One of the reasons I dearly love Firefox is how I can make it become a better tool for my work. Firefox is open virtually all day on every computer that I use and the ability to extend the browsing environment with add-ons is priceless. I don’t go overboard to keep Firefox from bogging down, there are hundreds of add-ons available and no doubt at some point if you keep adding them you’ll start slowing down. I try a lot of add-ons to decide which ones add enough value to stay enabled and I am happy with the set I use now. Almost all add-ons for Firefox work on both the Mac and Windows platforms which is important since I am constantly jumping back and forth between them. This lets me create the same environment no matter the platform and that’s important.
I am currently using 12 Firefox add-ons and most of them can be groupedinto two categories: appearance and utility. The appearance add-onssimply change the way certain things are displayed in the browserwindow and while that may seem trivial the ones I use actually help mebe more productive while using Firefox. The utility add-ons addfunctionality that Firefox doesn’t natively provide and that variesfrom the little utility to those that add major functionality. I figured I should share the current add-on load I am using in Firefox so if you’re curious keep on after the jump.
Once I started using GMail all day the first thing I wanted to do was improve the way the GMail window displays. Google is known for their utilitarian displays and while functional I felt that a better display would make it a more productive tool. Better GMail 2 is the add-on that does what I need, it turns the GMail window into one that is easier to view and thus easier to work with. It does a lot of different things but the main function it serves for me is adding skins to GMail. The one I use simply displays more attractively and that makes it easier to find things at a glance.
Standard GMail window
Better GMail 2 window
As you can see when you compare the two screens above the settings I am using only make minor cosmetic changes. There are a lot of things that Better GMail 2 is doing under the hood though but I find that this better display makes it easier for me to work in GMail all day. It’s one of my favorite add-ons for Firefox.
My favorite appearance add-on is similar in nature to the GMail add-on. Better GReader adds a lot of functionality and cosmetic changes to Google Reader that makes it a real killer tool. I spend almost as much time in Google Reader as I do in GMail so this is a big deal to me. Better GReader provides skins for Google Reader and this is ver useful for me, especially using different computers all the time. I have a nice colorful skin for my main work but can set some very "minimal" skins for using smaller screened devices like netbooks. That lets me get the most information on the screen at one time no matter what computer I am using and it’s very productive. Better GReader also provides a useful "preview in place" setting that lets you see the entire web page for an item right in Google Reader. Better GReader is definitely in my top two add-ons.
Google Reader default window
Better GReader skinned
Two other add-ons that work with GMail round out the appearance category, both actually add utility too. The Blank Canvas GMail Signatures add-on simply adds HTML formatted signatures to GMail. This lets you add hyperlinks and other HTML code to your email signature, something that GMail doesn’t do. The other add-on is Remember The Milk for GMail. This adds a RTM tab to the right side of the GMail window so that your tasks are always right there. You have to be using RTM of course but if you do definitely use this add-on with GMail.
Remember The Milk for GMail
The rest of my add-ons add a ton of utility to the Firefox environment and give me a lot more benefit while using them. The 1Password add-on is actually part of the paid 1Password program so you can’t just download it. It is an automatic password program for the Mac that I love. The All-In-One Sidebar is aptly named as it is a sidebar that provides easily one-click access to all sorts of things in Firefox. You can see your add-ons, browsing history and a lot of other useful information sitting right there in a collapsible sidebar.
Another sidebar that crosses the appearance/ uttility divide is ColorTabs. This is a simple add-on that causes the browser tabs to display in different colors. You can customize the way this happens but if you have a lot of tabs open all the time this adds a lot of benefit. It sounds like fluff but it’s really not. Besides it’s cool. :)
One of the coolest and most useful add-ons is the Minimap. In a nutshell you just highlight an address in any web page and right-click. Choose Minimap in the dialog and a Google map opens in either the sidebar or a new tab (your choice) with that address as the focus. This is tremendously useful.
The rest of my add-ons are great utilities in their own right but together they extend my productivity a great deal. The Foxmarks add-on works with Foxmarks to keep my bookmarks synchronized across all of my computers. Google Toolbar is probably familiar to many and it just makes getting at Google stuff easier. Grab and Drag is a very useful add-on that I discovered first on the Tablet PC. It enables you to drag the browser page around using the pen (or finger on touch screens) which is very cool. It also works with the mouse so I put it on every computer and find that dragging pages around with the mouse is just as useful and I put this on every computer I use. The gTalk Sidebar add-on I must admit I don’t use that much but since GigaOM uses Google Talk this makes it easier to use in Firefox.
One add-on I use only on the Windows platform is IE Tab. This basically lets you force Firefox to render any web page using the Internet Explorer engine. This can be useful for pages that are designed for IE that don’t display well in Firefox. I only use it for Outlook Web Access which works OK in Firefox but is better displayed using IE Tab.
That’s the roundup of my current add-ons that make Firefox into my own personal productivity powerhouse. Each of them is a benefit in its own right but together they provide the ultimate workshop for me. I am always looking for that gem of an add-on, what are your favorites?