Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Yet another post about firefox extensions

Previously I have written about various useful extensions for Firefox. Recently I have tested quite a few extensions that didn't make my "install these first" list and although I do not think any of these are of the "you are not browsing right if you do not have this" grade, but I find some of them rather nice additions to my web experience.
  • CustomizeGoogle - is one of the subtle, yet extremely powerful extensions. Once you install it, suddenly your experience with Google search, GMail, Google Calendar and other Google products just becomes nicer. You get Google Suggest keywords while you type, GMail auto-redirects to an encrypted version, you get links to other search engines in your search results, Google Images starts to actually point to images etc.
  • SpeedDial - if you ever used Opera, you already know what this is about. Basically, it adds a special location (you can configure it to be your home page) that shows thumbnails of several (nine by default) sites of your choice with handy shortcuts to go straight to these sites. I used to keep a lot of tabs open at all times in my Firefox sessions, in order to have all the reference documentation I need at hand at all times. Now I just assign relevant pages to my Speed Dial and voila, CTRL-1 gives me a tab with Apache 2.2 manuals, CTRL-2 - tab with MySQL reference manual etc. Or I can just open a new tab and click on whatever I need right there. Again, I can see people saying that this is just an unneeded addition to bookmarks and bookmark toolbar. Bookmark toolbar takes screen space. Bookmarks are nice, but since you cannot assign shortcut to a particular bookmark (as far as I know), Speed Dial actually does speed up getting to your favorite sites even if just a little bit. As an alternative, one can always use bookmark keywords (one of the more obscure Firefox features). For example, you can bookmark Slashdot.org and assign keyword slash to it. Then you use CTRL-T to open new tab, CTRL-L to switch focus to the location bar, type slash and hit enter. This is much faster, then browsing bookmarks menu with a mouse (especially for the keyboard oriented people like me), but not as fast or visually friendly as using Speed Dial extension. After all with Speed Dial you do not need to remember keywords. Note: Obviously some of these arguments are useless for people who use mouse more then keyboard. But I would guess that with one of the mouse gesture extensions you should be able to map Speed Dials to gestures.
  • Secure Login - this one is even more subtle. If you are using Password Manager to remember your login information, you might sometimes be annoyed that it fills out your login info weather you actually want it or not. The Secure Login will change this behavior to a more appropriate. Every time there is a login form on the page, Secure Login will search the Password Manager for a fitting login/password combo and if it finds one it will highlight the form fields with yellow, light up an icon in the status bar and may, if configured, even play a sound. It will prevent the P.M. from filling the info into the form. Pressing a shortcut key or clicking a toolbar button will fill the form and submit in one motion (or just fill the form if you are so inclined). It can warn you if the form is attempting to submit something to a domain different from the page the form is located on and will show a popup to indicate where the form will be sent.
  • Resizable Form Fields - does exactly what its name suggests. It allows you to resize text fields, text areas, combo-boxes and lists. Well... most of the time at least. I have seen a few sites where it doesn't work (probably due to absolute positioning or some other CSS tricks). But where it works it is a nice feature to have.
  • TrashMail.net - will add a menu item "Paste a disposable email address" next to Paste. When used it will use trashmail.net site to generate a temporary email address. This is very useful when trying to read an article from some suspicious site that requires registration.
  • BugMeNot - will use the bugmenot.com login database to login into those annoying sites that require you to register in order to read. New York Times is one of the popular examples. Yes, this is a morally questionable practice, but those compulsive registration dudes are just soooo annoying and I am not a lawyer to be able to properly read their "Privacy Policy" documents :)
  • URL Fixer - this is probably the subtlest one. It will quietly fix basic typos in URLs. Ever typed www.google.con or wwww.gmail.com? No more.
  • ScrapBook - this is one of the more non-obvious and extremely powerful add-ons. ScrapBook will allow you to properly gather and organize the data you mine on the web and will give you some tools to properly work with the materials. On a more particular note, ScrapBook will allow you to save a page or a fragment of a page completely to your hard drive. It will allow you to organize these fragments and pages into folders (same as you would organize bookmarks). It will allow you to mark up (same as with a highlighter pen) parts of the pages you saved and add notes and annotations. Since ScrapBook will actually save the data locally you will not worry about the data going off line or changing at the original location. This is a beautiful tool to do research on the web.
These are the extensions for a common user of Firefox that I have recently added to my add-on arsenal. Stay tuned for my post about some other extensions which are more useful to developers, hackers and power users.


  1. Sorry, this is off the subject from the post it references; but, I didn't see another way to reach you. And, you're dealing on -way- another level here. I don't know what Ubuntu is. I would love to have a second computer and try to teach myself some Unix. But, I had a basic question I wanted to ask of someone that seems knowledgeable.

    Somewhere, I learned a command line command that you enter and it returns URLs of all the websites that point to yours. Do you know that command? Can you tell me a good reference site for this type of stuff? I'm also interested in macro statistics for the web and web traffic. You can email if you don't want to post this stuff on your web log.

    Also, there's a cool book about graph theory and networks (internet, social, all) called 'Linked' by Albert-Laszlo Barabazi you may dig.

    I hope you don't mind my bothering you with this stuff. (If so, you can just delete it.) Thanks for your time and consideration.

  2. Hi, didn't see your comment for a while, as you might have noticed I haven't been posting much lately. Sorry. In any case, there is no way to just magically find out what sites link to you. If I have a page that links to your page you will not find out until somebody actually clicks the link. Now at that point, my site will appear in your web logs as a referrer. You can parse the logs and find out which sites refer to yours. I had a post about this a while ago Web statistics from the command line I think there was a recipe there to gather referrers. If you have trouble using it, post a comment on that entry and I will respond.