inspector 1.8

When writing HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, it's often easy to get lost within nested layers of code, making debugging and troubleshooting difficult at best. In addition, one of the best ways to learn to work with TML, CSS, and JavaScript is to look at what techniques other people have used to achieve effects similar to what you're after. DOM Inspector (Figure J) is an excellent tool in both regards. It provides insight into the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript on a page so you can easily understand what's occurring and why. It's an extremely useful extension and belongs in any developer's toolbox for performing Web development.

Figure J

 

About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

39 comments
dave.mcinnes
dave.mcinnes

great listing, well worth the time and check on what is going on using TechRepublic!

sysop-dr
sysop-dr

Interesting, these are 10 of the addon's I already have. Great minds thing alike :-)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I'm glad TR ran it in the latest round of e-mails. I got immediate use out of four of your recommendations. FF extensions are exploding so fast it's tough to keep up with them. Thanks for doing the research.

Justin James
Justin James

Glad you liked the article and found the information helpful! J.Ja

UncaAlby
UncaAlby

It's a neat little gadget, altho it takes some getting used to. What it does is block javascript. Completely. Since javascript is the primary tool for presenting pop-up ads, it turns out to work better than any of the normal pop-up blockers, that try to be "intelligent" about it. "NoScript" takes a "Zero-Tolerance" stance, so it gets EVERYthing. Javascript is also the primary tool for advertiser data mining, so it helps protect your privacy. Downside: javascipt is also often used for "image buttons" and linking to a page when a pull-down list-item is selected. So I'll often forget I've got "NoScript" running, click a button, and nothing happens. NATURALLY I think this is because the 'Net is just SLOW again -- until I remember, curse a bit, and add the page to the exception list. Upside: As you find pages that you trust, or absolutely need, you add them to "NoScript's" exception list. After a while, you forget it's there, and forget that you ever had bad experiences with pop-ups etc. It also works very well with pages that have a lot of third-party links to advertisers. You just allow javascript for the Real Page that you're looking at, while all the advertisers on the same page just pound sand. A perfect example is comics.com -- I visit there regularly for my daily humor fix. They're in my exception list, because they use javascript to select a comic from a pull-down list. But all of their advertisers are blocked. I've forgotten about all their annoying pop-ups, until I happen to visit the page in a non-blocking Internet Explorer. Overall, I'd say it's a good addition.

theknitter
theknitter

Couldn't agree more - it's a fabulous little gadget.

jaspertopsyau
jaspertopsyau

milewideback - i absolutely cannot use FF without this one - makes going back SO EASY and Superdragandgo - soooooo handy just drag and drop a link to open in a new tab - so simple! they would have to be my two absolute must haves! Oh and the ones that change the tabs to red, thats dumb, FF already all by itself makes unread ones blue right?? or is that the Tab Mix Plus - which does loads of things (tab history open closed tabs and windows, session saves - i know FF does some of this now but )

Interested Amateur
Interested Amateur

to change the color and opacity (transparency) of the tabs you have open. What color were you thinking of using for your tabs? Just my opinion... Interested Amateur

dana.itmanager
dana.itmanager

Personally, I have found more use from the extensions in this Discussion portion than the article itself, no offense just truth. I use more extensions than anyone I know, they just keep making cool ones. The only extensions I will take the time to mention are TabX, Session Manager, and Deskcut with which I could not survive!!! (add a little drama:) Oh and one cool thing especially if you have multiple users on FF in an office environment is WindizUpdate which will allow you to go to Microsoft Updates website whereas this function is normally an IE only function.

Dumbterminal
Dumbterminal

A little baffled myself when I read the article. Not a good one in the bunch, and too many good ones left out. The stock tabbed browsing functionality is almost useless without tabbed browser extensions of some sort

sara
sara

I didn't find anything that I wanted to use in the article. My favorites: Adblock PDF Download IE Tab Tab Mix Plus Gspace and forecast fox, just for fun. The others are must haves for me. I found some in the discussions that I'll probably try too.

jorge
jorge

One I cannot live without is ietab. It basically opens Internet Explorer inside a tab, and optionally set that everytime you visit that page again, it will do so with Internet Explorer rendering instead of Mozilla. Now I don't have to open IE, I can switch with just the click of a button.

christophe0241
christophe0241

I think it's weird how there is such great debate between Firefox and IE and how people very rarely ever even mention Opera. I have encountered very few problems with the browser and have noticed that most of these lists of add-ons and plug-ins are things that come stock with Opera. Plus, Opera passes the ACID2 test without any plug-ins where as IE6, 7 and Firefox couldn't. By no means am I trying to start a "my browser is better than yours" arguement or anything, just wondering where everyone else stands on Opera or if anyone else has used it much. Might be a good discussion in itself.

