Firefox extensions for geeks

Mozilla’s Firefox browser is a great tool for surfing the Net. And thanks to a growing number of free Firefox extensions, it’s an especially good tool for people who want every possible ounce of browser power—and who are willing to tinker with their Mac to get it.

I’ve dug up 10 of the best extensions for Firefox (   ). Some of these are designed to make surfing easier or safer, while others are specifically geared toward Web developers. All are free, and you can easily configure or remove them in Firefox by going to Tools: Extensions.

1. Ultimate site customizer

The first Firefox extension any self-respecting geek should install is Greasemonkey. Using basic JavaScripts, this extension can block ads, remove frames, rewrite URLs, resize graphics, and more. If you find anything annoying about a site you visit frequently, chances are that a Greasemonkey script can help alleviate your frustration. You can find thousands of Greasemonkey scripts online at Userscripts.org.

To set up a script from Userscripts.org, first install the Greasemonkey extension on your Mac and then restart Firefox. Next, locate the script you want to download and click on the Install This Script link, which displays the raw JavaScript code. Select the Install button at the top of the page (or go to Tools: Install This User Script), and Firefox will take care of the rest. Once the installation is complete, you can turn that script on or off, using the Greasemonkey pop-up menu on the Firefox status bar (see “Monkeying Around”). To configure or uninstall any script, choose Manage User Scripts from the Greasemonkey pop-up menu.

Here are some handy Greasemonkey scripts from Userscripts.org:

_blank Must Die: This script causes links that would ordinarily pop up in new windows to open in the current window or tab instead.

About.com Ad Free: This script removes ads from About.com pages and makes outgoing links open directly in a window (rather than in frames).

Google Maps Mousewheel Zooming: This script lets you use a scroll wheel to zoom in and out on maps at maps.google.com.

2. Tab enhancer

Tab Mix Plus lets you take tabbed browsing to a new level by adding dozens of configurable features. For example, you can add close buttons or a page-loading progress bar to each tab, reopen tabs you’ve accidentally closed, and automatically save all your tabs when you quit (and then restore them at your next launch). To customize your settings, go to Tools: Tab Mix Plus Options.

3. Flash stopper

Flash animation can be cool, but it can also be annoying. Pages with Flash content take longer to load and the graphics can be distracting (if not downright hideous). As its name implies, the Flashblock extension stops Flash animations from loading automatically. To start one, just click on the icon in the placeholder box where the Flash content is.

4. Cache finder

How many times have you clicked on a link, only to find that the server was down, the page had been removed, or the site was responding too slowly? Cacheout can help you by locating a cached copy of that page (though it may be several days old). If a page doesn’t respond when you click on a link, control-click on it and select Cacheout from the contextual menu. The extension searches for and displays a cached copy of that page.

5. Fast note taker

Copying a Web page can be cumbersome. First you have to copy and paste the URL; then you have to go back and grab the page’s title and text. Copy URL+ can save frequent Internet note takers a lot of hassle. This extension copies a page’s URL, along with its title, text that you’ve selected, or both—all with a single command. Just highlight the text you want, control-click on it, and go to Copy URL+ to choose the elements you want to copy.

6. Clever picture snapper

If you need to take a screen shot, you can press Command-shift-3. But this command captures only the visible part of a Web page. Enter Screen Grab, a handy extension that lets you snap a picture of an entire Web page, no matter how long it is. Control-click on a page and select Screen Grab from the contextual menu. In the submenu, choose whether you want the whole page or just the part you can currently see.

7. Easy source viewer

To understand how a site is put together, Web developers often look through the source code and compare it to the rendered page. Aardvark provides an easier solution. When you want to see the coding behind a site element, control-click on the page and select Start Aardvark from the contextual menu. Once enabled, Aardvark outlines any element over which you hover your cursor, and displays the object’s boundaries, HTML tags, and CSS styles (see “Aardly Any Trouble”).

8. Web development aid

Web Developer is a powerful tool for Web site creation that offers an array of useful testing and design functions. The extension lets you display image attributes such as size and alt tags; hide images altogether; and instantly disable or enable CSS style sheets, Java, JavaScript, and redirects. You can also display guides for aligning page elements, show outlines of HTML elements on the screen, validate HTML or CSS code, and manipulate form fields (even switching between POST and GET actions on-the-fly). Once you’ve installed the extension, access its tools in Firefox by going to Tools: Web Developer.

9. HTML helper

Most good HTML editors use syntax coloring and indentation to delineate where blocks of code start and end. The View Source Chart extension takes this concept further, by visually modifying source code to appear as a series of colored, nested blocks. This simple tool can make it easier and faster for any Web developer to debug a design.

10. Keep a clean machine

One great Safari feature that Firefox lacks is Private Browsing, which prevents the browser from saving information about your activities, including your Google searches, URL history, and file downloads. The Stealther extension adds these types of capabilities to Firefox, and lets you enable or disable privacy options such as caches, cookies, and saved form information. Once this extension is installed, you can activate it from within Firefox by selecting Tools: Stealther.

Private surfing

When you surf the Web, you leave a trail of information. Even if you use Safari’s Private Browsing feature or Stealther extension for Firefox, your browser still sends out your data—including your IP address, Web browser version, computer operating system, and the Web page from which your click originated—to Web servers. When you really want to surf privately, try two free programs—Tor and Privoxy.

Tor is a distributed networking system that routes data to or from your Mac through onion servers , a random series of computers. Tor makes it difficult to track your IP address or location by ensuring that no single server knows the entire path of a data packet and by changing that path frequently. Privoxy is a proxy server —an application that intercepts and filters data on its way to and from your browser. You can configure Privoxy to block ads and cookies, and prevent servers from logging info about your machine.

Download an installer with both applications from tor.eff.org and follow the instructions on Tor’s Web site. These work with Safari and Firefox, but Firefox users can also install the FoxyProxy extension, which automatically sets up Tor and lets you configure and switch between proxies, or the Torbutton extension, which allows you to turn Tor (and Privoxy) on and off by clicking on a button in the Firefox status bar.

[ Joe Kissell is a senior editor of Tidbits and the author of numerous Mac OS X e-books. ]

Monkeying Around: To enable (or disable) one of Greasemonkey’s many customiza-tion scripts, control-click on the monkey at the bottom of your browser window and choose the script from the Greasemonkey pop-up menu. You can also go to Firefox’s Tools: Manage User Scripts menu.Aardly Any Trouble: Web developers will appreciate the Aardvark extension’s ability to display information about any Web page object you mouse over.

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