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The power user's guide to Firefox

Extending Firefox

Firefox fans love the browser’s extensions—third-party apps that let you add all sorts of useful features, such as an RSS reader and CSS editing, to the browser. Firefox also works with other add-ons—including themes and alternative search engines—that make it a power surfer’s dream browser. There are hundreds of free add-ons (and more appear every day); some of my favorites follow.

To add an extension, choose Tools: Extensions and click on the Get More Extensions link at the bottom of the window. On the page that appears, find the extension you want, and then click on the Install Now link. Verify that the site hosting the download is one you trust (such as ftp.mozilla.org), and click on the Install Now button. Most extensions take effect only after you restart Firefox. Adding a new theme is pretty much the same; just choose Tools: Themes instead, and go from there. Some of the add-ons described here follow other installation procedures; those exceptions have been noted.

Some extensions aren’t compatible with Tiger. And because third parties develop these extensions, conflicts can occur. If you change your mind or encounter a nonfunctioning extension, you can (in most cases) remove it by clicking on the Uninstall button (the leftmost button at the bottom of the Extensions window) and restarting Firefox. A few particularly stubborn add-ons may not disappear unless you create a new profile. (That’s an all-purpose troubleshooting step that can solve many Firefox problems. Click here for details.)

In Good Form After you modify Firefox with Firefoxy, elements in Web forms look more Mac-like (bottom).

Brushed Theme I prefer Safari’s brushed-metal toolbars, tabs, and buttons to Firefox’s more generic-looking controls. The Brushed theme, from e|vo, doesn’t exactly match the look-and-feel of Safari, but it comes close—and it makes Firefox feel significantly more Mac-like.

Firefox G5-Optimized Builds It isn’t exactly an add-on, but a G5-optimized build should be at the top of your must-get list if your Mac has a G5 processor. Neil Lee provides free builds, optimized for G5 Macs, of each Firefox release; they provide noticeably faster all-around operation.

Firefoxy Mac users trying out Firefox frequently complain that the controls in Web-page forms (radio buttons, check boxes, and so on) don’t have the same look-and-feel that they have in Safari. But you can spiff up those controls with Firefoxy. Drag and drop Firefox.app onto Firefoxy, and Firefoxy will replace some of the stock graphics with new, more elegant ones (see “In Good Form”). To undo the change, just drag and drop the app onto Firefoxy again.

ScrapBook If you do a lot of online research, ScrapBook will quickly become your favorite extension. It lets you save all or part of a Web page—including graphics, movies, audio, and other linked pages—to an archive that you can search from Firefox’s sidebar. You can annotate saved pages, highlight them, and remove elements from them; sort, backup, and export your saved documents; and much more.

Nobody Beats the Wizz The Wizz RSS News Reader extension puts a full-featured RSS browser in Firefox’s sidebar.

FoxyTunes If you want to control iTunes from within Firefox, try FoxyTunes. It adds a series of tiny iTunes control buttons to the status bar at the bottom of the Firefox window; they let you play, pause, go to the next or previous track, adjust the volume, display the current song name, and more.

SessionSaver As its name implies, the remarkable SessionSaver extension saves the state of your browser—every tab and window, every half-filled Web form, every scroll-bar position ( everything )—when you quit the browser, and then it returns the browser to that state upon relaunch. Even if Firefox crashed or if you force-quit it, SessionSaver will put everything back the way it was.

StumbleUpon After you sign up for a StumbleUpon account, this simple but incredibly addictive extension adds a StumbleUpon toolbar to Firefox. Click on the toolbar’s Stumble button to go to a random Web site devoted to any of the hundreds of topics that match your interests. It also lets you give sites “thumbs-up” or “thumbs-down” ratings; these ratings determine which sites appear when other Web surfers with similar interests use StumbleUpon.

Tab X and miniT If you want Firefox to look and act more like Safari, add the Tab X extension. It does just one tiny thing: it puts an individual close button on each tab, replacing the single (and counterintuitive) close button at the right end of the tab bar. (Too bad it doesn’t put the close button on the left side of the tab, where it belongs.) For even more flexibility, you should also add miniT, which lets you rearrange the order of your tabs simply by dragging them to a new location.

Wizz RSS News Reader and Sage Firefox has minimal RSS capabilities. You can click on an icon at the bottom of an RSS-enabled site’s window to add a bookmark item that displays recent headlines. But you can’t mark an article as read or unread, see previews of posts, download Podcasts, or do many of the other things full-fledged RSS browsers let you do. But several extensions can bulk up Firefox’s RSS tools. I prefer Wizz RSS News Reader (see “Nobody Beats the Wizz”), which includes Podcast support, along with other bells and whistles. However, its interface is a bit awkward. For a simpler, more elegant approach (but without Podcast support), try Sage.

[ Joe Kissell is the author of many e-books about Mac OS X. His secret identity is Curator of Interesting Things for InterestingThingOfTheDay.com.]

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