I fondly remember when Firefox first came on the scene and it changed my Internet usage with tabbed browsing, themes and extensions. Years later, I primarily use Safari on my Mac, but I still have a lot of respect for what Mozilla did for the browsing world by developing Firefox. It was the start of a whole new round of the browser wars which eventually got Microsoft to start focusing on their browser once again.
And once you get past the better security and usability that modern browsers brought to the table, Firefox takes it to another level with the extensibility it provides by way of extensions — or what Mozilla now terms Add-ons. Today we’ll look at fifty of the best extensions for Firefox that can improve your usage and experience when browsing the web.
A word of warning — several of these add-ons are labelled experimental and may cause problems with your Firefox configuration. Each link provided goes to the official Mozilla Add-on page, each of which give a good overview of the particular add-on. But still, backup your Firefox configuration (and the rest of your computer while you’re at it) and install at your own risk.
Firefox really brought tabbed browsing into the mainstream. Personally, it really changed the way I used the web and the browser. The following extensions all focus on tabs.
Control your tabs.
Tab Mix Plus simply expands on what you can do with your tabs. Color coded progress indicators on each tab, tab clicking options, and undo closed tabs are just a few of the options available.
Restore those tabs.
If Tab Mix Plus is overkill for you, perhaps the Undo Closed Tabs Button is for you. Rather than going to your history to open a previously closed tab, use the button this Add-on provides.
Keep your essential sites always open.
To take it another step further, if you have tabs you never want to close (perhaps for running web apps), then use the PermaTabs Mod Add-on.
In another direction, there are those sites out there — you know who you are — that still only work correctly in Internet Explorer. Use IE Tab to run Internet Explorer inside of Firefox. You could add this one under the category of web development as well.
One of the more interesting areas of development with Firefox Add-ons was that of augmented browsing. These tools allow you to change the behaviour and appearance of any particular web page when loaded in your browser.
Enhance web sites and apps.
One of the earlier Firefox extensions, Greasemonkey allows the user to customize the look and functionality of any webpage. It was the first in this genre and you can find plenty of compatible scripts for many of the more popular websites around.
Create your own styles.
People are always looking for ways to get a better handle on their email. There are several extensions that are focused on just that.
Improve the Gmail web interface.
The project of Gina Trapani, Better Gmail 2 brings a lot of tweaks to the Gmail web interface. Nested labels, row highlighting, and an unread count in your tab are just some of the enhancements included.
Keep on top of your mail.
A more basic tool, WebMail Notifier simply sits in the status bar and updates your email count. It supports various webmail clients, including Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail.
Support for multiple accounts.
Gmail Manager is focused on … you guessed it — Gmail. The basic premise of this Add-on is support for multiple Gmail accounts and offers a nice range of features.
More Gmail controls.
Another of the earlier Firefox extensions, Gmail Notifier is very similar to Gmail Manager and supports multiple accounts.
The area of web development is one that has seen a lot of innovation in the form of browser extensions and bookmarklets. Current day developers and designers are blessed with some high caliber tools that work right within the browser.
The original extension for web devs.
One of the first I remember hearing about and using is the Web Developer extension. While learning the basics of CSS, this extension was a great tool to view the CSS of designer I admired. A solid tool all around.
Essential tool for debugging.
Fool those sites.
Similar to IE Tab, User Agent Switcher allows you to set your user agent to show agents other than your browser. It even includes an entry for iPhone 3.0. Handy for sites that block their content based on your browser of choice.
Find out that exact color on any page.
Perhaps more aimed at designers than developers, ColorZilla allows you to click on any element on a page and get its rgb and hex values, as well as x and y coordinates on the page. And handy addition.
Uploads straight from the browser.
FireFTP is simply a FTP client from within the browser.
Working with Text
For those of us who make a living in the browser, working with text that we read is an every-day activity. Here are a few tools aimed at making that a little more painless.
Strip out unwanted formatting.
