Top 5 Firefox Browser Extensions

I've decided to review what I feel are the best Firefox add-ons that, in my short period since converting to FF devotee, have made all the difference to my browsing experience. This is a totally biased look from a pragmatic doctoral student hell-bent on functionality, productivity, performance, a streamlined user interface, and minimized pointlessness.

Top 5:

1. Zotero. Zotero has, in essence, prompted this and all further posts regarding ingenious browser extensions. To update my previous post singing its praises, it's genuinely become my poor man's (or person's, if you're so inclined) NVivo. (People still pay for software?) I'm now using Zotero to catalog all my ethnographic pursuits of a virtual nature. I recently found out that one of my "free" survey software providers has now reduced the functionality of their free accounts, thereby preventing me from exporting my data in a manageable format like Excel or PDF. I worked around this by saving the completed surveys in web archive format in IE, but I like Zotero's snapshots much better because I can annotate and index the pages along with my other files. Here's more on what we can expect from Zotero's future release (now in beta).

2. PDF Download. It does what it says: converts web pages to easy-to-save, transfer and share PDFs. I've always found PDFs restricting rather than liberating, but they're here to stay for a while, so might as well embrace them.

3. Hide Menubar. Maybe not essential to some, this great little tool returns to me a prime piece of real estate - the wasted menu bar space at the top of the browser. Alt toggles it back into place, though I haven't needed it since I made it disappear. (I'm partial to keyboard shortcuts.) Why hide the menu bar? Why not?! To me, the best UI designs are intuitive, streamlined and easily customizable, and this is all of the above.

4. Adblock Plus. No ads ... on the Internet. Seriously. Where ads would once have invaded my visual cortex, I just get blank space. If I'm feeling particularly consumeristic, I can toggle them back on. It's not just the constant advertising and marketing that I am happy to avoid, but more and more poorly designed or archaic scripts tend to freeze pages and/or the entire browser, especially on machines with slow processors. This handy tool takes that overpowering image intensity away, making pages load faster and smoother. It gives the option to block Flash items, too, but seems smart enough not to wipe away elements I'd like to keep, such as my flash-based sidebars on my blog.

5. Update Notifier. Once you've got this extensive collection of extensions, Update Notifier becomes essential to keep track of new versions of all the add-ons. It slips out of sight and out of mind wherever you place it on the toolbars or status bar, and notifies you as soon as a new version of any of your extensions are available.

Honorable mentions:

These get an honorable mention for being great concepts.

Gspace. Use your Gmail account as a virtual storage drive.

IE Tab. Open those pesky IE-only formatted pages as a tab in FF instead of doubling up on browser windows. (Developers: use this to see how badly IE messes up your work.)

Best Theme:

ACE Safari Foxdie (see developer's page for mods).

Feature I'd most like to see added to Firefox:

The ability to choose which toolbar(s) (menu, navigation and/or bookmark) are visible in F11 full screen mode, and to show the status bar (bottom of the screen, where Zotero is docked) in full screen mode. If you're scratching your head at this apparently counterproductive use of the "full screen", my hope is that this would make it easier to get the XP window title bar off of my browser without having to skin my whole OS. Someone please tell me if this already exists or how I can modify the source code to make it happen.

Have I not satisfied your insatiable appetite for add-ons? Try Top 50 FF extensions for "power surfing".


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