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Must-have Firefox and Thunderbird extensions

By Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier on February 15, 2006 (8:00:00 AM)

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By now, you've probably installed the latest versions of Firefox and Thunderbird. The most recent releases include a lot of new and interesting features, but do they have all the functionality you're looking for? If not, that's where extensions come in. The Mozilla applications have too many extensions to try to write about them all, but I wanted to share some of the extensions that I find most useful for day-to-day browsing and email.

Extensions can add, modify, and remove functionality from Thunderbird and Firefox. Most users are already familiar with extensions, but you might not know just how many useful extensions are out there. The Firefox Add-ons site has an extensive list of available extensions.

It's worth pointing out that some extensions may not work correctly, work only on some operating systems, or not play well with other extensions. Be sure to read carefully before installing an extension. If you're going to be installing and testing extensions, it's not a bad idea to back up your $HOME/.mozilla or $HOME/.thunderbird directory before you do so, just in case.

Also, be careful about installing extensions from unknown sources. Only install extensions from sites that you trust. Firefox provides some protection by warning users about installing extensions from unknown sites, but you can easily override the warning.

Blocking ads

I never used to mind ads on Web sites, until advertisers and webmasters started utilizing intrusive ads that go beyond simple text and banners. You know the ones I'm referring to -- ads that manipulate browser windows, or block page content with overlaid ads that require you to remove them before you're allowed to actually read the page that you've browsed to.

AdBlock extension preferences
AdBlock extension preferences - click to enlarge

Despite Firefox's advanced JavaScript settings and pop-up blocking features, a number of annoying ads still manage to mar the browsing experience when you're using stock Firefox. If you really want to get serious about blocking annoying ads, the Adblock extension is a must-have.

Adblock allows you to block images, scripts, and Flash ads on any page that you visit. It allows you to see all content on a page that may constitute an ad, and set up a filter to block that content, or any content from the originating server. After using Adblock for about a week, I've been able to reduce the number of pop-up ads I have to deal with to almost zero.

If you're serious about blocking JavaScript altogether, I'd suggest taking a look at the NoScript extension. NoScript blocks JavaScript or Java for any domains, unless you explicitly whitelist them.


Greasemonkey is kind of like a meta-extension for Firefox. Greasemonkey allows scripts to alter Web pages. By itself, Greasemonkey doesn't do much -- but the scripts that Greasemonkey makes possible are exceptionally useful.

The site has quite a few scripts for Greasemonkey that enable a variety of useful functionality on popular sites. For example, Gmail's interface doesn't provide a delete button -- so the Gmail Delete Button script adds a delete button to Gmail pages.

If you read Slashdot in Threaded mode, you might appreciate the Expand Threaded Comments script, which displays a threaded comment on the page using xmlhttpRequest. Rather than having to navigate forward and back to read comments, you can simply load threaded comments on the main discussion page.

Other Greasemonkey scripts remove curse words from pages, remove ads from popular sites, and provide links to Netflix from movie pages. If you're interested in writing your own Greasemonkey scripts, see the Dive Into Greasemonkey site.


Would you like to boost Firefox's performance? If so, the Fasterfox extension may be just what you need. Fasterfox boosts Firefox performance by tweaking settings like your DNS cache settings, cache, rendering preferences, and the number of pages held in memory for FastBack.

This extension also allows you to enable prefetching -- which can speed up browsing by grabbing content from links that exist on the page you're browsing now. However, be aware this option may not be entirely worksafe, since it may retrieve content from not-for-work sites, even if you don't actually visit those sites.

In addition to its performance tweaks, Fasterfox provides a small timer at the bottom of the Firefox window that displays the amount of time required for a page to load.

Site-specific extensions

One of the most useful extensions I've installed is the extension. It adds buttons to navigate directly to your bookmarks, and to post bookmarks. This makes it easy to use in place of Firefox bookmarks.

The Digg This! extension adds a Digg This! option to the context menu and Tool menu. If you're really a big (bigg?) fan of Digg, you might try the Toolbar, which lets you search Digg directly from the toolbar, and includes its own RSS feed reader.

If you want to get real-time feedback on pages you visit, the Blogger Web Comments extension provides a small display in the righthand corner of Firefox. The display shows recent comments about the page, taken from Google's blog search.

Manage your tabs

Tab Sidebar in action
Tab Sidebar in action - click to enlarge

Firefox 1.5 introduced a few new tab features, but the Tabbrowser Preferences extension adds much more functionality to Firefox's tabs.

One of my favorite features with Tabbrowser is the ability to "lock" a tab. For example, if you do a search on Google, you can "lock" the current tab. Then, when you click on a search result, it will open in a new tab, rather than opening in the current browser tab.