ALEXDALEY@HOTMAIL.COM
ALEXDALEY@HOTMAIL.COM

For about a year now my main browser has been opera. In fact I generally use I.E7, Netscape, Firefox and opera simultaneously. Out of all I prefer to use opera. I mean it can be a bit rough at times for a plug in but overal it prety easy to use, the settings are user friendly..it just keeps getting better and better.

red_wolf(at)nospammail.net
red_wolf(at)nospammail.net

Last time I looks (admittedly it's been a while), Opera wasn't "free" (is it still Ad supported?). Since Opera isn't the focus I'm not digressing further.

cef1000
cef1000

Yes it's free and No it's not ad supported for the free version anymore.

animatech
animatech

I agree. I have a few browsers installed on my PC as part of a test I am doing and to my surprise Opera was the favorite choice in my household. It is rendering faster then other browser (I.E, Firefox etc..) and has most of the features you want on first install without the need to go through lists of extensions. Of course every one have different needs of their browser but 2 thumbs up for Opera :)

Prague
Prague

I use Opera as my default browser, but also have IE7 for its universal support. There have been a number of sites where site authentication methods don't work in Opera, and for those I use IE7.

Interested Amateur
Interested Amateur

I tried to download Opera a few years ago. They wanted payment for the download so I went with Firefox when it was released. I'm satisfied with Firefox as it is because it's a vast improvement over IE. Why should I change now and take a chance that Opera won't decide to charge for their browser next year? BTW, my fave extensions are NoScript, Abblock with Abblock Filterset G Updater, Colorful Tabs and Infolister to keep track of them all. Just my opinion... Interested Amateur

Roc Riz
Roc Riz

Opera is now free! You just have to pay for support

WillLuongo
WillLuongo

For quite a while before the beta for Firefox 2 (bon echo) was out, I used Opera. I liked it a lot, but I like the feel of Firefox 2 more. I can't say that it is just because I used Firefox 1.5 prior to using Opera, but I can't really give any concrete reasons why either. I find them both to be very good browsers, but for whatever reason, I prefer Firefox 2. As far as plug-ins go: I use (and like) Chatzilla, IETabs, and FireFtp. The one I use the most often is IETabs, but I use Chatzilla quite often on my Gentoo server so I can try to get help on the IRC.

Sawan Gupta
Sawan Gupta

I also use Adblock (Filtering out those unwanted ads), Quicknote (To keep small notes while browsing) & del.icio.us (To manage my bookmarks)

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I also use Unhide Passwords, Tab History, and LinkAlert. For the other functions I need or want, I use the following: TabMix Plus 0.3.5, http://tinyurl.com/r2lk6, provides extended tab management functions DownThemAll, http://tinyurl.com/q6fo5, features a download accelerator and download management, filtering, multiple file selection BookMark Duplicate Detector, http://tinyurl.com/p7cwx, detects duplicate URLs anywhere in your Bookmarks. FasterFox, http://tinyurl.com/n3blz, tweaks settings to speed things up. And I know it's not self-contained, but I absolutely can't do without http://tinyurl.com/lybnk, TinyURL Creator (as if you hadn't already figured that out). Edit: type, post, proofread

Tom Wind
Tom Wind

I tryed fasterfox on 2 mashines and on both it slowed down FF. Both program and page loading took more time. especialy after using pc for a long while. simple plugin uninstall speeded up FF... irony :)

JodyGilbert
JodyGilbert

Okay, now it's your turn -- would you have skipped any of Justin's choices in favor of other Firefox extensions? What would your list of top picks look like?

Colinmac
Colinmac

Text Size Toolbar - simple and practical, with icons that make it easy to use. Scrapbook - perfect for holding all those receipts for online purchases until the goods arrive and for filtering only the bits of a webpage you want to keep.

aran99
aran99

This is really not needed as you can simply use the middle-click to open the results in a new tab, or the left-click to open it in the same tab.

