The 20 Must-Have Firefox Add-ons

TheMurph

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.

But what?

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!

Stylish

The developers put it best: “Stylish and userstyles.org are to CSS as Greasemonkey and userscripts.org are to JavaScript.” But if that doesn’t help, please allow me to make the comparison even simpler. Stylish allows you to take ugly websites, apply the power of your mind (and styling skills), and pretty them up as far as your CSS abilities will take you.

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.

NoScript

Browser security is important, yo. More importantly is the sanity that you can preserve by using NoScript to keep your browsing session devoid of Javascript and other executable content that you just don’t want or need to see. I kid but, really, this add-on is as simple as that. Once you fire it up, you’ll find that any and all scripting on the various pages you frequent has been turned off by default.

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!

Adblock Plus

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!

Greasemonkey

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.

Firebug

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.

Xmarks Sync

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?

Read It Later

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.

Automatic Save Folder

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.

Tab Mix Plus

“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.

WoT – Safe Browsing Tool

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!

Download Statusbar

I’ll be the first to admit it: I’ve never been a huge fan of Firefox’s download window. The last thing I need to do, when clicking on a file, is to have some ugly window pop-up in my face and refuse to go away until I manually click the big close button each time. Yuck.

You can imagine my joy upon finding Download Statusbar, a handy little aesthetics-driven add-on that transforms your Firefox download window into a tiny little bar at the bottom of your browser. Grab a file and up pops the bar with a pleasing little visual display of how much time is remaining on your download. Once the file finishes, the bar goes away.

A host of other options with the add-on allow you to have the bar ignore downloads of specific filetypes, as well as define exactly how the bar is cleared of previous downloads after they’ve completed. Heck, you can even set up a post-download virus scan just to play it safe.

LastPass Password Manager

If the aforementioned Xmarks Sync is the best-ever add-on for keeping track of your bookmarks, then the LastPass Password Manager is like the cooler cousin who always used to hang out with you during your teenage years. This add-on is the end-all be-all for password management across multiple systems, as it synchronizes your (encrypted) login credentials for most sites to a centralized, secure location. As long as you remember the single master password for your account, LassPass will do its part to automatically log you into any sites you’ve designated during the initial saving process.

Modifying and accessing your “master password” database, or password vault, is rather simple via the handy, Web-based tool. That said, the site also presents a wealth of options for customizing how LastPass itself works, including: notifying you for saving new credentials, how the add-on parses separate-but-identical domains, and blacklisting certain sites from any of LastPass’ many features.

FoxyTunes

Rocking out while you browse has to be one of life’s finer pleasures, but why should you have to switch out of Firefox just to select your next track or playlist in an alternate program? Pshh-aw. FoxyTunes brings the musical capabilities of your player of choice directly into your browser—technically, into Firefox’s status bar.

The beauty of this add-on comes from its sheer extensiveness: It works with more audio applications than you’ve likely ever heard of, including the standard iTunes, Winamp, Windows Media Player, and MediaMonkey, to name a few. Super-tiny buttons allow you to skip through tracks, pause and play your jams, control your volume and—good gosh—even auto-post what you’re listening to directly to a Twitter account. A thousand curses on those who enable that last feature. We implore you to make use of the add-on’s info panel, album art, or search tool s instead. Far more useful; Far less annoying.

WebMail Notifier

There’s no reason why you should have to surf on over to an individual site just to check your email—not when you can do so via a tiny little button in the corner of your browser, that is. I’ve long since enjoyed using the add-on Gmail Notifier to do just that with my Google account. However, this add-on has since expanded to include a plethora of other Web-based email clients as well (and, if you’re truly hardcore, any other POP3- or IMAP-based host you want.)

Install the add-on and configure up your various email services. That’s step one… and, really, the only major step. A little number will then appear in the lower-right corner of your browsing screen to show you just how much unread email you have throughout all of your accounts. The add-on can even pop up a little alert window or play a sound to let you know that something new just came in. It’s that easy.

VTzilla

Kick your own personal security up a notch by integrating Virus Total directly into your browser. This super-useful Web tool normally requires you to go to its website and upload a file before the contents of which can be scanned by more antivirus and antimalware applications than you ever thought existed.

