(Note: This is the third major revision of the Firefox Add-On Roll-Call, which originally appeared on this site on April 16, 2008.)
The web browser in which I do most of my web surfing is Mozilla Firefox. I find it to be a fast, stable browser and it works on all major operating systems (and even a bunch of non-major ones). Lately I’ve been running the Firefox 3.5 beta, which is stable, faster than its predecessors, works on almost every web site I ever visit, and does a good job of visually integrating with your chosen OS (whether Mac, Linux, or Windows).
One of the coolest things about Firefox though is its extensibility. There is a vibrant universe of browser add-ons for Firefox that change its look, enhance its functionality, and more. Most of these add-ons work on all operating systems that Firefox works on, so I can create a similar browsing environment quickly and easily on all the three major platforms (all of which I use nearly-daily). The list below is my ‘must have’ add-on list, so be sure to give these a look as you spec-out your own copy of Firefox.
Note that some of these add-ons might not be formally set up to work in test releases of Firefox, like the Firefox 3.5 beta I am using. As such, you may need to disable compatibility checking to use them in unreleased versions of the browser. I have had virtually no compatibility problems with these add-ons in Firefox 3.5 beta.
- Adblock Plus—The Internet has become pretty-well saturated in advertising, and while I sympathize with the need of webmasters to profit from their ventures, it’s just gone too far. If I see one more gaudy flash animation taking over my screen, I’m going to scream. Luckily, Adblock Plus (with a subscription to the EasyList filter list) makes the Internet a pleasant, nearly ad-free place to visit. Plus, it’s flexible—you can un-block ads on particular sites you want to support (like mine ;-)), and quickly block items that it misses on sites you don’t.
- —This is a great little add-on to eliminate the default ‘download’ window and replace it with tasteful, simple, un-intrusive download progress bars at the bottom of your window. You also have a bunch of useful choices in the preferences window: controlling what items are reported, how long they stay on your screen, whether a sound should play on download completion, etc. Firefox 3.5 has a much better default download system, but this add-on is still worth installing!
- —Windows users with Adobe Reader installed can view PDFs directly from their web browser. We Mac users, for reasons unknown, are not so lucky. This add-on uses Mac OS X’s built-in PDF expertise to seamlessly display PDFs from within Firefox, which saves us the hassle of having to download a PDF and open it separately. Linux users, you’ll have to use MozPlugger (listed below).
- LinkAlert—LinkAlert is a cool little plugin that pops up a little icon next to your cursor when you mouse-over links so you know, at a glance, what kind of link it is. It indicates clearly if the link pops-up a new window, displays a PDF, loads an image, runs a script, goes to a secure page, etc.
- —Windows users can view PDFs in Firefox using Adobe’s plugin (included with Adobe Reader). Mac users can use the Firefox PDF Plugin (above). What about Linux users? I finally stumbled upon a solution in MozPlugger, which is not properly a Firefox add-on but can usually be installed from your Linux distribution’s software repository. This allows PDFs (and many other files) to be loaded directly in your browser window.
- —This add-on adds a nice little drop-down menu to your reload button which allows you to set the current page to reload at set intervals. I use this constantly on election nights, during MacWord keynotes, and more to make sure I’m constantly seeing the most up-to-date information. Don’t overuse it though, since you don’t want to hammer your Internet friends too hard with page requests during a major event!
- Xmarks—If you have multiple computers, it can be really annoying to keep track of your web life. Xmarks, formerly known as Foxmarks, helps by uploading your bookmarks and saved passwords up to the ‘cloud’ and syncing them with all your other Firefox installs. You can choose to sync using any FTP or WebDAV server instead of the Xmarks server, if you prefer to keep your data totally private. Since becoming Xmarks, this add-on has a bunch of ‘discovery’ features (I find them more annoying than useful) which can all be disabled in the Xmarks preferences.
- —IE Tab allows you to use the Internet Explorer rendering engine right inside of Firefox. For developers, this allows you to quickly and simply compare your site between Firefox and IE with only one browser open. Even for non-developers, it has a useful feature allowing you to set certain pages to always load in the IE engine if their lazy developers didn’t make a particular site work in Firefox. Using IE Tab, you can even run Microsoft Windows Update from inside Firefox.
- —Every web browser has a ‘user agent’, or unique product identifier. My site uses this string to ‘sniff’ whether you’re using a mobile browser. For testing purposes though, it can be useful to report that you’re using a different browser than you really are. That’s where the User Agent Switcher comes in!
- Web Developer—The Web Developer add-on is the Swiss Army Knife of the code monkey, allowing you to quickly and easily perform tons of testing and diagnostic tasks on a site. It allows you to, on the fly, change your browser size (to test different screen resolutions), get information about the site structure, enable/disable features, and more.
Small Screen Browsing (Eee PC, etc.)
- —This add-on enhances the full-screen feature of Firefox (Linux and Windows only) allowing you to pick-and-choose what toolbars appear, which don’t, and how they behave when you go into full screen mode.
- —The Tiny Menu add-on reduces the entire menubar to one item called ‘Menu’, within which are the traditional ‘File’, ‘Edit’, etc. After doing this, you can move all your your toolbar icons (back, forward, stop, etc.) up to the menubar and you’ve gained a good half-inch or so of vertical space.
- —Based on the icons used in Camino, an open source Mac-specific browser from Mozilla, the Camifox theme is an excellent, tasteful addition to the default Firefox themes on Mac, Linux, and Windows. I am now using Camifox as my main theme across-the-board, since it does a great job of balancing desktop integration with cross-platform consistency.
- —If you’re exclusively a Mac user, or if you don’t care about cross-platform consistency, Arronax’s excellent GrApple themes make your Firefox fit in seamlessly with the Mac desktop. My favorite is GrApple Yummy, which looks very much like Safari, but the others are very good as well.
- —If you’re a user of BeOS or Haiku, as I am now-and-then, the HaikuFox theme does a great job of desktop integration for Firefox 2 or BeZilla Browser on the yellow-tabbed platforms. It is not yet compatible with Firefox 3 or 3.5, which is okay because Firefox 3 and 3.5 will never run on BeOS and don’t run on Haiku yet!