One of the many benefits of the Firefox browser is the vast number of add-ons that enhance the software's capabilities. Designed by other users, these extensions can help organize your schedule, keep track of your favorite websites, or allow you to update your blog without having to visit the actual site. Navigating through Firefox's add-ons directory, however, can be frustrating and confusing. Not all extensions work well or fit your individual needs. The following is a guide to some of the most useful – and stable – extensions I use regularly with Firefox. All of these extensions are available at Firefox's add-on directory. Individual links to each program are also included.
Tiny URL Creator: Sick of sending people interminably long URLs? Tiny URL Creator is a great tool for automatically transforming long addresses into shorter ones. This is particularly useful for services like Twitter, which limit your word count. I've found Tiny URL Creator to be an indispensable plug-in. Right-click anywhere on a site and a box appears telling you that a shorter link has automatically been created. The new address is instantly copied to your clipboard. You can either click on the “Go To” button to double check the link's validity, or click “save” so you don't have to remember the new URL.
Twitterfox: If you utilize Twitter to send frequent blog updates, try this useful tool. After installing the plug-in, the Twitter logo appears in the lower right-hand corner of your browser. Simply click on that icon to view friends' updates and enter your own status in the box provided. You can manage your friends' tweets and update your own – all without visiting the actual Twitter site! Twitterfox functions as a valuable time saver and often works even when Twitter is down for repairs.
Fotofox: Online photo albums can be quite a convenience; friends can view your pictures, you can create slideshows, and best of all, there no bulky physical albums to take up space and collect dust. But uploading a large number of images can be time consuming: you visit your site of choice, log in, and then use that page's uploading tool to select files. What if you could log in and upload all from a sidebar in your browser? Thankfully, such a tool exists: Fotofox, a plug-in that works with Kodak Easy Share Gallery, PixelPipe, Tabblo, Flickr, Marela, Zooomr, 23, and SmugMug. Select one of those sites, enter your username and password, and then you can browse the hard drive for photos or drag and drop your image files right in. Click the “upload” button and watch the photos automatically transfer to the appropriate site. You can even create new albums or upload to existing ones without visiting the actual picture sharing site. Click on the “view” button and instantly visit your online album, skipping the tiresome login process. This handy plug-in really helps organize your photo albums and speeds up the file adding process.
Download Status Bar: While simple, this add-on functions as a useful tool for managing downloads. A small status bar appears in the lower left hand corner of your browser, gradually turning gray-blue to show the downloading progress. Once the download finishes, you can open the file, delete it, move it to another folder, or perform other actions. The main advantage? The icon takes up much less space than the download window.
Adblock Plus: Quite simply, this add-on should be a must for any Firefox user. For a free tool, it does an astounding job of blocking unwanted pop-ups. A “stop sign” logo appears in the upper right hand corner of the browser any time a pop-up is blocked. If the add-on interferes with videos or animations on a particular site, you can click on that icon to disable Adblock for just that page or the entire site. Unlike many ad blockers, this add-on makes customization easy.
IE View: Despite the popularity of alternative browsers such as Firefox, Opera, or Safari, certain websites still work with only Internet Explorer. The next time you get an annoying error message stating that the page will work only with IE, simply download IE View, a handy utility that allows you to quickly alternate between IE and Firefox. Right click anywhere within a page and select “View This Page in IE” when the menu appears. IE instantly opens the exact page, saving you from having to copy the original URL, open IE, then paste the URL in that browser. You can even designate certain sites to open with only IE. Like Download Status Bar, IE View may not be exciting or complicated, but extremely useful.
FoxyTunes: While working, I enjoy listening to music from my iTunes library. However, switching back and forth between iTunes and Firefox whenever I want to select another song, album, or artist becomes tiresome. FoxyTunes addresses this annoyance by installing a music player within your browser. Working with a large variety of music players, the add-on allows you to select your preferred player and play music right through your browser. Controls are located in the bottom toolbar of the browser. Along with the usual controls, FoxyTunes provides interesting added features: hovering a mouse over the music note icon produces a window displaying the song title, artist, album, and cover artwork. From that window you can search for lyrics and other information. A newer function, FoxyTunes Planet, allows you to view even more related information concerning music currently playing, including YouTube videos, Last.fm biographies, and Flickr images. While these added functions are fun, FoxyTunes's value resides in its ability to play music directly through the browser without having to alternate among multiple programs.
LinkedIn Companion: Unlike the previous add-ons, this tool was not developed by an individual user but by a company. LinkedIn has emerged as the social network for professionals, interacting for job contacts rather than just for fun. Click on the LinkedIn icon (you can place it in whichever toolbar you wish), and choose from various options: view the homepage, find people, jobs, add contacts to your network, and more. Selecting any of these options will automatically bring you to the appropriate sections of the LinkedIn website. Another interesting aspect of this add-on is the ability to search for jobs using LinkedIn's Jobs Insider. This feature opens in a sidebar so you do not have to visit the actual LinkedIn site to use it. Otherwise the other elements of this tool function as quick links to various LinkedIn services, which serves as a time saver.
These add-ons represent just a few of the useful enhancements for Firefox that I use most frequently. Check the Firefox add-on page frequently for new additions. For any task you can imagine, Firefox probably has a tool that can cut your time in half and make your Internet surfing more productive.