Many Web users have turned to Mozilla's Firefox Web browser for its stripped-down, streamlined operation (and because it's less of a target than Microsoft Internet Explorer). One of the benefits is a huge aftermarket for add-ons that extend the open-source browser's feature set.
Feast your eyes on the following collection of free tools, ad-blockers, performance tuners and tabbed-browsing enhancers. The basic browser works fine by itself; add some of these and you can truly harness the Internet's power.
Google Toolbar, our Editors' Choice for browser toolbars, finally works with Firefox. This isn't huge news for Firefox users, since the browser has included a Google search box in the upper-right hand corner since version 1.0. But Google Toolbar is still a more-than-worthy download, due to its comprehensive spell checker, form filler and map-linking feature. (Google Inc., toolbar.google.com.)
FoxyTunes works with a number of popular MP3 players, including the obvious (WMP 10 and iTunes) and not-so-obvious (YahooMusicEngine, JetAudio, MusicMatch), letting you control them without leaving the browser interface. A number of icon arrangement options are available, including the artist and song title, along with a row of convenient player control buttons. It's oddly convenient. (FoxyTunes, www.foxytunes.org/firefox.)
FasterFox speeds up your Firefox browsing experience. You can turn on a special prefetching feature that increases the load on Web servers but turns up pages faster on your machine. The basic options box includes a number of fun choices such as "courteous," "optimized" and "turbo charged." One neat bonus: a timer display in your Firefox status bar that tells you how long it took to load the page you're currently viewing. We're about as impatient as they come, so anything that speeds up the browsing experience is fine by us. (FasterFox, fasterfox.mozdev.org.)
ForecastFox works exactly as advertised; You get icons for the current weather situation in your ZIP code, plus icons to forecast the next few days — this is all configurable. You also get access to an AccuWeather map; rolling your mouse over the icons gives more information, such as sun-up and -down, low and high temps, moon phase and more. You can add information for other places as well, and switch between location profiles. (ForecastFox, forecastfox.mozdev.org.)
With Google Preview, you no longer have to stare at a drab list of search results. A graphic thumbnail showing a miniature version of the target Web page appears to the left of each search result. It's a boon when running lots of Google searches, and doesn't seem to detract at all from Google's fast results engine. (GooglePreview, ackroyd.de/googlepreview. )
Ever close a tab by accident? Wish you had an undo button? To get this much-needed feature, try Tab Mix Plus. You also get a host of tab-management capabilities, including duplicating tabs, and a session manager that can restore your tab configuration even after a crash. An older favorite utility of ours, UndoCloseTab, is unfortunately not compatible with 1.5. No fear; Tab Mix Plus gives you more, and this one's also free. (TabMixPlus, tmp.garyr.net.)
InfoLister lets you manage installed extensions, themes and plug-ins in one place. You get active hyperlinks to each extension's host site (though not to plug-ins' sites), and you can save lists to take to another machine, along with dates you last updated each extension. Most importantly, you can save the file locally, a stop-gap until the day when we can actually save Firefox configurations and not have to go through the hassle of reinstalling our many extensions and themes. (Open source, mozilla.doslash.org/infolister.)
Adblock blocks nearly all ads on the Internet, including flash animations. After installing it, you may need to train it — right-click on any ad you see and choose "Adblock." Better yet, download the Adblock Filterset.G Updater from addons.mozilla.org along with Adblock; this will automatically configure it to block the most common kinds of ads. (Open-source, adblock.mozdev.org.)
Mainly for Web or graphic designers, ColorZilla gives you a color picker, eyedropper, and page zoomer. The current readout appears in the Firefox status bar as you move the eyedropper cursor across a web page. You can also add a color to your favorites list, and zoom in and out of Web pages (from 20 percent to 1,000 percent, not as smoothly as in the Opera browser, but better than simply changing text size). (ColorZilla, www.iosart.com/firefox/colorzilla. )
FlashGot powers up download managers so that they work with Firefox, even if they were originally designed for Internet Explorer. Consequently, you'll need to have a download manager (such as GetRight or FlashGet) in place; by itself, FlashGot does nothing. Once you get one, use CTRL-F2 (FlashGot Selection) or CTRL-F3 (FlashGot All) and you're in business, though we would have appreciated a "cancel" function halfway through a batch-download command. (FlashGot, www.flashgot.net.)
We wish Merriam-Webster had a complete toolbar solution for Firefox as it does for Internet Explorer. Instead, it provides four separate tools for Firefox: a search box, a right-click search lookup (which doesn't work with Firefox 1.5 yet), a sidebar pane that opens from a bookmark link and a Lookup Button that lets you highlight a word on a Web page and look up the definition instantly.
They all get the job done, and minimalists might prefer to choose the exact tool they want without any additional clutter. But we'd rather see a fully-integrated toolbar solution. (Merriam-Webster, www.m-w.com.)
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