Copy Plain Text to the rescue. The name says it all (does not currently work with Firefox 3.5).
A nice touch.
AutoCopy is a simple extension that works as so: select text and it’s automatically copied to your clipboard. If you don’t already have a system wide tool installed for this sort of thing, this is a good alternative for Firefox users. In fact, it comes with a good number of options as well, including copy as plain text.
Ever wanted to copy some text off a page, but without funky formatting or a bunch extra bits in between? AutoCopy gets the job done.
Lots of options for text on the web.
Hyperwords is another great text focused tool. But rather than do one or two things, it offers a plethora of options (tagging, reference, search, translate and more).
What would an article about a web browser be without talking about social web applications? No worries — we’ve got that covered too.
A unique approach.
Just in case you hate all the great Twitter clients out there, here’s one that works right within your browser. From the Address bar in fact.
For all the addicts.
As the Add-on page states:
Shareaholic is the ultimate add-on for the link sharing addict!
Need I say more? It has all the web services you could want and more.
Easy access to your Delicious account.
This one is a little more focused — it allows you to post to your Delicious account. It’s for the well balanced social media expert.
Chat within the browser.
The Meebo extension allows you to use the mulitple protocol IM client within Firefox. And it’s more than just the client running in a tab — it includes a sidebar for contact statuses and notifications in the status bar.
Another Twitter option.
Another Add-on focused on Twitter, Echofon is basically a small Twitter client running in Firefox. It also offers syncing with your iPhone using the Echofone Pro iPhone app.
Security and Privacy
There are a lot of extensions that focus on keeping your Firefox installation secure. Whether managing your passwords or bypassing firewalls, you can find an extension that will get the job done.
Keep a clean trail.
Stealther is one of those tools. If you’re working on a shared computer, you can use Stealther to erase what you’ve done in Firefox. When active, it disables browser history, downloads and the browser cache. If you’re on a public computer, this extension is a good option.
Essential - block that Flash.
If you dislike websites that make extensive use of Flash, take a look at Flashblock. Then you can load Flash elements only if you want to. I use a similar tool for Safari and it’s a welcome addition on my computer.
More proxy options.
Another helpful extension, FoxyProxy is good for those situations where you are stuck behind a frustrating firewall.
Manage your log-ins.
And the last in this category, this extension is a simple password manager. It allows you to use one password to manage all your various log in’s. For people not already using an application like 1password, this is an attractive Add-on.
In case you dislike remembering keyboard shortcuts.
This is dead simple — rather than having to open your preferences to clear your cache, you can simply click the button this Add-on creates. Done.
Still a staple of web browsing, bookmarks have remained through all the changes in the world of web browsing. These following extensions are nice additions for managing your bookmarks.
Sync your bookmarks across computers AND browsers.
For anyone who uses multiple computers with multiple browsers, Xmarks is a wonderful tool. It backs up and syncs across computers and supports Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari.
Keep a journal of interesting pages.
Scrapbook Plus is a nice utility for capturing web pages and saving them in a older hierarchy.
An interesting tool for sharing only what you want from a page.
Clipmarks is focused on sharing. But, unlike more traditional social bookmarking services, Clipmarks allows you select portions of a site and then posts your selection to Twitter or Facebook. A nice way to share with others the exact piece of information that caught your attention.
One of the most interesting categories of extensions for Firefox are those that greatly alter the interface or add very unique functionality. Actually, they almost don’t fit into a category of all, yet offer some of the more enjoyable alterations to the browser.
Browsing images and online shopping on steroids.
If you like viewing photos on the web, then you’ll love Cooliris. Available for other browsers as well, Cooliris has an extension for Firefox that allows you to view images on sites such as Flickr or Picasa as a 3D wall. You pretty much have to try it to get the full picture. It’s quite impressive — and a nice way to shop online.
Expose for the browser.
Another great addition, Viamatic foXpose will tile your open tabs and show a thumbnail preview for each. Think Expose for OS X.
