Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Personalizing Firefox

Ask anyone which addons they believe are essential and you'll get a number of different answers. While that is true, it is also true that there are a few that many agree on as well. The easiest way to see what is generally accepted as essential is simply to go to the addons page at Firefox and sort them by most downloaded. Instantly you can see the top ten.

However popularity doesn't always give us quality nor usefulness. For example a Digg toolbar might be popular, but it doesn't make using Firefox any easier. If you're a Digg user, it may be handy but not everyone uses Digg. I use Digg, but I could care less about the toolbar.

Instead, the addons I tend to use are those that do things for me that I use on a very frequent basis.
Everyone has their own things they do frequently and the key to the perfect addon is knowing what helps you best. This is a list of the things I do most frequently on the web.
  • Use Gmail. I keep that open at all times.
  • I post a lot of comments or write in a blog like this.
  • I Google tons of stuff.
  • I read the latest news at Foxnews.
  • I check the weather frequently.
  • I read blogs and in fact I use Google Reader to read blogs.
  • I watch videos, mostly at youtube.
  • I look up movies/TV shows at IMDb.
  • I read wikipedia.
  • Get driving directions.
  • I copy/paste a lot of things from one part of the web to another part, like in board posts, etc.
  • Save a lot of websites as bookmarks. 
  • I use several computers daily.
  • Share links.
All of those things I do often. Sometimes I do them all in a day. What about the opposite end of the spectrum. What about things hate? Many are repetitious tasks, others are just problems. The following are a list of annoyances I have whether at particular website or just general stuff.

  • Spyware, spamware, viruses etc. I mean, who likes them?
  • Ads. I hate them! I don't mind Google's ads, but I hate intrusive sites like and
  • Text links and not HTML links. If I come across that it means that I have to physically copy and paste the darn thing to get there. Admittedly I've already done it myself on this page when I wrote "...I hate intrusive sites like and" Now if you wanted to see what I was talking about, you'd have to type the darn thing in yourself.
  • Not being able to easily highlight an HTML link's text. I am frequently sharing links with people, or copying text from here and pasting it into there, as mentioned above. Many times a link is in the text that I'm wanting to copy and gosh darn it if I can't seem to highlight that link just right without it opening up! 
  • Having to constantly look up HTML or BBcode tags.
  • Sites that use scripts to keep me from copying their text. They act like I'm trying to steal from them and besides, it's awfully presumptive to assume that I even want to steal from them. It may be only a weird name like Shebanhami and rather than try to keep looking back at the odd spelling, I'd like to just copy the text part so I can Google the person myself.
  • The way youtube automatically starts playing when I click on their link.
  • Having to type the same thing over and over and over again, like my username or my blog site.
  • Having to click each and every single tab to close a bunch at once.
  • Having to ctrl+click to open another site in a new tab.
  • Not having everything I have on this computer, on another computer such as bookmarks and passwords.
  • Not knowing if a site I select via a search is really safe or not.
  • Losing information whether tabs I have open or something I've written in a text box.

Now when you sit down and look at this, then read my list of addons, you'll see why I have them and why they are essential for me.

As it is, I have an addon that either gives me additional features for the things I do the most, or fixes the annoyances I have or sometimes even both.

This is my list of addons with links for you to explore yourself.

Adblock Plus - This is by far the A#1 reason to use Firefox. It simply cannot be beat and works so well. That said, it's so easy to take advantage of it by forgetting how useful it is until you use someone else's browser with out. It's just shocking how many ads there are!

BBCodeXtra - This is for quickly tagging HTML or BBcode to selected text. From URL's to text formatting, it makes it quick and simple.

Better Gmail 2 - One Gmail tab annoyance I have is not seeing how many unread items I have by just looking at the tab. I could care less about all the other bells and whistles this offers. It's just worth it for the 'unread count first' feature alone. (Note that it requires Greasemonkey)

ColorfulTabs - This is for aesthetic purposes only. It's easier for me to glance and distinguish between tabs quickly. When they're all the same color I find myself having difficult picking out a tab.

CoLT - CoLT stands for Copy Link Text and it does just what it says it does and it does it so well. When you right click on the link, it gives you the option to copy the link text, copy only the location, or copy both the link AND location. I use this more than anyone thinks. I'm using it right now to copy titles of the addons.

Diigo Bookmarks and Web Annotations - I use this for web pages I save that are useful, but aren't ones that I use frequently. It stores my bookmarks on their server so I can retrieve them from any computer. One example of a bookmark I would use at Diigo is an article on ACORN. I might want to refer back to it later, but I don't visit that article often. Also, it highlights portions of text permanently. This is handy for, say, the same article. I can highlight something in there I want to recall later. Handy thing, Diigo.

Download Statusbar  - This is a not absolutely necessary, but helpful thing that stops Firefox from popping up that annoying download window. Also I can see how much is downloaded.

Forecastfox - I'm a weather geek and like to know what the weather is at all times. This helps. The only drawback is the satellite graphic it gives me. I don't like satellites, I prefer radar, and I don't like seeing a huge region, I want what pertains to me only.

Gmail Manager - This checks my Gmail at whatever interval I want and it will ding when I have new mail, just like Thunderbird, Outlook Express, or whatever you use.

Google Toolbar for Firefox - DUH! I use Google, enough said. Well actually I should add that I use a number of their services. I like the toolbar because I can save any of the Google site buttons and use those toolbar settings across all browsers with that toolbar installed. Handy for me!

