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Recommended Firefox addons

imageLast post of the year. Following on from my “The Dhry Way or the Highway” Android essentials post, today I’ve decided to make some recommendations about Firefox addons that improve my productivity at work and play. Avid followers of my blog will recall that at one stage I hated Firefox but gradually warmed to it as the dealbreakers started to crumble. Now that most websites actually WORK in FF, I probably couldn’t live without it and this is mainly due to the extension of its capabilities via small addons. This is not to say that I probably couldn’t get similar stuff working with IE and Chrome but I’m just so used to FF these days. If only it loaded as fast as Chrome..

Anyway, on to the addon recommendations. Note that some of the addons below are for older versions of Firefox and you may need to reconfigure your FF to disable addon compatibility checking in order for them to work. Relax, doing this is harmless.

Classic Compact: Coupled with Classic Compact Options, this is my skin/layout of choice. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s wasted screen real estate – too much padding in tables, menus and buttons too large. I’m not blind and ninety years old yet! This skin allows me to fit a very large amount of bookmarks, buttons and other items at the top of the screen in a relatively small space so that there’s more room on the screen for the actual website.

Echofon: Makes it very easy to post to Twitter from your browser without having to login to the site – considering that the browser is the one program I can guarantee will be open 100% of the time while I’m at my machine, this is quite handy for me. Manifests as a small icon in the browser status bar; click it and voilà, a popup window allowing you to read and post to Twitter for multiple accounts.

Greasemonkey: Definitely can’t live without this. It’s a framework that allows you to write code which kicks in whenever you visit a page or range of pages. I use it in its most basic form to replace fonts and change CSS padding etc on pages that I regularly visit in order to optimize my browsing experience, but it’s possible to completely change the functionality of sites. There are heaps of user scripts on, wait for it, userscripts.org. Greasefire checks userscripts.org automatically for each site you visit and shows a list of scripts that are enabled for that site and may be of interest.

Firebug: A very good plugin for web developers. Firebug breaks down websites into a lot of technical data, popping a window at the bottom of the screen which allows you to, for example, hover over screen elements and determine the files that they are pulling their CSS from. As well as this you can load a site and find out in realtime which elements are taking the longest to pull from the webserver etc. Helps immensely with my Greasemonkey script development when reverse-engineering sites in order to twiddle them.

DownThemAll: A pretty cool download manager plugin. If you regularly download files from websites, this plugin is invaluable. Works in multithreaded mode too, which allows you to download files faster. I‘ve never managed to figure out why downloading a file from start to finish takes x seconds, while downloading it with eg ten threads takes (x ÷ 10) seconds. Maybe one day I’ll discover the reason.

Tab Mix Plus: Adds functionality to the browser tabs in FF – multiple rows, change tab background and text color, little close-buttons on each tab, min and max tab width, and plenty more.

Shorten URL: I use this many times each day. Very good for sending links to friends or posting them on Twitter. Visit a web page, click this button and it instantly makes a long URL into a short one using one of dozens of selectable URL shortener websites such as bit.ly.

Text Link: In order to click text and have your browser take you to a site, the text has to be a hyperlink. Like the word hyperlink that I just wrote in the previous sentence.. However, unless you hyperlink them manually, text URLs don’t do squat when you click on them. Like this: www.yahoo.com. If you had Text Link installed, you’d be able to doubleclick on that Yahoo URL and have it work exactly like a live hyperlink.

Toodledo: Toodledo.com is probably the web’s most popular reminder system. This plugin allows you to easily add new tasks for yourself on toodledo.com without having to load the main site. Also enables a nice sidebar in FF showing your current tasks.

Mouse Gestures Redox: Once you get used to using this addon you won’t be able to do without it. Essentially it allows you to trigger browser actions by holding down the right mouse button and “drawing” a shape on the screen. For example, drawing an L shape with the right button held down will close the current page, and drawing a line from right to left will make the browser go “back” a page. After you get used to it it saves quite a bit of time and clickery.

Add Bookmark Here²:  Allows you to bookmark a web page directly into a location in Firefox – for example, a folder in the bookmarks toolbar or menu. (Normally adding a bookmark makes you perform an additional step in telling FF where the bookmark should be positioned.)

No Color: I use this often. Click it once and it removes all color and background images from a website so all you see are the tables and black and white text. Handy for websites with godawful color schemes; makes the text much easier to read. Click again and color is restored.

OpenDownload: THIS addon was one of the main reasons I started using Firefox after bitching about it for years. It fills a giant gap in functionality by allowing you to “open” a file from a website, similar to how IE does it (Chrome still cannot do this – freaking useless!) Without this addon, Firefox will force you to save a file to your hard drive, whereupon you then need to minimize FF, browse to that folder and manually doubleclick on that file to open it. Pfft.

Textarea++: Ever tried to add a comment or fill in a form on a website, where the text area you’re given is barely the size of a matchbox? This neat plugin allows you to resize any text entry box directly within the webpage giving you a little more textual breathing room. Also adds scrollbars to text areas.

Retro Find: God how I love this plugin. When you press Ctrl-F to find text on a website, Firefox opens this awful, immovable find area at the bottom of your screen. I’ve hated that thing so much, you wouldn’t believe. Retro Find turns the find option into a floating dialog box (similar to what you get with every single other program on earth, eg Microsoft Word, Notepad etc) that you can drag anywhere you like. Yays.

SyncPlaces: A big failing with FF is the inability to export a range of bookmarks so you can use them on another machine. For example, I have a crapload of work-oriented bookmarks on my office laptop, but how to transfer them to my home machine? You can’t, unless you use this addon. Allows to export all, or just some bookmarks, including to an FTP server – and then retrieve and inject them easily into another FF instance elsewhere. However, I’ve found that later versions of SyncPlaces are broken – the last version that worked for me is 4.07 and I recommend you use this too until they fix the damn thing.

ViewSourceWith: FF’s default source viewer sucks. This plugin allows you to use any third-party source viewer you like. My preference is Notepad++.

That’s all, folks! Have a great New Year!