Of course, that’s kind of a bulky way to make sure that everything you’ve downloaded passes muster. The VTzilla extension gives you the power of Virus Total—on command—directly via Firefox’s download prompts. After you’ve installed this add-on, you’ll find a new option floating in between the typical “open” or “save” commands that appear whenever you click on a file. Select the “Scan with VirusTotal” option and you’ll know whether a file is safe for consumption before it touches your machine, not after.

As well, you can send current pages URLs and potential hyperlinks to VirusTotal’s page-scanning engine to better protect yourself against suspicious content before you even fire up the page.

Morning Coffee

Everyone has their morning routines, and every true geek has a digital version of the daily water cooler run/coffee slog/bathroom break. But isn’t it annoying to have to type in the same-ol’, same-ol’ websites that you like to check as soon as you get to work each day? Wouldn’t it be nice for Firefox to automate this process for you in a way that didn’t require you to make each site the start page of your browser?

The add-on Morning Coffee does just that: You specify a list of sites, by day,that you want to pop up when you hit a particular button on the browser. As it happens, this button is the icon of a rather large cup of coffee, and it rests precipitously close to your address bar. Click the mug and—presto—your sites for the day pop up into tabs.

Do you have to manually enter each site you want to fire up? No. You can also click on the icon to add any current site to a series of daily lists (which can be individual days or sets like M/W/F, T/Th, et cetera).

Find All

The default “search within a page” feature of Firefox, otherwise known as the “Find” command, is a bit lacking. The “highlight all” feature just does that—it applies a color to all instances of a given word or phrase, but it’s up to you to scroll throughout the page to manually identify all the potential uses of your search term. Hrmph.

Find All is a short-but-sweet replacement of this boring “highlight all” option. Instead of just a pretty page of colored text, the Find All add-on displays all instances of the searched-for phrase in a window that expands into the bottom half of your browser. Clicking on any of the text links within this video takes you right to the source of the phrase and—better still—you can see exactly how many results were found on right on the search bar itself. It’s a simple, but useful Firefox tweak!

HTTPS Everywhere

HTTPS Everywhere isn’t going to dramatically change your browsing life. However, it will do its part to ensure that—whenever possible—you’re always accessing a given page using a secure (or https) protocol. Many sites have such a connection available but, for whatever reason, might not default to https. If you don’t type in the URL as such, you’ll perpetually surf over the normal, less-secure connection.

Remember, unless your browser is showing a little lock icon in the bottom-right corner of your browser, you aren’t rocking the https connection, merely http. You aren’t benefitting from the security of an encrypted connection to a page, and you could potentially face snooping or sniffing attacks from nefarious folk. Supported sites include Wikipedia, Google, Facebook, and Twitter, amongst others!

Personas Rotator

With so many Firefox personas within arm’s reach now, it’s nearly impossible to pick just one. Or two. Or twenty. There are just so many cool designs out there, how could one ever decide on a single, isolated favorite with which to splatter across one’s Firefox browser forevermore? It’s an impossible dream, I tell you!

Thankfully, Personas Rotator fits the bill as one of those add-ons that probably should have been included into the default Firefox program from the get-go. If you haven’t figured out what the extension does by name alone, allow me to clarify. Personas Rotator pulls from an online directory of Firefox skins—sorted into a whole nest of categories—and automatically rotates through them at whatever interval you’ve set.

Don’t just assume that this add-on picks random personas from a sea of thousands. You can also set up your own personal category of favorite skins if you want your browser to remain exclusively cool.

Lazarus: Form Recovery

Oh crap. There you went, typing out a page’s worth of vitriol on your favorite political or technological Web site and poof! Your browser crashed. A thousand curses to Mozilla, eh? Looks like you’ll be typing out that freight train of dialogue and insults all over again.

That, or you could grab the add-on Lazarus: Form Recovery which, as its name implies, does a great job of preventing moments just like the one I described above. If your browser should happen to go out for some unforeseen reason, Lazarus gives you the option to recover the text of what you were typing in any web form on a particular page.

The add-on not only automatically saves the contents of a form as you type (in an encrypted database, mind you), but it makes one last-ditch effort to preserve your text whenever you click the button associated with a Web form. Take that, browser crashes!

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