Top 10 Firefox Extensions that Enhance Usability

All of these extensions work on Firefox 3.x

Firebug


What can I say.. Firebug is indispensable. It’s quite possibly the greatest piece of software since Firefox itself. It’s a *must* have if you do any sort of XHTML/CSS/Javascript/AJAX/er.. anything!

You can edit code on any site, live. Hate the annoying background on a specific site? Get rid of it. Ugly font? Change it. No contrast between colors? No problem. The changes aren’t permanent, of course (that’s what Greasemonkey‘s for).

There’s no better AJAX/CSS debugger. It even has a console you can use to interact with the site. Works with AJAX libraries (since they’re essentially just Javascript), and jQuery can output text to the Firebug console. No more alerts()!I won’t even go into the neat array of plugins it has.

Just get it. Tip: F12 toggles Firebug, and ctrl+F12 opens it in its own window.


Open In Browser

This should be built into Firefox.

FF Save as.. dialog

It’s still experimental, so you need to register to install it, but it’s well worth it. Sometimes when you’re viewing images or ASCII files (like source code) online, you want them viewed in the browser, but the site forces you to download them.

One example any Google Images Surfer is aware of is the fact that images hosted on Blogger cannot be viewed in the browser. Very annoying – unless you have this extension installed. It adds an option to open files in the browser to the file download dialog.


Tabs Open Relative

This should not only be built into Firefox, it should be the default behavior.

Causes new tabs to open next to the current tab, instead of launching after the last tab you have open.


Download Statusbar

What’s more annoying than tabs opening a thousand pixels away? The Firefox download dialog. It’s big and too intrusive to keep open permanently, and I get annoyed when the download is done and it suddenly vanishes. Solution? Download to the desktop and don’t use the download dialog.

Another solution? Use this extension. In mini-mode (full-mode is too bloated IMO), it displays the number of files still in progress on the bottom-right of the browser, and a single click on this opens a little “drop up” menu that displays your downloads and their status. Hovering over the filename reveals all the info you need about that download. Double clicking the file opens it and removes it from the download list.

And the ctrl+Y default download dialog is still available and functions normally (if you want to use it).


Ubiquity

Ubiquity is to Firefox what Quicksilver is to OS X, what Gnome Do is to Linux. From its Wikipedia page:

Ubiquity’s main goal is to take a disjointed web and bring everything the user needs to them. This is accomplished through a command-line-like interface which is based on natural language commands. These commands are supplied both by Mozilla and by individual users. Commands are written in Javascript and either directly typed into the command editor that comes with Ubiquity or subscribed to. Commands to which a user subscribes are automatically updated when the author updates the code.

I won’t go in-depth about this because Aza has done so already.




NoScript

This extension is initially unappealing because it seems to break most sites. What it does is disable Javascript (and by default, Flash) on any new sites you visit, until you explicitly teach NoScript that they’re trustworthy.

Besides nuisance and security reasons, one huge benefit is the fact that you can block/unblock specific domains per site. So you can enable JS on a site but keep Google Analytics or some annoying JS ads being loaded remotely, disabled.

I used NoScript on and off, but finally settled on making it permanent by changing some options to make it less annoying to me. These settings work good for my own browsing habits; YMMV.

  • Stop auto-page reload – I prefer doing this manually.
  • Forbid everything except Flash and IFRAME – nspluginwrapper crashes Flash all the time anyway :P
  • Show Status bar icon (not label)
  • Place blocked-scripts message on the bottom instead of top
  • Hide message after 3 seconds – I don’t even need this. I’m aware that JS is off by default now
  • Allow local links – Good if you develop

The main turn-off people have towards NoScript is the fact that you need to get used to unblocking sites you’ve been visiting hassle-free for years, but after a few days you’ll notice that, since you only need to allow a site once (permanently), nearly every site you visit on a regular basis will be whitelisted and will work as it always had.