Roc Riz
Roc Riz

1) I like fasterfox, because it helps pages load faster: http://fasterfox.mozdev.org/installation.html\ 2) Gspace lets you use your Gmail account as a personal FTP site http://www.getgspace.com/ 3) Since Adobe Acrobat files are often big, and are handled by any browser poorly, I like PDF Download as well: http://www.pdfdownload.org/ 4) IE Tab is essential for pages that only read properly in IE: http://ietab.mozdev.org/ 5) Forecastfox is a handy tool for finding the local weather, and warnings. It's especially handy in the Winter around here, what with unexpected snowstorms: https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/398/ Those are my five favorites. I know that a few of you probably already use them... Just wanted to add my eleventy-two cents.

cef1000
cef1000

The dom add-in is NOT for Firebird. Works with Thunderbird ONLY! Thunderbird 1.5 - 1.5.0.* Windows Tag from Add-In Page for this add-in

Tom Wind
Tom Wind

those mentioned in the list... to tell you the truth I cant find any real use for it... upps - sorry, sound some: take space, use more memorry and most of all: make ff load longer. really ppl - its cr*p. you can do without all of it easyly. I use: Adblock and some other plugin which name I forgot - its used to download videos from youtube, google etc. Adblock is very usefull - you can remove all frames/images from a site. so for example - if you visit some sites everyday you can remove logos and other images from the top and go directly to the good stuff without having to scroll down there was also a plugin which was blocking scripts, but its causing more problems than its worth... every site has a lot of scripts and you end up with pressing 'enable all for this site' which is not secure at all, plus - why to have a blocking plugin when its not blocking anything..? cheer

red_wolf(at)nospammail.net
red_wolf(at)nospammail.net

I run the following: NoScript (probably not good for novices but indispensable for those whose research sends them to questionable sites) https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/722/ AdBlock Plus https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/1865/ Adblock Filterset.G Updater (Gets updates externally but even if the site were to go black, you would still get the benefits from your last update) https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/1136/ FlashBlock https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/433/ Web Developer & User Agent Switcher (A must for web designers) https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/60/ https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/59/ Server Spy (more dev tools) https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/2036/ DownloadThemAll (with filters makes grabbing ISO's painless, why limit yourself to just image downloads) https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/201/ Fast Video Download (for grabbing Google Video, You Tube and other embedded content) https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/3590/ BugMeNot (as others have mentioned, be there is no official mozilla.org page, so it violates the "..available through the Firefox extension Web site.." rule)

TBBrick
TBBrick

I use DOM Inspector as well. In addition: Adblock Plus: http://tinyurl.com/caqdb Add Bookmark Here & Send To: http://tinyurl.com/3nk24 BugMeNot: http://tinyurl.com/yk9ywp Context Highlight: http://tinyurl.com/5f7hd Copy Plain Text, Open Long URL, Tiny URL Creator: http://tinyurl.com/6owxl Delicious: http://tinyurl.com/55yhl Dictionary Search: http://tinyurl.com/4sb6f Flashblock: http://tinyurl.com/5boxa ForecastFox: http://tinyurl.com/52rvx IEView: http://tinyurl.com/2sotk Internote: http://tinyurl.com/ebasy MapIt: (I've tweaked it to work in 2.0) http://tinyurl.com/yyx27d Sage: http://tinyurl.com/3csln Slashy: http://tinyurl.com/scvvz TabX: http://tinyurl.com/6ftje Tab Browser Preferences: http://tinyurl.com/ac7ay

joshy
joshy

To my surprise, none of the extensions where in my setup. I use 8 extensions quite heavily on a day-to-day basis though! So much for extensibility. I love this browser! IETAB : Some sites only work with IE ?! Screengrab : great for taking snapshots of the session Not quite in this category, but Google notebook : Save notes, clipboard and access from anywhere.

TBBrick
TBBrick

Had been using IEView, tried TAB, great extension, thanks for tip.

WillLuongo
WillLuongo

In my experience, Firefox just wants you to verify that you actually want to install the plugin. I have IE Tab and it works wonderfully. As far as I know it hasn't compromised my identity or anythi... what are these charges on my credit card?! ;)

Interested Amateur
Interested Amateur

I don't know about security, but Firefox doesn't block downloads of extensions. Where did you tell Firefox to download the file? I created a new folder in Program Files called "Downloads". Go to My Computer > C: > Program Files and make a new folder from the File menu. Name it whatever you like. Most people use 'My Downloads' or something similar. When Firefox asks you again where you want to save the download, you now have a place for it. Interested Amateur

bob in FL
bob in FL

...Firefox blocked it. Makes me wonder why. I'm not curious enough to bypass their security.

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