Enterprise Software

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.


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

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

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