Choosing Firefox Extensions

Relates to Firefox and Co and XUL

This post is now out dated. I have posted a similar posting relating to Firefox 1.0PR and my selection of the best extensions here.

Following on from my previous entry on the new Opera pre-production release, I just want to take a quick look at the extensions that expand the functionality of Firefox. Several friends and clients have test run Firefox (and previously Firebird) over the last 12 months, some even making it their regular browser. Yet nearly all of these users appear baffled when, on booting up this amazing browser that I am raving about, they are faced with a minimalist and featureless interface. Of course I point them to the Extensions repository and recommend a few useful addins to get them on their way, yet on revisiting clients months later, they are still using the minimal install or (worse still) have resorted back to the Exploder family!

I feel part of the problem here is that many users have an expectation of what a web browser is, based on their experience with Exploder, and so when a new browser is presented to them it is just regarded as Exploder in another guise. Plus of course lack of business time to install extensions (along with the profile backups and chrome editing this generally entails). This is not all doom and gloom though, since Firefox is after all a Technology Preview and not intended for direct public consumption.

Personally, I am a Firefox fanatic! I cannot get enough of this browser and its multitude of extensions. Right now I have four profiles set up, each serving a different purpose: manual reader; development browser; blogging browser; and research browser. On top of this I have two test profiles I use to put new or updated extensions through their paces to ensure none of the established profiles get mangled. The one rant I do have with the current installation process is the occasional extension (bar the script libraries) that automatically throws itself into the application directory without first confirming this is o.k. with me. Several times this has led to a complete reinstall due to the extension interfering with extensions in another profile. Ideally the XUL developer in question could specify when an extension will behave like this.

Anyway, enough of the rant. The intention of this entry is to list those extensions I have found most useful, in part for my own reference, and so I can point clients and friends to this entry to give them an idea of extensions worth taking time out to install. (Extensions marked with an asterisk * may not offer installation to profile directory).

  • MozLib and JS Lib - Essential base script libraries for some extensions. (Automatically installed to application directory)
  • All In One Gestures - Mouse gestures are a must, and this offers extensive options.
  • Link Tool Bar - Link metadata is essential for assistive technologies. This brings the same usability to the browser.
  • Paste and Go * - Use it once, and you will not be able to do without it!
  • RSS Reader Panel - A simple to set up and use syndication interface based around a bookmarks folder of choice.
  • Advanced Search Side Bar * - Why search just Google when you can search them all at once!
  • Tabbrowser Extensions - On installation choose the session management option too to reload collections of pages with one click.
  • Quick Note - I had some conflicts with early releases of this but it seems stable now, and an efficient way to collate data through the context menu.
  • Toolbar Enhancements - Brings back all those missing buttons. Plus create your own tool bars and place them any which way.
  • ConQuery - Quick search on selected text through the context menu.

Here are a couple of aesthetic extensions which add minimal but nice functionality:

  • Cute Menus - Just adds extra icons onto the context menu.
  • Grippies - Click on, click off to show hide side bar.

Essential developer extensions that I cannot do without:

I have had all of these running under the same profile at some time or other with no conflicts. I would strongly recommend creating a new profile whenever you install new extensions beyond these, to avoid damaging current working profiles. I normally take the following process:

  1. Create two new profiles (profile_basic, profile_ext). Run "C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\Firefox" -profilemanager from the command line (note the path to Firefox will depend on your installation).
  2. Copy all files from the normal profile to one of these new profiles (profile_ext) - this will be the test profile to ensure no conflicts occur with the current extensions in the working profile.
  3. Make a backup of the chrome folder in the Firefox application directory - this ensures recovery if the extension unwittingly installs in the application directory.
  4. Start up Firefox with the basic profile - "C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\Firefox" -p profile_basic. Install the extension. Provided it prompts where to place the extension, choose profile - normally this just entails clicking OK.
  5. If all works fine, shut down Firefox and start up again with the extended test profile - "C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\Firefox" -p profile_ext.
  6. If this works fine and the extension is installed in the profile and not the application directory, then finally install it into the working profile.
  7. The two test profiles and backed up chrome directory can all be removed.

I am not suggesting this is a fail safe method, but after several hours lost reinstalling the application, profiles and extensions following an impulsive installation of a far from stable extension, I take caution when installing new extensions into my working profiles until I have confirmation of their stability. If the advanced test fails [6] yet the basic test succeeded [4], then a conflict exists with one of the currently installed extensions. If you want the new extension, the best option is to create a new profile for it. This is how I have come to have several different working profiles serving different purposes. It is also a perfect excuse to flavour each profile with a different theme. With a low RAM running machine I tend to go for the grayscale themes like Breeze and Smoke.

I hope perhaps this entry will point a few more people towards experimentation with Firefox. Believe me you will not look back once you start playing!

Posted on Saturday, Apr 24, 2004 at 15:11:55.

Comments on Choosing Firefox Extensions (1)

α comment

Please check out my extension at:

http://lookahead.mozdev.org

I think it's a pretty nice thing.

Posted by B. Rintoul
Friday, May 14, 2004 at 06:43:04

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