I like Firefox.
It’s my preferred browser above Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari and Opera. I like the overall design and features – many of which were pioneered or popularized by Firefox, such as tabbed browsing and the search box. Fortunately for everyone, many of those features are now standard across all browsers, so you really can’t go wrong as long as you’re using an up-to-date version.
What really makes Firefox stand out for me are two things: the first is extensions. Stay tuned for Part 2 for the second.
All browsers have extensions – little self-contained programs that add some sort of functionality – but Firefox seems to have the biggest and strongest user base. You can browse them here, along with other add-ons like themes and media plugins. Sometimes the terms add-on and extension are used interchangeably but these are all technically extensions in Mozilla terminology.
Oh, by the way, Firefox 4 was released a couple of days ago. It’s better designed and faster, but not exactly groundbreaking or revolutionary. If you used Firefox 3, you’re not going to be blown away by Firefox 4. To be honest, I’m not sure how much farther browsers can go with today’s internet. They’ve become incredibly efficient – even elegant – and much less of a weak link in viewing web content compared to connection speed. You should upgrade to Firefox 4, of course. Do it now.
Here are my four favorite extensions that I use often and don’t know how I could live without, at least right now.
When activated, you can hover over a webpage and each web element is highlighted. For web developers, it’s a great way to see how a page is organized, but more often I use it to edit a webpage. That’s right, you can do that! When Aardvark highlights a web element like a title or an image, you can do things to it. Most notably, you can isolate or remove it.
For example, you might want to print an article but remove the ads, or the author’s ugly head shot – just highlight the offensive areas and hit ‘R’ and just like that, they’re gone. Alternatively, you could select only the article and hit ‘I’ and everything else will be gone. You can even rearrange stuff! And if you mess up, you just have to refresh the page to start over.
It’s a really powerful tool and I’m not aware of anything else quite like it, although Kick Ass is kind of similar in a fun, destructive way.
BE WARNED: Unfortunately it looks like this is no longer being developed. The author of the tool hasn’t updated it to work with Firefox 4, although there is a way around that. I’ve followed those instructions and it works fine.
The best part, though, is that the author’s web page is currently hacked and spitting out spyware, so don’t go there – use Mozilla’s page.
If I were trying to make money off this blog, I might not be mentioning this. Most of the ‘free’ internet is driven by advertising, in case you didn’t notice the millions of ads you see when going to any news site. What Adblock Plus does is remove those ads.
Really. It’s that simple.
It references a huge list of known advertisements, and if you load a web page that contains one of those ads, it won’t display it. The rest of the content will still be there. The list is updated often and you can customize it if a particular annoying ad is not being blocked. The best part about this extension is that you don’t ever notice it – it just works.
Your internet browsing experience will instantly become more pleasant. When I go back to other browsers, I’m usually appalled by the amount of crap that I’ve become accustomed to not seeing.
I’m no wordsmith, and I often run into words I don’t know the definition of. Dictionary Tooltip allows me to select and right-click any word on a page to get the definition in a small popup window. It’s not the prettiest or most elegant extension, but it’s the fastest way I know of to look up a word.
I like that it’s customizable in how you pull up the little popup window. You can select a word and right-click, you can control double-click, and there’s even a keystroke if you prefer that method.
By default it displays definitions from www.thefreedictionary.com, but you can choose other sources, too. Now you have no excuse to learn new words. Go forth and cogitate.
Sync was available as an extension for Firefox 3, but it’s actually built into Firefox 4. So technically it’s no longer an extension, but I’m keeping it on the list anyways. Sync allows you to… wait for it… keep things synchronized between multiple Firefox browsers.
What things? Bookmarks, passwords, preferences, history and tabs.
Multiple Browsers? That means your home computer, work computer, iPhone (Firefox Home app) and any other device that uses Firefox, whether it be Mac, Windows or Linux.
I don’t like the idea of syncing passwords, preferences or tabs, but I love being able to sync bookmarks and history. This means that at home, work and on my phone, I have access to the same bookmarks. I can bookmark an interesting page at home when I’m busy and read it later at work! Or… you know, the other way around.
It’s awesome, although it’s kind of a bummer that it basically killed Xmarks. They were cool. Oh well.
A Few Others
I don’t use these often, but they sure are nice when I need them.
ColorZilla – eye-dropped tool to instantly find out the color of any pixel on a web page.
MeasureIt – ruler tool to quickly measure pixel distances on a page
Firebug – really comprehensive set of web development tools
Thanks for looking at Part 1! Stay tuned for Part 2. It is so much more awesome… just you wait.