Firefox Bells and Whistles

Firefox logo with tubular bells and whistlesOne of the great strengths of the Firefox web browser is the ability to bolt on goodies – bells and whistles, if you like – that add useful features to the browser. These “bolt-ons” are usually free but the authors may invite you to make a small donation of a couple of pounds.

There are lots of these “add-ons”. They go under the name of “add-ons”, “plug-ins”, “extensions”. I can’t find any definition of these terms that differentiates between them so I’m not sure if there’s some subtle difference between them or not. Anyway, they’re all “bolt-on goodies” as far as I am concerned and Firefox is the best of all the major browsers in this respect.

The best place to go hunting for these add-ons is to open Firefox, click on the “Firefox” button (see figure 1), click on “Add-ons”, then click on “Get Add-ons” and then click on “browse all add-ons” (bottom righthand corner of screen). Figure 1 illustrates Firefox version 6.

Firefox Add-On Button
Figure 1 - Firefox Add-On Button

To give you an idea of what’s available, here are half a dozen of the ones that I find the most useful:-

Adblock Plus 1.3.9

This removes most online advertising and blocks known malware domains. I appreciate that I’m open to charges of hypocricy and biting the hand that feeds me as I, myself, advertise my computer support and training services online using Google AdWords. Maybe I wouldn’t encourage blocking ads if it wasn’t for the fact that some of them are very distracting and irritating – especially the animated ones. AdBlock Plus is a godsend for grumpy old men like me.

Flagfox 4.1.5

This add-on shows an icon of a flag in the website address bar. This flag is of the country in which the website server resides. I tend to glance at this to help me decide whether a website is genuine and/or trustworthy. This helps my decision-making if I’m considering an online purchase from an unknown company.

My Homepage 1.2

It was stumbling on this “extension” this morning that caused me to write this blog offering computer advice on this subject. I have always been irritated by opening a new browser tab and not having it open my Home Page. Why open a new tab with a blank page? What good is that to anyone? Anyway, this little extension solves it – magic!

Print Edit 5.4

I was thinking of writing a blog post on the problems of printing from web pages, although I have mentioned the subject before – eg Website Frustrations. This add-on greatly helps in overcoming those problems as you can choose which “elements” or “chunks” of a web page will be sent to your printer. Isn’t it amazing how irritated we all get when the printer spews out four pages and all we wanted was a couple of paragraphs?

TrackMeNot 0.6.728

OK, we’ve had the “grumpy old man” a couple of times already today, so here’s more of the paranoid: I really don’t want anyone taking any kind of note of what I do on my computer unless it is information that I have specifically and knowingly provided. What TrackMeNot does is to issue random search requests to the main search engines – AOL, Yahoo, Google, and Bing – so that genuine searches are “hidden” amongst all this chaff. This reduces the chances of the search companies being able to compile meaningful profiles based on user search patterns. On the authors’ website they say “Placing users in full control is an essential feature of TMN, whose purpose is to protect against the unilateral policies set by search companies in their handling of our personal information“.

They go on to say “We are disturbed by the idea that search inquiries are systematically monitored and stored by corporations like AOL, Yahoo!, Google, etc. and may even be available to third parties. Because the Web has grown into such a crucial repository of information and our search behaviors profoundly reflect who we are, what we care about, and how we live our lives, there is reason to feel they should be off-limits to arbitrary surveillance“. Quite.