Unless you've been living atop a tree over the past few years, you've undoubtedly heard of the Firefox Web browser. Love it or hate it (and there
are people in both camps), you have to admit that Firefox is a very strong and very flexible application. A lot of its flexibility comes from its extensions.
Extensions are tiny bits of software
that you install “on top of” Firefox
which greatly expand its features
and capabilities. There are literally hundreds of extensions which enable Firefox to work more effectively with any number of online services, manage downloads, analyze and edit Web sites, improve the security of the browser, and more.
Admittedly, you may find only a handful of extensions extremely useful. The problem is where to start? The folks behind Firefox maintain a list of their favorite extensions. This list contains some very useful extensions, but maybe not ones that you'll find to your liking. This TechTip looks at five extensions that most, if not all, Firefox users will find essential.
Like them or hate them, PDF files are all over the Web. Product brochures, catalogs, manuals, resumes, and more. By default, most Web browsers (Firefox included) will either download the PDF to your hard drive or open it in a PDF viewer like Adobe Acrobat Reader. Wouldn't it be nice if you had a little more control over how Firefox deals with PDFs?
That's where the PDF Download extension comes in. When it's installed, the extension asks you what you want to do with the PDF file. You can download the PDF, open it, view it as an HTML file or choose not download and view it at all. The PDF to HTML conversion retains some of the formatting of the original file, and you
can configure the PDF Download extension to display any images
in the file.
Speaking of which, you can edit the settings of this extension (just choose Tools >
Add-ons, click PDF Download in the list of extensions, and then click Preferences). You can select the default action for the extension, the PDF viewer with which to open a file, and whether to open the PDF
in a new window or tab.
If you're a Windows user of Firefox, there will be times when having access to Internet Explorer might come in handy. Even in these days of Web standards, some sites still only render properly in Internet Explorer. If you design web sites – even your personal site – it's often useful to see how the site renders in both Firefox
Instead of opening two separate browsers and flipping back and forth between them, you can use the IE Tab extension to give you the full Internet Explorer experience in Firefox. If you haven't guessed it already, the IE in the extension's name stands for Internet Explorer. The extension is extremely simple to use: just right click on a Web page or a Firefox tab and choose the Switch Rendering Engine option. After a second or two, you get a view of the page as you'd see it in Internet Explorer.
While a nice little extension, especially for the Web developer, the drawback is that IE Tab works exclusively in Windows. There's no Linux version, obviously, and I've never seen it successfully used
Chances are that you use one Web-based email service or another, like Gmail, HotMail, or Yahoo! Mail. Or, if you have your own Web domain, you might use a Web-based mail interface to send and read your messages. Good email etiquette states that you should include a signature block in your message. Often used to mark the end of a message or forum post, the signature block can contain just your name and email address, your full contact information, or a pithy or funny comment or quotation.
But, not every
signature is appropriate for all purposes. You might
have one that you use with messages to friends and family, and
another for business or professional emails. Unfortunately, most
Web based email tools only allow you to have one signature.
The aptly-named Signature extension gets around that limitation.
Signature enables you to define multiple signatures. When you
want to add one to an email message, just right-click and choose Insert Signature. Then, select the appropriate signature from the list that appears.
This extension isn't just good for email: if you post on message boards or leave comments in blogs, you can quickly add the appropriate signature to your posts.
Gmail isn't just a great Web-based email service. Each account gets close to 3 GB of storage space, too. This can be a great way to temporarily store or to transfer files from one PC to another.
It's pretty much like a
Getting your files to your Gmail space is the problem, one that the Gspace extension solves. This extension sits on the Status Bar at the bottom of your browser window. When you're ready to move a file, just click the Gspace icon and log in to your Gmail account. Then, you just drag and drop the file that you want to transfer from your file manager to the Gspace pop-up window. Depending on the size of your file, the transfer can take a few seconds to a minute. From there, you can access the file from wherever you can reach your Gmail account.
Be warned, though, that some users of this extension have run into trouble when uploading too many files at once. The folks at Google have been known to lock or disable Gmail accounts if too much data is being uploaded at one time. But if you use the extension sparingly, you should be fine.
No matter what the pundits may say, blogging is still popular and won't be dying out any time soon. With most blogging services and tools on the Web, you need to log into a service or tool in order to post an entry. This can be a bit tedious. With ScribeFire, you can post to your blog wherever you are on the Web and without having to log into your blogging service or tool.
ScribeFire works with most popular blogging applications -- including Blogger, WordPress, TypePad, LiveJournal, and Windows Live Spaces. If your blogging application isn't on the list, chances are that you can manually configure ScribeFire to work with it. This might take a little bit of fiddling with the extension, and some knowledge of how your blog software works.
The extension itself is like a small blogging word processor that you can use right from within Firefox. Just click the ScribeFire icon on the Status Bar at the bottom of your browser window. From there, you choose a blog from the list on the left side and start typing. You can add formatting to your text, insert images or links, or create lists. ScribeFire doesn't seem to have a way to automatically insert tables, but that doesn't mean it can't be done; if you know how to code HTML, then you can add a table by hand by switching to the Source Editing view. But you don't have to look at the HTML code unless you want to. All the functions of ScribeFire are literally a click away.