March 10th, 2009 6 Comments

Firefox becoming the Swiss Army knife of software

The Firefox Web browser is quickly becoming the only software you really need on your computer. And that will make lots of people happy because it will simplify their lives.

Firefox showing my current add-ons


Firefox showing my current add-ons

The online replacements (think Google Apps or Zoho) for your basic desktop office software like word processing, spreadsheets, project management, accounting, and e-mail are getting good enough to replace their desktop cousins. They work in Firefox and any other Web browser, saving users the trouble of buying, installing, and constantly upgrading their programs. But where Firefox really outdoes the competition is the huge collection of "Add-ons." There are thousands of add-ons available at the Firefox Web site. These add-ons can replace almost all the other software people normally have installed on their computers.

The little picture over on the right is too small to see the icons so you might want to click to see a bigger version of my current screen. The Firefox add-ons install themselves in different places, and some are hidden if they just do their job in the background. Here’s a list of my current favorites:

Top Left

UrlbarExt – This appears as a list of little icons on the right side of the address/location bar on top of the screen. Feature include: copy the current URL, make tiny URL, search current site, tag pages, view cached version of page, surf anonymously. Each icon simplifies a common action that normally requires multiple clicks, menus, or keystrokes. The tiny URL feature is particularly handy for Twitter users because a single click puts a short version of the current URL onto your clipboard.

Evernote – Forgot to circle this one, but it’s the green box with an elephant’s head to the left of the address/location bar. Evernote is a very handy note taking program to organize your thoughts. This add-on lets you clip entire Web pages, or just parts of pages and save them to your Evernote notebook.

Top Right

Read it Later – Once you see this you’ll wonder why it took so long for someone to think of it. It’s similar to regular bookmarks, but designed to be temporary so easier to use. For example, I receive an e-mail every morning from the Wall Street Journal containing headlines. If the headline is interesting I’ll click to look at the full story, and then if I don’t have time I’ll click the Read it Later button. The Firefox tab is automatically closed so my screen doesn’t get cluttered, and the page is saved in my Read it Later list. Sometime later I come back to the Read it Later list and look at a story. When I’m finished, one click on the icon and it’s removed from my list. The list can even be synced to a free server so you can access it from multiple computers.

Bottom Left

FoxClocks – A little add-on that lets you display the time in different cities in the unused space on the status bar. Flags are optional, but a very nice touch.

Bottom Right

Ghostery – If you want to see when Web sites are tracking your actions this will help. A small pop up alerts you to any ad network bugs, widgets, and other hidden scripts on a Web page.

S3Fox – S3 is the online data storage component of Amazon Web Services. For only pennies per month you can back up gigabytes of files on Amazon’s servers. S3Fox opens a separate window rather than a Firefox tab. Once the window opens you can treat the S3 remote storage just like a disk drive, that is, you see all the folders/files and can drag and drop files to/from your desktop.

TwitterFox – This is an add-on for Twitter users (see previous post ). The advantage of using TwitterFox is that you don’t need another window open on your desktop. Simply click the small t icon in the Firefox status bar and your Twitter messages open right up.

YammerFox – Yammer is a service that’s similar to Twitter (that is, you send short messages to a bunch of people at the same time) but it has more business-friendly features. We tend to use Twitter for general news and public announcements, and Yammer for working with clients on projects.

Hidden From View

Fission – Just a little eye candy that provides an animated, Safari-style address bar when loading Web pages.

Google Gears – A free set of tools that enhance Firefox and let you run online applications like Gmail, even when not connected to the Internet. You can really use Firefox to read/write e-mail even when on a plane.

ElasticFox – A graphical user interface for Amazon Web Services. Much easier than the usual command line tools.

Try a few of these and add comments to this post if you have favorite add-ons that we should know about.

6 Responses to “Firefox becoming the Swiss Army knife of software”

Lucian Ioan

March 11th, 2009 - 4:20 am

Still a browser can not be and will not be a replacement for the operating system. And certain features from a desktop application can not be implemented in browser based ones.

jeff

March 11th, 2009 - 9:48 am

what? no rss feed? 🙂

moderator

March 11th, 2009 - 3:45 pm

Jeff, either you didn’t spend enough time visiting our blog, or your glasses are underpowered 😉 Just for you we made the button bigger, more orange, and put it right at the top of the page.

Andrea_R

March 11th, 2009 - 3:23 pm

Oooo, I have never seen Read It Later, that would be pretty handy.

I do a lot of web development, so my favorites are as follows:
Web Developer – gives another toolbar with handy things
FireFTP – ftp in your browser
Color Picker – can pick a color off any web page
Measure It – measure elements or spacing on any web page
StumbleUpon toolbar – for the good stuff
Linky – select a bunch of links, then right click and open them all in speerate tabs, good for reading forums quickly
Screen Grab – save the entire web page as an image, even below the fold
FireBug – HUGE timesaver for css issues.

Jaime

July 31st, 2009 - 3:25 pm

You did not mention that so many add-ons = one hour waiting to the browser to open.

moderator

August 3rd, 2009 - 1:03 pm

I have not noticed FIrefox loading any slower on either Windows XP or Mac OS X with all my add-ons loaded. And I have more add-ons since writing this original story.

I’m sure there’s a small penalty for each item that gets loaded, and a check is done to see if there are new versions each time Firefox starts. But the delay is trivial compared to the benefits of having all these features in one place.

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