Thirty great Safari extensions

Following in the footsteps of Firefox and Chrome, Apple this summer began allowing developers to create extensions for its Safari 5 Web browser and more recently launched its Extensions Gallery. The idea is to allow users to customize Safari in ways that make Web surfing more efficient and fun.

The gallery, a curated collection of extensions submitted by third-party developers, is similar to the company’s App Store for iPhone and iPad software. As in the App Store, Apple picks which extensions get listed in Extensions Gallery based on how well they perform and the functions they add to Safari. Any developer can submit one, but if you look through Extensions Gallery, you’ll notice many come from major media outlets or social networks.

Unlike the official Firefox and Chrome extension sites, the Safari Extensions Gallery doesn’t have a separate page for each extension. Instead, they’re all listed on a single gallery page, which is divided into several categories including News, Shopping, Productivity and Social Networking.

Like the App Store, Extensions Gallery features a simple one-step installation process. Click the Install Now button below an extension you want to try, and the extension is automatically downloaded, installed and activated. If the extension provides buttons, a toolbar or some other always-visible item, you’ll see it immediately. If an extension doesn’t work for you right out of the gate, try quitting and restarting Safari, but in most cases you won’t need a restart.

If you want to delete or disable an extension, simply open Safari’s Preferences, click on the Extensions tab, and locate the extension in the list box. You can click a checkbox to simply disable it — leaving it installed for later use — or click the Uninstall button to get rid of it entirely. You can also disable all extensions at once, leaving Safari in a clean state.

For many extensions, you can also specify preferences or settings. These vary depending on the extension and can involve anything from adding a username and password for a site to defining what information the extension displays and how it looks in Safari.

Beyond the Extensions Gallery

Unlike the process it uses for iOS applications — which are only available at the App Store, unless you’ve jailbroken your device — Apple allows developers to distribute Safari extensions freely on the Web. Even before Apple got its Extensions Gallery up and running, numerous Web sites and blogs popped up to offer less-restricted ways of finding and downloading extensions.

Downloading an extension from one of those alternative venues isn’t quite as simple as the installation process at the Extensions Gallery, but it’s not really onerous — you download the extension’s file, double-click to open it and confirm for Safari that you really want to install the extension. As with Gallery extensions, extensions from other sources can be disabled and deleted by using Safari Preferences.

Pimp My Safari, Safari Extendr, SafariExtensions.net and SafariExtensions.tumblr are great places to find a wide array of extensions, many of them offering features beyond those you’ll find in Apple’s Extensions Gallery.

With hundreds of extensions already available — dozens in Apple’s gallery alone — finding those that offer useful features and work reliably is a challenge. We’ve rounded up 30 extensions, from both Apple’s gallery and other sources, that make social networking a breeze, finding and reading Internet content more efficient, working with tabs easier, surfing the Web more secure and much more. All of them are free to download and use (although many of the developers welcome donations) and are available for both Mac and Windows machines.

Editor’s Note: Safari 5.0.1 requires Mac OS X ‘Leopard’ 10.5.8 or ‘Snow Leopard’ 10.6.2 or higher, or Windows XP, Vista or 7. Extensions are not enabled in earlier versions of Safari.

More Safari extensions are being added all the time. Let us know your favorites in the article comments.

Tab, toolbar and navigation tweaks

Exposer

Probably the best tab-related extension out there, Calle Gustafsson’s Exposer adds a button to Safari’s toolbar that pops up an Exposé-like view in front of the browser showing thumbnails of all your open tabs. This allows you to see exactly what’s displayed in each one and easily switch to a specific tab by clicking it. If you routinely use tabbed browsing, this extension is a must.

SafariRestore

SafariRestore from SweetP Productions does one simple task: It lets you save all your open tabs for recovery later. Click the “SafariRestore” button in the Safari toolbar, and you are offered the option to save your current session or restore a previous session.

True, Safari does have the built-in ability to save multiple tabs as bookmarks (right-click on the tab bar and select the Add Bookmark for These Tabs option), but SafariRestore lets you save and restore groups of tabs without creating permanent bookmarks for them.

You can save up to six sessions; the most recent will be opened automatically the next time you start Safari. Create several sessions for different tasks — a social networking session, a project management session, a business research session — and switch back and forth over the course of the day.