My whitelist has hundreds of items, and I do view new sites on a daily basis, but in the past few days the only site I recall turning JS on for was InventiveLabs’, to see the crazy js light-switch effect.


Stealther

Stealther has plenty of uses, one of which is being able to quickly see what your site will look like for users with cookies disabled, but it’s not a very versatile porn-mode. A lot of sites require cookies to be enabled, including Google Images (to keep the filter option saved), but Stealther has be fine tuned.

Hiding your history can also be achieved by using ctrl+H, sorted by Last Visited, and just hitting DEL on the top few links (why can’t you ctrl/shift select?) you visited. It doesn’t remove everything, but removes enough.


Gmail Notifier

This is not the same as Google’s Gmail Notifier Toolbar.

I’ve tried a bunch of Gmail notifiers for browsers, Gnome, KDE, etc. Nothing compares to Firefox’ Gmail Notifier. First, who only has 1 email address anymore? A notifier needs to allow multiple accounts. Second, I’d like to be notified of unread messages only until I actually visit my inbox and decide whether I want to read them or not. Many notifiers will continue to bug me until I mark the emails read or explicitly tell the notifier to stop.


Adblock Plus

I like ads. Well placed ads, not the Adsense box in the middle of an article, or sites that have more ads than content, like About.com. Ads are downplayed and taken for granted, but some are brilliant, and they still work, even on us geeks. But people hate them, and so we have Adblock.

I initially couldn’t stand this extension because it kept blocking legitimate images. That was way-back-when, and I was re-introduced to adblock when I picked up Swiftweasel. Actually, I don’t know if re-introduced is the right word. I just happened to notice it was available and was too lazy to remove it.

Install it, set it on the easy-filter and forget about it. If curious, here is the difference between Adblock vs Adblock Plus.


TimeTracker

I have a bad habit of losing track of my time when browsing the web (I’m literally addicted to the Internet). This extension helps shed light on this fact. . It keeps track of how long you’ve been using wasting your life browsing the web.

Has a useful filter option to disregard specific sites (i.e., editing your router settings, doing job related work, etc). However, in practice, I usually forget I have it installed and don’t notice it. What I really want is a timer that will alert me every N minutes I’m viewing a site. So if I’m on Wikipedia for more than 10 minutes, it’ll bring me back to Earth and make me realize that I should be working instead of holding ctrl and clicking every in-site link on the Wikipedia page.

The extension is actively being developed, and a lot of nice features are planned (see this thread).

(Honorable mention)

Vimperator

Vimperator is amazing. You know those crazy ideas you get sometimes that you think are brilliant in a humorous, “if only,” sarcastic, sort of way, like “Why can’t everything in life have a vim-like interface and bindings?” — yeah, that’s exactly what Vimperator does with Firefox.

Opera users may check out this page.




What Firefox extensions do you recommend?


4 thoughts on “Top 10 Firefox Extensions that Enhance Usability”

  1. TotalValidator
    Great plugins to check page validity and generate screenshoot of the page taken using other browser (you know what) :)

    Scrapbook
    Better than using save as, because it save all stylesheet. I use folder other than default, and can access it using other firefox variant that also have scrapbook (flock, firefox in wine)

    Delicious Bookmarks
    What can I say, I like to press Ctrl+D and without too much effort, the page link saved in my delicious. Next time I needed it, I just open delicious sidebar, search the keyword, and got the page back :)

    Those are ‘must have’ firefox extensions for me.

  2. Cool post!
    I just attended a RoR conference where they mentioned vimperator and can’t wait to test it out. I also use the delicious and shareaholic pluggins for easy link saving/sharing. I also use the web dev tool bar for css instead of Firebug… i guess i feel if i only have to edit css, firebug is an over kill. Lastly, i’d like to say that keep in mind all these firefox pluggins represent added overhead in firefox, which is already a memory hog IMO. Thanks for this blog! Freddy Duarte

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