Bringing Firefox on par with Safari and Opera.
Opera and Safari users will be familiar with the concept behind this extension. FastDial mirrors the functionality of Safari’s ‘Top Sites’ and Opera’s ‘Speed Dial’, giving you a tab filled with thumbnail images and links to your most visited web sites.
Just as the title suggests, this extension will automate tasks for you in Firefox. If you have repetitive tasks to perform in the browser, you have options to speed up your workflow. Check this one out.
For those who deal with images a lot.
Another extension dealing with images, Fotofox allows you to organize a group of photos and then batch upload them to various web based image sharing services.
Access all Firefox settings in the sidebar.
Various extensions place menu options in the Firefox sidebar. The All-in-One Sidebar extension brings everything into the sidebar. You can even perform menu options such as manage themes and extensions right in the sidebar with this Add-on.
Many options for handling links.
Linky is a very simple tool in that it only deals with links on a page. But it extends the default actions available in Firefox and allows you to perform a myriad of options with any link.
Lastly, there are a good number of nice Add-ons that don’t fit into the categories above, but are still worth checking out.
Makes working with PDFs on the web more manageable.
Do you ever get irritated when clicking on a link, not realizing it’s a PDF? Then you have to wait while your browser slowly loads the PDF file in a new tab or window. PDF Download can alleviate that issue and gives you more options for how to handle PDFs on the web.
Get your weather report.
Forecast Fox is another extension that has been around for a long time. And, as the name suggests, it simply brings you the weather reports of the location you choose.
If only I had time to read …
One of my favourites — possibly just because I like the idea of reading and coffee together — is a basic button, that when clicked, opens up a set number of web sites in their own tab. Perfect for that early morning reading session.
Control your media player.
Yet another of the more aged extensions, foxytunes has been around almost as long as the browser itself. What does it do? It gives you control of your music player right in the browser.
Control startups and crashes.
Session Manager is intended to make crashes or browser restarts easier to … manage. It will automatically restore all windows and tabs after a crash and can do the same when the browser is first started. There are a good number of options with this Add-on.
For heavy screenshot users.
Fireshot is an interesting one — it gives you the ability to take screenshots in Firefox. But it doesn’t stop there. You can then edit and annotate those screenshots, save them to desk is several formats, upload them to online services, or email them.
Better options for saving files.
This extension basically gives you some more options for saving files. Rather than the default “Save As” dialogue the browser gives you, use Automatic Save Folder for more options.
Better control over what to save.
DownThemAll is in the similar vein — it manages your downloads from various pages. It claims to speed up your downloads as well as give you more control over what you can download.
For all those pesky log-ins.
This extension is intended to make checking out web apps and other sites that require a log-in easier to deal with. It uses the web service BugMeNot to fill in the credentials on a site without you having to sign up and make credentials of your own.
Find your way.
A really simple premise here — this Add-on gives a contextual menu option (right click) and will take any address on a page and open it in Google Maps. A simple idea, but one that takes a step out for you.
Enhance your search options.
Again working with Google, the Customize Google extension adds some options to your returned Google searches. For example, it gives you links at the top of the page so you can try your search on an alternate search engine.
And There’s Plenty More
Perhaps this list isn’t long enough for you. If you’re still looking for some more great ways to enhance your Firefox usage, be sure to take a look at the Collections on Mozilla’s site. These collections are groups of Add-ons that focus on one category or another.
Firefox evangelists will tell you that it is the Add-ons that make it so they will never move to another browser. Once you begin to depend on some of the tools that you can use within your browser, it would be hard to move to an alternate browser that doesn’t give you that same functionality.
Mozilla made a smart move with making their browser so extensible and a great community grew up around that. And whether you use Firefox now or now, we’re all better off when it comes to web browsing, largely because of Firefox. Kudos to them!
Over at Mac.AppStorm you can find more great tips in our 35 Mac Apps to Improve Your Browsing Experience article.