Greasemonkey - Much less complicated than it sounds, it allows small scripts to run to make certain things work certain ways. A better way to demonstrate what it does it to list the scripts I use here too.
  • Anti-Disabler (Enable right-click and highlight) - This blocks scripts which blocks me from right clicking on a page. See my annoyance written above.
  • IMDb Weaver - This adds all kinds of cool features to the IMDb website. One of my favorite ones is that it enlarges the pictures of actors by just hovering your mouse over it. It's only drawback is that it often doesn't play nicely with Google's services for some reason. I've narrowed the problem down to this one, which is too bad, but not horrible. I can easily disable it when I need to.
  • Textarea Backup - This saves text I write in any text block. Say I'm posting a well thought out reply in a forum and the system freezes. Well when I go back to that forum after rebooting, and I click reply in that thread, *poof* my text is in the box! I love it.
  • YouTube Enhancer - This has tons of options, but there are two features that tie for number one in why I use it. 1. It stops Youtube from autoplaying any video. 2. It will begin buffering the video for me, even while not playing, so I can view it when I'm ready. If that script had only those two features, I would STILL use it. The creator of the script also updates it often so they are very active.
InfoLister - This is a handy tool, but not really necessary. It just makes a list of all your addons and versions. It's handy for troubleshooting so you can copy/paste it all in a post to get help. It's really more of a programmer assistant.

InFormEnter - This lets you customize things that you often type into text boxes so you don't have to constantly type them in. Granted, you can get Google's toolbar to fill in names, addresses, phone numbers, etc., but it won't let you create custom fields. This one makes anything possible AND you can make a number of different profiles. If I had one annoyance it's that it doesn't play nicely with Google services. I have to turn it off for any of Google's services, which is too bad. I could really use it when using Google stuff. Fortunately disabling it is a snap by just right clicking on it in the bottom bar.

Linkification - I love, love, LOVE this little thing. It creates clickable links from any text URL on a page. Like when I post this, those links above that say and will become clickable links for me so I don't have to copy/paste any of those if they're not there, nor do I have to just type it in myself.

PDF Download - I've had this for so long, I don't know if I even still need it. I hate Adobe's Acrobat (their pdf reader) so I use Foxit, which unfortunately doesn't always play nice with Firefox. PDF download makes it easy to customize how I view pdf's. Used to there was something super annoying that Firefox did and now I can't remember what it was. In any case, PDF Download fixed it. Wow. How sad is it that I can't even remember?

StumbleUpon - This is just for fun and is really only useful if you're a StumbleUpon (SU) user. If you're not, you should consider becoming one but watch out. I have wasted way too many hours stumbling around. It's just a site that takes you to popular sites that have been rated. If you're a SU user, you tell it what interests you have and it takes you to the coolest sites for them. I mean, that thing is definitely a boredom buster but it also can make you seriously unproductive. :D

Tab Mix Plus - A simple MUST HAVE if you have Firefox. Like Adblock Plus, this is an essential item. There are just tons of options on how tabs are used in Firefox. I know some are like, "Well why on earth would I even care?" but trust me. Once you go through the hundreds of options and pick the ones you like, you'll never ever be able to part with it again. It's the most handy and to be honest if I had to choose between this and ABP, I'm afraid this one would have to come first. Sad, but true.

Update Notifier - This not only lets you know when updates are available, but you can set it so that it won't even bother you about it. You can have it detect, download and install updates to any of your addons so you don't have to worry about it yourself, if you so desire. This is good for online grandparents.

WOT - WOT stands for Web of Trust and basically it lets you know whether or not a site is dangerous or not. There are several levels of danger that they offer too. Safety for children, vendor reliability, privacy and trustworthiness. I do have a gripe about this though and after all this time, you would think they wouldn't do it, BUT... I only am interested in knowing which sites are bad. When I do a Google search, I don't need to see all those little green lights. Only show me the yellow or red lights. I shouldn't have to go into their options and change that manually. It should be by default.

Xmarks - This is for more frequently used bookmarks, as well as password syncing, between computers. The password sync is encrypted so it's just as safe as it is on your own computer. It's also terribly handy. This is where I store my absolute favorite sites like Foxnews, et al.

Finally the following are addons that I used to have but have eliminated. You'll see why in the description.

Delicious Bookmarks - Delicious was what I used before Diigo. I got burnt out on Delicious for a couple of reasons. Mostly because they kept updating the addon without fixing their tag renaming. You had to go to the site and the stupid scrollbar was the most tedious Windows 95ish thing I'd ever seen. Time and again I requested a change, as did so many other and time and again I was ignored, as were so many others. While they were bought by Yahoo, for whatever reason the powers that be had developed a Microsoft-like mentality by ignoring user requests. This hit a crescendo when the politics came into play. Something weird was going on behind the closed doors because suddenly all the folks who had originally designed Delicious (and were inherited employees when Yahoo bought them) took part in a mass exodus. This was a serious problem for me. I was on the beta mailing list and was an active participant, but new people were coming on board and Nick was the one who actually listened to all of us and his response was incredible. He was strictly the addon guy (not the website guy who seriously needed to fix the rename issue). Anyway, I tossed Delicious in lieu of Diigo and I'm a happier woman for it. I'd love to see Google buy Diigo. That would be incredible!

NoScript - For many, this is the most essential thing they use. I used it for a very long time, then one day I asked myself, "Why am I putting up with this?!" While it does have its benefits, it has more annoyances than it does benefits for me. I didn't like having to constantly argue with multiple scripts on one page, I didn't like trying to figure out which script was the one I needed to work to submit a comment and on and on. It just seemed like there were more problems and when I thought about it, I really didn't need it. Because I use WOT, I don't need anything that prevents malicious scripts. WOT will tell me right away.

Happy Firefoxing!

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