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Sunday, November 15, 2009

The ten best add-ons for Mozilla Firefox

Longtime readers of the NPI Advocate know that we're big fans of Firefox, the free software browser by Mozilla. One of the reasons we think it's the best browser out there is the incredibly rich and useful add-ons that are available to extend Firefox and make it infinitely more powerful. Here are our ten favorite add-ons.

NoScript. NoScript is essential armor for Firefox. When installed, it automatically blocks JavaScript by default, speeding up the loading of web pages and neutralizing unsafe sites. It has the convenient side effect of blocking most ads and tracking widgets as well. It also prevents embedded media from automatically loading or playing without a user's consent. Websites a user trusts can be whitelisted (in other words, exempted from NoScript's restrictions) on a case by case basis.

CookieSafe. This add-on is a perfect companion to NoScript; it blocks cookies by default but allows cookies for websites that a user has marked as trusted. It also gives users the ability to delete cookies within the browser at any time. Cookies, for those who don't know, are little text files that websites place on visitors' computers to identify visitors. Cookies can be useful - they allow websites to avoid prompting a user to re-login with every page load - but like scripting, they should only be enabled for sites a user trusts.

Session Manager. The latest versions of Firefox incorporate some of its functionality, such as the ability to restore accidentally closed tabs and recovery of a browser session upon restart after a crash, but Session Manager is still an add-on worth having. It keeps track of what windows and tabs have been recently closed and stores session information for easy retrieval, making it easier to find that web page that should have been bookmarked, but wasn't.

ChromaTabs Plus. Ever wished it was possible to give Firefox tabs different colors so it's easier to identify what's what? Well, there's an add-on that does just that. ChromaTabs Plus utilizes site favicons to generate a rich palette of colors for different tabs. It makes a Yahoo tab purple, a Bing tab blue, a Seattle P-I tab grayish green, and so on. It dramatically improves the user experience while adding a rainbow of colors to Firefox's interface.

Lazarus. Everyone has a horror story about losing data that was typed into a form. Lazarus Form Recovery provides peace of mind by encrypting and saving input typed into any web forms within Firefox, permitting one-click recovery in the event of a submission failure, browser crash, power outage, or broken Internet connection. Lazarus even works with rich text editors and AJAX forms. It can save blog posts, application information... anything typed into a form.

Weave Sync. Created by Mozilla Labs, Weave Sync allows bookmarks, browsing history, passwords, preferences, and tabs to be shared across different installations of Mozilla Firefox on different computers. Browser data is saved, encrypted, and transmitted securely to a Mozilla server so it can be continuously synchronized. This makes it possible to bookmark a webpage at work, for example, and then access that same bookmark at home several hours later.

Forecastfox. Why spend time looking up the weather forecast when there's a tool that brings it right into the browser interface? Forecastfox helpfully shows what the weather will be like for the next seventy two hours at any given location. It also has built in buttons for quick access to a five day forecast and hourly forecast, and can display notifications that alert a user when conditions change.

Adblock Plus. The tagline Ads were yesterday neatly sums up Firefox's most popular add-on (downloaded nearly a quarter of a million times) which excels at neutralizing ads that don't get already get stopped by NoScript. Adblock Plus is for the most part a "set it and forget it" tool; it comes with preset filters that eliminate most ads without any user intervention. But it also allows users to block unwanted content with a few simple mouse clicks.

Greasemonkey. This add-on allows users to extend the capabilities of websites with custom scripts. No programming knowledge is needed to use Greasemonkey, as there are thousands of scripts already available to tweak the interfaces of websites like Digg, Facebook, and StumbleUpon. Some of the best Greasemonkey scripts have become fully fledged Firefox add-ons of their own.

BetterPrivacy. Removes cookies from a machine that have gotten past CookieSafe or were present before CookieSafe was added on to Firefox, including what are known as Local Shared Objects. LSOs are essentially "super cookies" created by Adobe's Flash player plugin which store highly specific personal and technical information, never expire, and can transmit said information to companies like Google without a user's knowledge or permission. BetterPrivacy can erase these Local Shared Objects periodically to protect user privacy.

Of course, not every Firefox add-on is in the same league as these ten. Perhaps the worst add-on we've ever seen is the Adobe Download Manager (DLM), which is "powered by getPlus". This add-on is nothing but poorly engineered, redundant bloatware that gets in the way and adds no value to the browsing experience.

Adobe is trying to trick Firefox users who follow prompts to upgrade Flash Player into installing the Download Manager add-on. Shame on them.

When visiting Adobe's website to upgrade Flash Player, be sure to click Cancel when the screen suggests installing "Adobe DLM". Then, on the underlying page, choose the Click here to download click to get only the Flash Player upgrade.

Those who have accidentally installed "Adobe DLM" can get rid of it by going to Tools > Add-Ons > Plugins and clicking the Disable button next to "Adobe DLM".


Blogger Daniel Kirkdorffer said...

Tut tut! Firebug has got to be THE Number 1 plug-in for Firefox. No Web developer can live without it!

Other faves: JSView is great for accessing Javascript and CSS, and ScreenGrab! is terrific for doing scrolling screenshots of pages.

Finally Tab Counter is a very simple by useful add-on that simply keeps track of the number of tabs you have open. Currently I have 41. Often I have as many as 100.

November 16, 2009 9:07 PM  
Blogger Daniel Kirkdorffer said...

Oh, one more: FaviconizeTab - Allows you to reduce the size of tabs to just the representative favicon. Very handy when you have a gazillion tabs open as I often do.

November 16, 2009 9:09 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

I would have made a different list if the audience was developers. Firebug would definitely be on it, along with Web Developer and HackBar. But this list was for users.

November 16, 2009 10:04 PM  
Blogger Daniel Kirkdorffer said...

Hey, Web developers are users too. ;)

November 17, 2009 7:27 AM  
Blogger logmein said...

Firebug and iMacros are missing on this list!

December 9, 2009 1:49 PM  

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