By Steve Bass | Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 11:30 am
I can’t get enough of the handy-dandy freebies that clump onto Firefox (and Internet Explorer) and make the browsers smarter and easier to use.
Finding the right one is sometimes just a matter of saying, “gawd, why can’t I…” and sticking it into a Google search field. So here are a few that I’ve found — and integrated into my browsers.
One thought, though, before you start. Adhere to the Bass International one at a time rule. It’s the best way to experiment when modifying your browser with add-ons or extensions. You know the reason: If your browser starts acting hinky, you’ll find the culprit pretty quickly with only one new add-on installed. Also, adding a bunch at a time has been known to cause sunspots and make people faint. No, seriously.
Okay, then, let’s get started with Firefox.
A New Annoyance: Local Shared Objects LSOs are tracking cookies created by Adobe Flash applications. They never expire and there’s no way for you to look at them as you might regular cookies. Even the Wall Street Journal has taken notice, saying some sites can stick over a hundred tracking components on your computer. I’ve got BetterPrivacy running in the background to dump these intrusive little buggers.
Take a Note! Every so often I’ll feel the need to scribble a note about a Web page I’ll revisit later. (No surprise that by the time I’m done for the day, I’ve forgotten about the site and never get back to it. But that’s another story.)
Web Notes is handy: Click its toolbar icon and a small Web Notes window appears on the Web page you’ve got open. The note you enter stays with the page, and the little window hangs around if you want it to. If you don’t put a note on the page you’re on, the note rolls up. Web Notes is less intuitive to use than I’d like, but easy enough once you get the knack.
A smarter note-taking tool, and the one I like best, is Internote, which is still in beta at version 3.0beta2. Individual notes stick with the page, have changeable background and text colors, and are easily added or removed. I like the note management feature that lets me search through my notes and open the search result’s corresponding page. You can find product features and screen caps on the developer’s SourceForge page
Desktop Shortcut Remember how you have “Create Shortcut” on Internet Explorer’s right-click context menu? Now you’ve also got it in Firefox with deskCut. (Okay, I hear the IE crowd gloating; I agree, the Mozilla folks should have built it in, but they didn’t.)
100 Ways to Use Google There are a dozen or so Google spots I visit often — Accounts, Maps, Web History, and others — and Google Shortcuts gives me a handy way to stack my Google favs in a pull-down toolbar icon. There’s also a version for Chrome.
Back Up Firefox Xmarks syncs your favorites in the cloud (actually, on an Xmarks server) and lets you retrieve them from anywhere. So if you’re on the road, you’ll always have access to your favorites. (It’s also available for Internet Explorer.) While you’re adding add-ons, grab a copy of Firefox Environment Backup Extension to save a copy of your profile, extensions, themes, preferences, cookies, user names, and passwords.
Download and Run Remember the Internet Explorer Run option? Now that you’ve switched to Firefox, you’ll need OpenDownload to the same thing.
Send E-mail If you need to send the link for a page to a buddy, it should be a no-brainer in Firefox. Unfortunately, you’ll need Email This! to do it.
Free Internet Explorer Add-ons
I don’t know why, but developers aren’t nearly as interested in creating add-ons for Internet Explorer. It’s probably because they use IE only when they have to — or it could be that Internet Explorer 8 is notorious for becoming unstable when too many add-ons are installed.
If you have trouble with any Internet Explorer add-on, Microsoft has two spots to give you a helping hand. The first explains how browser add-ons can screw up your computing experience and gives you instructions for disabling them. Okay, no, the Microsoft folks don’t use my descriptive language, but that’s essentially what they’ve said. The other page supplies a more comprehensive FAQ about add-ons.
Back Up Internet Explorer BackRex Internet Explorer Backup does what Xmarks does (there’s an IE version), but backs up favorites locally, on your hard drive. BackRex also stores IE’s security zones, cookies, history, and any other customized settings. I’d use BackRex as well as Xmarks, just for the extra stuff it saves.
Nice Gesture Move your mouse this way and move back a page. Flick down and close a tab. Mouse Gestures are nothing new (except to IE) and can really speed things up when you navigate.
Max Out If you’re willing to give up on Internet Explorer, try Maxthon. It’s a browser that uses Internet Explorer’s core engine, but its feature set far surpasses IE and gets close to what Firefox offers.
That’s it. Really. I searched — lots — and couldn’t find any other cool tools. And I even looked on Microsoft’s Add-ons Gallery, an embarrassingly boring array of mostly toolbars and search engines. That’s too bad, too, because every time I use Internet Explorer, I can’t imagine why Microsoft would maintain its lameness.
If you find something cool for IE I promise to write about it.
[This post is excerpted from Steve’s TechBite newsletter. If you liked it, head here to sign up–it’s delivered on Wednesdays to your inbox, and it’s free.]