Several months ago, I took the plunge and switched from my primary browser (Avant Browser – which basically automates IE with a bunch of new features) to Firefox. I was on the fence for a while. I generally liked Firefox’s user interface and performance, but missed some of the navigation features that were available in IE. What finally pushed me to switch to Firefox were some really useful (but not always well-known) add-ons. I now find them to be almost indispensible to my web browsing habits. So, without further delay, here’s a list of my favorites (with minimal comments as the Firefox Add-Ons site provides the best explanations with screenshots):
- AutoPager: The page-based nature of the Web can make it really difficult to navigate through large documents. Often, you’ll have to click through pages one-by-one. What if the Google Search result you want didn’t make the first page? You generally would have to manually navigate to the next page of results (or change the default view to include more results). And don’t get me started on sites that force you to click through a dozen pages to read an entire article. AutoPager can automatically load content from additional pages without losing context. It supports hundreds of sites out of the box and provides an easy way to add support for new sites. I highly recommend it, at least until the Web (and advertising) start supporting better ways to view large amounts of information.
- FoxTab: A great multi-tab browser that allows you to choose from a wide variety of different “gallery” views that show thumbnails of open tabs. It seems to scale and perform well, even with dozens of open tabs.
- SpeedDial: Most of us frequent the same sites many times per day. The default user behavior – typing URLs or choosing them from the Bookmarks list – can be quite cumbersome. As its name suggests, SpeedDial provides users with thumbnails of their most common web sites whenever they open a new tab. ~80% of the time, I use the keyboard shortcuts (Alt-# or CTRL-#) to open the sites I use the most.
- Read It Later: It might seem a little strange, but I’ve all but abandoned the use of bookmarks in my browsers. I am usually very organized, but I found that it takes too much effort to store and organize separate links (many of which tend to quickly become outdated). Read It Later provides a great way to keep track of specific articles and content that you plan to read later without requiring you to create bookmarks. When you’re bored, you can just click on its icon, and you’ll be presented with on of the pages from its list. You can easily mark something as “read” without having to deal with deleting bookmarks.
- IE Tab: Despite a strong push to work on standards-based sites and browsers, the need to launch IE is sometimes inevitable. An example that comes to mind is the SQL Server Reporting Services web site which doesn’t seem to render properly in Firefox. IE Tab allows you to simply click an icon on the status bar to switch to using the IE rendering engine for that tab. You get to stay in the comfort of Firefox while using IE behind the scenes.
Those are the highlights of my favorite extensions. You can easily download and install all of these extensions using the Firefox Add-Ons page. Installation couldn’t be much simpler, and it’s really easy to try out new extensions.
But, wait – there’s more: So far, my favorite theme is Chromifox Basic. As its name implies, it’s hardly the flashiest of themes. But, I really like its simple look and customizations.
There’s certainly no lack of web pages and blog entries that highlight “must-have Firefox. (There are so many, in fact, that I’m not going to bother to link to any of them.) Now, I can add myself to that list. 🙂