Getting into Firefox

A couple of days back, I noticed that a few of my colleagues were using Firefox. But.. both of them had no plugins installed and in fact, one of them was still using Firefox 1.0.1.

So this article (which I am going to forward to them in a bit of shameless self-promotion 😛 ), is to update people on the cool things you can do with Firefox.

First things first, this entire article is based on my current installation of Firefox, which is verion If you don’t have it (check your version by clicking on Help>About Firefox), download it here and come back. I’ll be waiting.

Done? Okay, on with the extensions then. Oh, and yes, these are all plugins (I use the word extension and plugin interchangeably, but they mean the same thing) I have installed on my PC right now 🙂

I’m breaking up the list into 3 categories – Must have, Nice to have and Geeky plugins. I’ll explain each category as we go along :-).

Remember that for plugins to start working, you have to restart Firefox. Which can be irritating if you have lots of tabs open, but there’s a plugin to solve that as well 😉

1. Must Have Firefox Extensions: The firefox plugins that you absolutely must install. In other words, if you don’t have these plugins, you might as well not have Firefox at all!

Nightly Tester Tools : So you’re wondering, the first must have firefox extension is a developer tool?!?!? WTF?. Ok well, Nightly Tester tools (or the Build ID copier as it was known) has one very important feature – it allows you to install plugins that are otherwise treated as incompatible by Firefox. And that is the reason, this should be the first plugin you get.

Once you install it, you might find your Firefox window title looks a little different. If you don’t like this, you can fix this by going to Tools>Extensions and clicking on Nightly Tester Tools. Then click on Options and uncheck the box that says “Use custom title”. That will fix the title.

Adblock: Hoo boy, this has got to be the killer Firefox extension. Install this and you can forget about seeing annoying advertisements again. But it needs a little bit of teaching. Any time you see an advertisment, just right click and choose the Ad-block option. If you still see some advertisements from the same site, you might need to create a wildcard filter. Sounds like too much work? don’t worry – just install the Adblock filterset.g extension and you are set!

Adblock Filterset.G Updater: This plugin automatically updates your adblock filterlist based on the information maintained at this site. How cool is that?

Flashblock: Flashblock prevents all those annoying flash ads from playing and instead replaces them with a “play” icon. If you really are intersted in whacking the monkey, click on that icon.

Note: Flashblock also blocks stuff like the Avatars in Yahoo Mail and  Youtube Videos by default. You can add those sites to a “whitelist”, but then prepared to see ads as well.

Tabbrowser: The 1.5 version of FF thankfully adds the option to launch a new tab from the tab list. But if you want more control over how tabs work, or if you want all links to open in a tab instead of a new window, You need to get Tabbrowser. Once you have installed it, click on Tools>Options>Tabbed Browsing and you can tweak your tabs any way you want to!

SiteAdvisor: This is the plugin you need for safe browsing. Install it and a little siteadvisor button appears in your status bar. As you browse, the button changes colour to warn you how safe a site is – simple! The site works with both automated and peer reviews, so it has a pretty complete list. And best of all, it integrates right into your Google search results!

Warning: When you click on the “Install SiteAdvisor” link, Firefox will block the install as the Siteadvisor website is not on the default list of safe sites for plugins. See the instructions on the SiteAdvisor website on how to add the Siteadvisor website to your safe list.

SessionSaver: Yes, Firefox will crash occasionally. And having to restart everytime you install a new plugin is frustrating. SessionSaver to the rescue! This plugin will remember every open tab, cursor position and text entered on each tab whenever Firefox crashes. Just restart Firefox and voila! it’s like nothing ever happened.

But Sessionsaver is much more powerful than that – you can configure it to save your tabs even when you close Firefox normally or even save a set of tabs to a “group”, so that you can revisit those pages at one go any time! More information about Sessionsaver available in this wiki.

IETab: There are lots of websites out there that don’t work like they should with Firefox (Outlook Web Access is one example). If you want to only use Firefox, then IETab will help. This plugin allows you to load a website in Firefox using the IE rendering engine – how cool is that? And you can even set the plugin to remember which sites should always be opened in IE.

Note: Using IE Tab to render a site in Firefox means you are using IE! That means no ad-blocking, no siteadvisor and chances of ActiveX viruses. You have been warned.

