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Just how popular are add-ons to Mozilla Firefox’s Web browser? A usage survey taken by Mozilla as of one year ago revealed that one-third of all Firefox users—at least—use add-ons in some capacity. That’s a pretty big deal, but not quite as eye-opening a number as the raw statistics from Mozilla’s official add-ons page.
According to the company, more than two billion add-ons have been downloaded since Firefox’s started tracking statistics back in August of 2007. There are currently 125 million add-ons in use as of this article’s writing, with more than 890,000 registered users attached to Mozilla’s official add-ons directory. I won’t bore you with any more statistics; suffice, there’s a lot of neat stuff you can install into your browser. And it appears that many are indeed doing so.
Where does one begin?
These are both questions that hit to the core of the Mozilla add-on experience. Simply put, your browser is only as good as the extensions you choose to install, and trying to get a handle on the ever-increasing world of Firefox add-ons can be as difficult for a first-timer as it is for an experienced add-on enthusiast. So we’ll make it simple. We’ve scoured the Web to come up with a listing of must-have add-ons for any Firefox installation, period.
And, even then, did we mention that we’ve found twenty? Download them here as part of one, honkin' Maximum PC extension collection!
Building your own style for any site or domain is as easy as clicking the “S” icon in the lower-right corner of your browser. From there, all you need to do is fire up the included “Write new style” feature and—assuming you know CSS coding—you’re off to the races.
If you don’t have a lick of skills with CSS, don’t fret. You can also tap into the power of a community of styles, created and shared by a batch of users, which you’ll access via a link off of the “S” menu as well. Making the Web a bit prettier couldn’t be easier.
When such an instance occurs, a little drop-down bar will appear and ask you whether you want to permit or deny said site from running its scripts. You’re presented with a variety of options for limiting access: You can permit or deny the various scripts on a temporary or permanent basis and, even better, you can change your mind back and forth on a whim. A built-in whitelist feature allows you further fine-tune your preferences to let the good in and keep the bad… out!
Hey, we didn’t need that advertising revenue, right? No, the beauty of Adblock Plus is not that it permanently eliminates all advertising throughout your journeys on the Web. That would be silly. Instead, this add-on is useful for the degree of control you now have over said displayed advertisements. Block and whitelist sites that annoy or otherwise entertain you, so you can thus reward your favorite places with a little supplemental cash while simultaneously blocking sites that attempt to pummel you into submission with their revenue generation tricks.
The nice thing about Adblock Plus is that it’s totally newbie-friendly as well. If you have no idea what you’re doing, just use one of the add-on’s downloadable filters to make most of your anti-advertising decisions for you. And, like NoScript, you can enable or disable Adblock Plus’ technology on specific sites or domains at the click of a mouse. Simple, effective advertising control: You won’t find this in vanilla Firefox!
One of Firefox’s most popular add-ons, by far, is Greasemonkey. But the add-on is hardly as useful at its core as is the vibrant community built around this single, seemingly simple extension. To put it bluntly, Greasemonkey allows you to make Web pages better. And if you can’t do it, there are a whole bunch of custom-designed scripts over at userscripts.org that’ll likely do it for you.
What do I mean? Greasemonkey allows one to insert customized HTML elements directly into a Web page. And more importantly, these changes persist over time, effectively altering the page for as long as you have the add-on (and subsequent user script) installed. To list the number of changes that you can make to any Web page under the sun—including adding the fabled “dislike” button to Facebook—would take the rest of this article’s word count. If you can’t alter or add it with Greasemonkey, it doesn’t exist.
Web developers take note: Firebug is your solace for on-the-fly fixes for the pages you design. And simple Firefox users take note as well: This add-on allows you to investigate how the code of a page correlates to its displayed elements and, more importantly, it gives you the ability to alter a page’s display on a whim just to see how HTML and CSS interrelate.
