Firefox 3 extensions I like

Firefox 3 came out a week ago. Its memory usage is apparently far improved (even if it still takes an age to load) and javascript performance is lovely – Gmail and Google Docs are snappy as anything.

Feature-wise, there’s nothing stand-out jaw-dropping, but a lot of small, great stuff. I particularly like the ‘AwesomeBar’ – the address bar that searches your history for possible page matches. This means I can type page titles rather than domain names, and, for example, go straight to an amazon product page I saw yesterday by typing ‘monkey brain jelly mould’ or whatever. FF3 also has browsing stats, new themes, and colour-profile support (already causing a lot of confusion over at Lifehacker, which isn’t surprising given how complex colour profiling can get). There’s a full field guide here.

After a week I’ve finally got it configured properly. Here’re the extensions I ended up with:

All-in-One Sidebar: Adds a small sidebar with quick access to bookmarks, history, downloads, extensions, source code and page info. It collapses nicely into an unobtrusive set of icons, and is just more handy than the menu bar.

Better GReader: Improvements for Google Reader, as compiled by those useful people at Lifehacker. I only use it for Bypass iGoogle Choice, which skips Google’s annoying ‘which reader do you want to use’ page, and Preview Button, which adds an option to load the actual post page inline.

Compact Menu 2: Frees up screen space by replacing the Menu bar with a drop-down button. Once installed a new button appears in the Customise… options, and once this is dropped onto a toolbar the Menu bar disappears. You can’t actually hide the Menu bar manually, so the trick is then to drag everything from the Navigation Bar onto the Menu bar, then hide the former. It’s most useful when used in conjunction with the All-in-One sidebar, as you’ll rarely need the menu bar.

Delicious Bookmarks: I think del.icio.us is far more useful than any built-in bookmarks manager, and their extension makes it as convient. It adds a toolbar with a local cache of all your tags, plus a quick bookmark button. If you’re new to del.icio.us, it can also copy over all your existing firefox bookmarks.

DownThemAll!: This is designed to do clever things like download batches of files, but I use it as a regular download manager. I used to have FlashGot to link into my (paid for) copy of GetRight, but the latter is increasingly unable to understand download pages, while DownThemAll just works. Its one-click downloading is handy, and the I’ve-finished noise is endearingly pretty.

dragdropupload: Lets you drop files into upload boxes, rather than Browsing explorer. Quicker for email attachments.

FaviconizeTab: Adds an option to shrinks tabs to just their FavIcon. Means I can shove gmail, google docs and twitter into a corner without them taking up too much space. Compatible with Tab Mix Plus, happily.

Gmail Manager: Lets me log into multiple gmail accounts simultaneously, and adds an Unread Mail count to the status bar. I leave the latter checking for ‘You’ve sold a book’ emails on my Google Apps account, while my personal email is open all the time. It’s been a touch flaky since Firefox 3, though, and I’m expecting a bug release soon.

Google Notebook: Ridiculously useful link to Google’s scrapbook system. Highlight text in Firefox, right-click ‘Note this’ and it and the corresponding URL are saved to an online ‘notebook’. You can create as many as you like, too. I use it to research essays and collect bad jokes1. I’ve had a bit of trouble with picture ratios, and they seem to have b0rked my fix, but text works fine.

Google Gears: Google’s synchronizing tool, letting you work offline in Docs and Reader. I actually turned off the Docs’ offline support, though, as it kept breaking one of my spreadsheets. Haven’t tried it with FF3 yet.

Google Toolbar: I like it because it’s the only search bar that adds clickable ‘find’ buttons for each word (or quotation) in your search, so you can quickly search the page for that specific term. It also sets gmail as the default email client, although FF3 can apparently do that itself. This extension has been known to randomly kill Firefox 2, but seems ok so far on FF3.

Leechblock: Stops me accessing certain websites in certain timeslots. I use it to block BBC News, Twitter, Google Reader and Facebook between 1100-1300 and 1400-1730, as I have no self-control. It’ll actually kill the pages if they’re open when the time ticks over, which is Annoying As Hell but quite proper. It can also block sites after you’ve spent a certain amount of time on them. And you can set it to block its own options in these timeslots, although I haven’t found this necessary. Yet.

PicLens: A pleasant system for viewing online photo albums. Easier to see than explain, but essentially it takes over the screen, showing blocks of images against a black background and downloading upcoming shots in advance. It understands all the usual photo sites, including Flickr and Facebook, and you can click through onto an image’s individual page if you want to comment. The most recent version adds a ‘return to PicLens’ button so you can go back to where you left off, which was its one major annoyance.

Remember the Milk for Gmail: I’m not good with to-do lists, as I usually forget them after a few days. But RTM’s extension adds a toolbar to Gmail, where you can view / add / tick-off tasks as they occur. I spend half my day in Gmail, so this is pretty convenient and probably the reason I’ve kept up with RTM for 6 months. I’ll write a review at some point…

Tab Mix Plus: Honestly, I can’t believe this isn’t built into the main browser yet. It gives you total control over your tabs, from their maximum/minimum widths to their positioning and scrolling behaviour, to their colour schemes. Firefox 3 support is only in Beta, but seems fine here. I’m on v.0.3.6.1.080416, available here (it’s the current dev build).

I guess I’m running more than the average browser, but I think it’s about normal for my level of geekery. I’ve been very happy with its performance, albeit with the aforementioned load delay.

  1. Did you hear about the giant who threw up? It’s all over town! []