Also, IETab is not hosted on the Mozilla website. So, you will have to add the IETab website to your list of safe sites for plugin installations. This is the same process as the one used when you install SiteAdvisor.

Onto the Nice to have plugins then.

2. Nice to Have Firefox Extensions: The firefox plugins that you can be without, but they make using the Web much easier.

Google Toolbar: Yes, I know you can search with Google with the Search button in Firefox. But the Google toolbar offers site specific search, image search and extra features like the “up” button (useful if you hit a 404 error) and Pagerank.

Connection Manager: If you have to constantly switch between a direct connection (at home) and a proxy (at work), then this is the plugin you are looking for. Once installed, you get an “Connect with” option in the Tools menu, that allows you to quickly switch between the various connection types. This is not going to help if you have to actually change your proxy server everytime though.

Note: Connection Manager does not work with FF 1.5 directly. Use the “Install with Nightly Tester tools” option when you are prompted to install the plugin.

PDF Download: I generally hate PDF files on the Internet. They are big, slow to download and the Acrobat reader is a memory hog. This extension allows me to convert PDF to HTML on the fly – perfect!

Note: Read the note from the author on how to enable the various options on the plugin page.

Mediaplayer Connectivity: If you don’t like embedded media playing as soon you open a site, this plugin is for you. Like with Flashblock, it replaces media files with a clickable icon. It also allows you to define your preferred media player for various file types.

UI Tweaker: Don’t like the Go button? Couldn’t care about the “Read Mail” in your Tools menu. Want more space for bookmarks? Then UI Tweaker is for you. It allows you to modify dozens of hidden UI options in Firefox, covering everything from the Menu bar, the Toolbar, Tab Windows (I personally like the “Make non-selected tabs less visible” option a lot), the Findbar and Other settings.

Now finally, the Geek list of plugins.

I suppose it says something that this list is longer than either of my previous lists, but hey I’m geek and proud of it! 😀

3. Geeky Firefox Extensions: The firefox plugins that no self-respecting Firefox Geek should be without.

Imglikeopera: This plugin allows you to select how you want images to be loaded. Useful if you are on a slow connection or might be visiting some NSFW pages.

CopyURL+: If you find yourself copying and pasting URLs a lot, this extension will help. It allows you to copy some text or the page title along with the URL.

Performancing: Full-fledged Blog Editor built into Firefox. It has built in Technorati and support. Perfect for those quick posts on interesting websites. It is missing some features compared to full-featured editors like blogjet or ecto though.

This is the plugin that made me switch from Maxthon to Firefox, but that is a story for another post.

Note: Usual note on installing plugins from none-whitelisted sites apply. If you have got this far down the list, you know what I’m talking about 🙂

Flashgot: While the Downloads option in Firefox is good, nothing beats a good download manager. Enter Flashgot – which enables integration with all major download managers. It auto-detects the download manager and once installed, you just have to remember to use the Flashgot option on your Save As window to redirect downloads to your favourite download manager.

Quicknote: If you find yourself opening notepad all the time to store some text or URLs, then Quicknote. Acts like a Post-it note inside Firefox. I use it to keep track of color codes for my status page, interesting links et al.

Cacheout: A usual side-effect of reading stories on Digg or Kottke is that by the time you read the article, a million hits have DDOS’ed the site. Cacheout will try and locate the Google cache or Coral cache of those swamped sites, so that you can still see what the fuss is all about.

Note: Cacheout might not work well if you are behind a firewall that does not allow connections to port 8080 or 8090, which Coral operates on.

Greasemonkey: A plugin that allows you to mashup a site anyway you want. Essentially, GM allows you to run Javascript code on a website to add functionality to that website. I use 2 scripts myself – one that blocks internet access to my favourite sites during the day and another that converts all links, even those not entered properly, into full URLs. You can get a giant list of scripts at userscripts.

Reveal: Winner of the Extend Firefox contest, Reveal provides a timeline based thumbnails of open tabs and windows. I don’t use it much yet, but it looks really cool.

Well that’s the entire list I guess – a couple of quick notes on other ways to extend firefox:

1. Bookmarklets: Very popular for social bookmarking websites like and Furl. Little javascript code that sits in your bookmarks folder and allows you to quickly file links on the internet or look up a word meaning.

2. Themes: Re-skin Firefox to suit your mood! I use the Luna theme myself, that makes FF fit into Windows XP a little better.

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