Okay, so those two descriptions are somewhat similar, but that’s really the crux of Firebug. Install the add-on to get a fun little window at the bottom of any page you view, which details said page’s HTML and CSS code in an easy-to-read, clickable fashion. Identifying the code that displays a particular screen element is a snap. And, as mentioned, tweaking a page’s CSS on-the-fly to see how changes can ultimately affect (read: botch) design is a far more elegant solution than continually re-uploading your CSS file and hitting refresh over and over.
How do I love thee Xmarks Sync, let me count the ways. No, that might take awhile, because the sheer number of my Firefox bookmarks that this awesome add-on syncs up into the cloud is far, far too lengthy. You’ll be hard-pressed to find add-ons as useful and as comprehensive as Xmarks.
That’s because, at its core, Xmarks fulfills an extremely valuable function—saving bookmarks in the event of an OS crash or Firefox reinstallation. But that’s not all. Install Xmarks onto any supported browser under the sun, and you’ll have access to your common set of bookmarks from wherever you happen to be. You can set up different profiles for home, work, and other named bookmark collections, and you can even encrypt the data you send back and forth to the Xmarks servers. Need anything else?
If you’re a connoisseur of the Web, you’ll know that oftentimes, you likely have more pages or stories you want to read versus the time it takes to read them all in one setting. Solution: Add all the pages as bookmarks, right? Wrong. Fire up Read It Later, a helpful little add-on that allows you to save pages in a separate listing to check out at some point in the future. Once you’ve started to chug through your backlog, you can mark off each individual page akin to a checkmark on a box.
But, even neater than that, you can also have Read It Later download all of your saved pages via an “offline mode,” which you can then use to read your articles if you lack, say, access to a network connection. And if you’re really wild, you can set up a free Read It later account to synchronize said articles to a mobile device (or other system) of your choosing.
Any power-downloader knows that the most tedious part of a binge file-grabbing experience is having to sort through all the different files you’ve downloaded and dumped into a single, solitary “downloads” directory. Or, if you’re lazy, this just happens by default—you spend a few weeks grabbing this, that, and the other off the Web, and your default download directory looks like you unzipped 35 concurrent archives and dumped half a system restore into a single folder. Yuck.
The add-on Automatic Save Folder is, thus, your ticket to organizational happiness. This add-on is very, very easy to use: You set up a list of domains or file extensions and map them to folders on your hard drive. Then, whenever you download a file from said domain (or a file with said extension), it’ll automatically be placed in whatever folder you designated without you having to do so much as copy a single bit of data manually.
“I have the power!” you will shout, once you’ve successfully installed the small-yet-awesome add-on, Tab Mix Plus. Many claim that this extension, which allots you increased control over how, when, and why tabs are displayed, should be a staple element of Firefox going forward. I happen to agree.
Here’s why: You can literally take control of all aspects of the “tabbed browsing” experience, from defining how new windows open, to how links from external applications open, to where exactly new tabs open in relation to you other tabs, to what happens when you briefly mouseover tabs… the list goes on. The list goes on for quite a long while, in fact. This add-on is not screwing around: For near-unlimited control over the price method in which tabs interact with your browser—a staple part of the Firefox experience—you must download Tab Mix Plus (in a new tab) right now.
Look, we’re all fairly Web-savvy individuals, right? It’s usually not that hard to pick out a malicious link from, say, a Google search result. But what about those few—very few—times when you’ve been tricked into clicking something you probably shouldn’t have? And I’m not even talking about some malware-dropping bomb of a Web entity. Perhaps you just clicked on a link that seemed like a legitimate result, only to find that it was just some lame spammer page that told you absolutely nothing about your topic.
Wasted time stinks. Web of Trust, a community-driven security add-on of sorts, gives you a stoplight-series of ratings for the sites that pop up in the various searches you make. I’ll leave it to you to decipher what green, yellow, and red means—but just in case you click on the latter, indicating that a site has failed WoT’s ranking mechanisms, a little interstitial page will warn you that you’re about to head into rough waters. Steer clear, safe browser!