I can't deny it, the last twelve months have seen big changes for web browsers--Microsoft released IE7, Apple released Safari for Windows, and Opera is... well, doing Opera-tic stuff. But, frankly, I don't care. The kids over at Mozilla have earned my support and affection by making their browser extensible. By letting normal folks add more functionality to an already awesome browser, they've locked in my support. Sure, Safari might be a few fractions of a second faster loading pages, but I'm not going to give up the added functionality that Firefox's rich add-on ecology empowers me with.
I love to ask people who are hardcore web browsers what add-ons they've used to extend Firefox's functionality, but it occurs to me that I've never shared the stuff that I use every day. Some are useful, some save me a little time, and some are just plain cool. Enjoy!
This little add-on from the code wizards at Mozilla is about half user-interface design, and half flair. ChromaTabs changes the colors of different tabs based on the URL of the site. So, if you have multiple tabs open from a single site, you can immediately tell which sites are which based on the background color of the tab.
It's always a special occasion when I find a software widget that improves the quality of my life. The first time I installed the del.icio.us Bookmarks plugin for Firefox was one such time. You see, instead of a clunky old flat file text file storing all my bookmarks, this plugin uses the del.icio.us service to sync my bookmarks with all my PCs, and share them with the world!
I'm the web designer equivalent of a shade-tree mechanic, at least when it comes to web design. I know just enough to noodle around with a site's design until it looks like I want it to, but my best work is purely a result of trial and error. I make some changes to CSS and HTML to see what will happen, because I'm never 100% sure when I get started. Firebug lets me muck around with live website code from within my browser, without any risk to the site. It also includes tools to help reverse engineer site designs, letting you label and identify divs, spans, and other HTML constructs.
For folks who use Gmail, Gmail Manager is a must-have. It lets you log into multiple accounts, notifies you when you receive new messages, and... well, really that's about it. But it does those things very well, and makes Gmail a viable alternative to a desktop mail client.
Greasemonkey deserves more space than I can give it here, because the potential uses for the app are infinite. You see, Greasemonkey lets you integrate your own code into other websites. Want to add a list of keyboard shortcuts to your favorite website's post form? Piece of cake. Want to add popup displays to every image on your site? No problemo! Want to run your own code and add information from a third site? For sure! There are dozens of scripts available that add functionality to sites like Flickr and Gmail as well.
As Gordon has colorfully discussed on the No BS Podcast, we use Outlook for email at Maximum PC. Unfortunately, Outlook's web interface doesn't work particularly well with Firefox, so I've installed IE Tab solely for the purpose of checking work email at home.
It has been many months since I last clicked the back button in Firefox. Instead, I right-click my mouse, and drag the cursor to the left. Instead of moving my cursor from the page every time I need to hit a nav button, I use a simple mouse gesture. Up, down, up reloads the page, down and right closes the tab, etc. Plus, the plugin makes cool red lines across the Firefox window.
Operator is one of the first pieces of software that can read microformats--small chunks of meta-information embedded in web pages that's designed to be easily readable and understood by other software. Photos on Flickr can have microformats that embed the latitude and longitude they were shot at. Contacts on Twitter have their user information embedded in a different type of microformat. Odds are that microformats will be fully supported in Firefox 3, but until then, you can test the waters with Operator.
Unlike my pal, the Vede, I like Penny-Arcade and think those guys are really funny. But, I don't think that their site navigation and poor search engine are a laughing matter. Especially when I'm looking for a particular comic, whether it's about the original Xbox controller, this punny gem, or even something patently offensive. Luckily, the PennyPacker extension (also available in handy Greasemonkey format) gives you better search and tagging for every Penny-Arcade strip ever released, so you can hop skip and jump to your favorites.
Get this, you can post to your blog from inside your browser. Oh wait, that's nothing new. Wouldn't it be cool if you could post to your blog when you were actually looking at another web page, using a client that runs on your desktop? Hrmm, OK, so ScribeFire doesn't sound as cool as it actually is when you're using it. With drag-n-drop photo posting and a host of handy features, it's what I use to update my (virtually never updated) blog.
Tab Catalog replicates one of the IE 7 features that I really dig. It shows thumbnails of all my open tabs. I do miss the old Reveal extension (which isn't compatible with Firefox 2), but Tab Catalog is a decent alternative.
The Coop adds a sidebar to Firefox with all of your Facebook friends on it. This is an early proof-of-concept level prototype, but it's still useful. When you want to share something with a pal, just drag and drop it onto their picture and The Coop automatically sends them a Facebook message with a thumbnail and a relevant description. I have a lot of hope that this add-on will eventually come to fill the void left since development on Flock stalled.
TinyURL is awesome, you put in a Amazon-length product URL, and it comes back with something that will easily fit on one line of an email. TinyURL Creator makes creating TinyURLs even easier. Just right-click a link and select Create TinyURL for this link, then the extension will contact the TinyURL server, request a new short URL, and copy the new URL to your clipboard. It doesn't get easier than that.
That's it! Please post your favorite Firefox Addons in the comments! I'd love to try them out.