Duplicate Tab Button

This extension from Thiemo adds a button to create a new tab with the same Web page displayed as in the current tab — useful if you want to keep a site open and still be able to surf away. You can also designate whether the new tab is a background or foreground tab by default in the extension’s preferences. It’s a useful addition to Safari’s built-in ability to open links in new tabs by right-clicking or by holding the Command key down while clicking.

Widgets Bar

This extension from Amberlight installs a bar below the address and bookmarks bars that can provide a variety of information — current weather, date/time, various world clocks and an RSS feed in a news ticker format. (You can customize the display in the extension’s preferences.) While it duplicates the functionality of some Mac OS X Dashboard widgets, it does so in an always-visible format.

Ultimate Status Bar

Safari’s built-in status bar (at the very bottom of the browser window) is rather Spartan, showing you destination URLs for Web links and page-download status and not much else. Interclue’s Ultimate Status Bar offers more functionality and customization. When you roll over links on a Web page, the Ultimate Status Bar can show you favicons (if available) for the destination Web pages, expanded URLs of shortened links, and file sizes for non-Web-page links such as PDFs, compressed content or disk images.

If you have Safari set to display its default status bar, the Ultimate Status Bar appears just above it; if you toggle Safari’s status bar off, Ultimate Status Bar replaces it. The bar can be customized using various color themes, and it automatically disappears when not in use.

KeyStroke

Productive computer users know that the less often you have to shift your hands from the keyboard to the mouse, and vice versa, the more efficiently you can work.

KeyStroke from solusHex enables a range of keyboard shortcuts in Safari, allowing you to scroll up and down, return to a previous page, zoom in and out, and perform other functions using single keys (such as “j” and “k” to scroll down and up, respectively — a shortcut familiar to Gmail and Google Reader users). You can reassign each function to any key you like if the defaults don’t make sense to you.

MouseGestures

If you’re more comfortable with the mouse than the keyboard, you might prefer Kai Straßmann’s MouseGestures extension. It lets you assign actions such as “back” and “close tab” to four gestures (up, down, left and right) you make with your mouse.

To trigger a gesture, hold down the mouse button you designate in the options (typically the right or middle button) and sweep the mouse up, down, left or right. You can execute common navigational functions much more quickly with a gesture, so you can focus on getting your work done.

Privacy and security

LastPass

How many Web sites and services do you use that require you to log in with a username and password? To keep track of them all, many people use easily guessable passwords or use the same password for multiple sites (or both) — neither of which is a smart security tactic.

That’s where LastPass comes in. It securely stores all your usernames and passwords; all you need to remember is a master password.

After you sign up for a free LastPass account, the LastPass extension asks if you want it to save usernames and passwords for every site you log into. Once saved, you can set each site to log in automatically or to require your LastPass master password to log in. (We recommend the latter.) The extension creates a menu bar with links to all the sites you have saved information for, as well as a form filler to quickly enter profiles or shipping information.

More important, LastPass helps you change your worthless passwords (like HelloKitty) to much stronger ones (like J#Qq*!bnF). Go to each site’s “change password” page and use LastPass’s secure password generator to create complex passwords of whatever length and combination of numbers, symbols and upper- and lowercase letters you choose. You won’t have to remember them, of course — LastPass does it for you. It takes some time to update all your weak passwords this way, but the security you’ll gain is well worth the investment.

Another bonus: LastPass also offers extensions for Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer, so if you use multiple browsers, your passwords will be available to you in all of them.

WOT (Web of Trust)

You can surf more safely with WOT, short for “Web of Trust.” WOT compiles user-submitted safety reports to determine how trustworthy a site is. The ranking is based on these four factors:

  • General trustworthiness: WOT users would likely rate the BBC as being more trustworthy than, say, “Bob’s Alien News.”
  • Vendor reliability: Users would give a site a low rating if it had developed a reputation for ripping people off. (While this category isn’t intended to be used for noncommerce sites, some people seem to be using it to rate such sites based on the usefulness of the information they provide.)
  • Privacy: Ratings in this category are based on factors such as how well a site protects personal data.
  • Child safety: A site that includes adult images or language would likely get a low rating from users.

When you first visit a site that WOT users consider to be safe, a green circle will flash at the top left of the screen. When you visit a suspicious site, you’ll get a WOT pop-up warning message that explains why the site has been flagged as untrustworthy.

You can add your own ratings and contribute to the web of trust by clicking on the WOT button in the Safari toolbar.

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