Tabbrowser isn't the only extension to change tab behavior in Firefox. The Tab Mix Plus extension is also worth checking out, as it combines some of the functionality from a number of other tab-modifying extensions.

Tab Mix Plus adds an undo feature for closed tabs, so if you accidentally close a tab for a page you weren't done browsing, it allows you to re-open the tab in the same position, with its page history.

It also allows you to add functions to the Firefox mouse context menu, so you can close tabs, lock tabs, and so forth by right-clicking in any Web page. Tab Mix Plus also has an options dialog that allows you to set each aspect of Tab behavior, from the appearance of tabs to the mouse context menus. In short, it adds a great deal of extensibility to Firefox's tabs.

Finally, if you want OmniWeb-like tabs, there's the Tab Sidebar. Instead of a row of tab buttons at the top of the page, Tab Sidebar provides a Firefox sidebar with thumbnails of each tab.

As a rule, it's a good idea to be careful when mixing extensions that modify the same behavior. However, I've been using the Tab Sidebar and Tab Mix Plus together with no ill effects.

More extensions on page 2 ...


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on Must-have Firefox and Thunderbird extensions

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Other good extentions

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 16, 2006 05:28 AM
Linky - Gathers all the links of various types on a webpage and displays them as list, giving you the choice to open them all at once and in one or more tabs/windows. Very good for looking at galleries.

All-in-one-gestures - Adds many functions including mouse gestures and tab scrolling. The feature I like best is the rocker navigation. Thats where you can hold down the right mouse button then clicking the left button to go back in history, and holding the left mouse button while right clicking takes you forward in history.

Image Zoom - Lets you zoom images either thru a right-click menu or by holding down the right-click while mouse scrolling over the picture. It will zoom the image big or small depending on the direction.



Thank GOD! About time!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 16, 2006 05:52 AM
An article recommending Firefox extensions! I was worried, since I've seen the number of these articles drop to around 4-5 per week here on Newsforge!


Gmail has a delete button

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 16, 2006 06:29 AM
For example, Gmail's interface doesn't provide a delete button -- so the Gmail Delete Button script adds a delete button to Gmail pages.

The Gmail delete button was added fairly recently:
<a href="" title=""><nobr>t<wbr></nobr> ml</a>

FireFTP (if you need to upload to an ftp site) and Disable Targets for Downloads are useful extensions to Firefox.


Re:Gmail has a delete button

Posted by: Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier on February 16, 2006 06:30 AM
Yes, it does now... it didn't when the article was written. Things change mighty fast!


Re:Gmail has a delete button

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 16, 2006 06:44 AM
Really, when did you write it? It is dated Wednesday February 15, 2006 (09:00 PM GMT) and Gmail has had this button for far longer than that.


Re:Gmail has a delete button

Posted by: Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier on February 16, 2006 07:16 AM
I wrote it several weeks ago. Just because the article was published today, doesn't mean that it was written today.


Flashgot and Sessionsaver

Posted by: benplaut on February 16, 2006 01:53 PM
Flashgot lets you use a 3rd party download manager (the firefox one isn't great for big things), and session saver lets you save a browsing session, load on automatically on load, load the last session, and, most importantly, crash recovery.

Both of these are essential addons, for me


News reading or RSS extensions?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 16, 2006 05:05 PM
The caption says News reading, but the actual descriptions sound more like RSS instead of Usenet.

With AOL finally out of the picture the signal to noise ratio has gone back up to the pre-September-that-never-ended, pre-Greencard-spam days.


Other Useful addons

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 16, 2006 05:09 PM
stumbleupon permits to you navigate through the web and see new and undiscovered (also useful) pages.


Re:Other Useful addons

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 16, 2006 07:42 PM
Forecastfox is a great extension too.. I dont even have to look out the window now to check the local weather.<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:)



Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 16, 2006 10:26 PM
Try NoScript to selectively allow (whitelist) Javascript. It's got a clean, simple interface for blocking and unblocking sites.



Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 24, 2006 04:20 AM
Reveal allows you to view a scrollable list of thumbnails for your tabs, for your history (back and forward) and allows you to magnify parts of pages. I've found it very useful.


The more you have, the more you'll miss them ...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 11, 2006 02:40 AM
What happens when Firefox crashes and all those extensions that you spent countless hours finding, researching, installing and using are gone? There is a new Firefox extension that backs up all your installed extensions and themes and creates new, installable<nobr> <wbr></nobr>.xpi files for easy restoration. It is called (what else?) Firefox Extension Backup Extension (FEBE).

More information/download
<a href="" title="">here</a>.


EagleEye - Reclaim your address book

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on December 26, 2007 08:25 PM
One small, recently released extension let's you keep track of, who you still need to reply to, which old friends you haven't written to for a long time, or who are the people that never reply (and many more things the user can define).
Cute but also also useful.


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