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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.
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 - click to enlarge|
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.
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 Userscripts.org 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 IMDB.com 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.
One of the most useful extensions I've installed is the del.icio.us extension. It adds buttons to navigate directly to your del.icio.us bookmarks, and to post bookmarks. This makes it easy to use del.icio.us 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 Digg.com 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 - 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 ...