Thirty great Safari extensions

Blocking annoyances

AdBlock

A port of the popular Chrome extension, AdBlock does what its name says it does: It blocks most ads, both graphic and Flash-based, from being displayed.

Plugin Customs

Plugin Customs automatically keeps content from loading if it requires any Safari plug-in (most commonly Adobe Flash). This can keep poorly coded content from slowing down your browsing or page-loading times and keep away annoying animations and video.

A gray box that displays the plug-in type is shown at the same size as the actual plug-in content. To view the content, simply click the gray box.

Shut Up

If you’re just interested in articles and other content and don’t care about comments and potential flame wars, Shut Up from Ricky Romero is a great plug-in because it prevents the comments section of most Web pages from loading. As a result, it also speeds up page loading and rendering.

Shellfish

Not into social networking? Open Bits Software’s Shellfish blocks the various “share” buttons for most social networks that are now embedded in most articles, blog posts and other Web content.

Better social networking

Twitter for Safari

There are a plethora of Twitter-related extensions. The best, however, is the one from Twitter itself, which makes it easy to tweet about Web pages as you surf, view top trends and see who is talking about a site or article. It’s handy for business users who want to keep tabs on what people are saying about their products, companies or Web sites.

The extension adds a toolbar with a Twitter search form, the top 10 trending topics on Twitter, and buttons to post new tweets or to see tweets related to whatever page you’re currently looking at. Clicking “Tweet” opens your Twitter.com home page and, if you’re logged in, creates a new tweet with the page title and shortened URL of whatever page you’re looking at; otherwise it prompts you to log in. Clicking “Related Tweets” opens a sidebar listing the last 15 tweets that link to or mention the page you are on.

Shortenz Linkz

A number of extensions offer easy access to link-shortening services, but Shortenz Linkz from Trailing Zee Productions takes the cake: It supports the widest range of services, can be used to tweet links automatically and offers some support for customized link creation (such as for Flickr and YouTube as well as Bit.ly accounts). Shortenz Linkz isn’t available in the Safari Extensions Gallery, but you can download it from the developer’s site.

Facebook Cleaner

If you want your Facebook experience to be just about what’s in your timeline or on your wall, SonsterMedia’s Facebook Cleaner is the perfect plug-in for you. It blocks almost everything else, including ads, friend suggestions and references to things your friends like, as well application-specific items like pokes, from appearing in the Facebook sidebar. And it speeds up Facebook load times a bit.

Better Facebook

Facebook Cleaner is great if you’re just interested in cleaning up Facebook’s appearance, but if you want to go whole-hog with Facebook customization, give Better Facebook a whirl. The extension makes dozens of changes to your Facebook home page, such as separating status updates that originated on Facebook from posts imported from Twitter, adding your “Liked” pages to the main page, and adding buttons to mark read posts as “read” so you don’t waste time re-reading them.

If you don’t like any of these changes, you can easily change them back in the extension’s myriad options, which also let you do everything from forcing Facebook to display the Most Recent feed instead of the edited News Feed to automatically loading older posts as you approach the bottom of the page and hiding old comments when you revisit a post to see new comments.

Another nice feature is the Privacy Scan, which uses the tool from ReclaimPrivacy.org to check your page for potential leaks of information to people other than your friends.

YourVersion

YourVersion combines the social bookmarking features of sites like Delicious with the broadcasting abilities of Twitter and Facebook and the serendipity of discovery sites like StumbleUpon.

Click the YourVersion button in your Safari toolbar and a window opens on your current page offering a shortened URL for that page. You can copy and paste it wherever you want or use the shortcuts to automatically create a Twitter post, Facebook update or e-mail message with the link embedded.

If you register for a free YourVersion account, the links you send will also be saved to your account. You can also simply bookmark pages for later reference. Entering a topic and clicking the “Discover” button opens a YourVersion page listing pages other users have shared or bookmarked that relate to your search terms. (An account is not necessary for bookmarking or Discover features.)

HoverZoom

Want to see a larger version of a Web site image when you hover your cursor over it? Side Tree Media’s HoverZoom does just that at a range of sites, including Facebook, Flickr, Picasa and Twitter. It works with a surprisingly large range of non-social-media sites as well and optionally offers zoomed-in previews of many Web video sources in addition to still images.

YouTube Downloader

There are a number of open-source and shareware applications that allow you to download video from YouTube for offline viewing. YouTube Downloader from Bronenos blows them out of the water.

It adds buttons directly above a video on YouTube’s site (but not videos embedded on other sites) that let you download in either FLV or MP4 formats. This is a great option for later video viewing or for building YouTube content into presentations or multimedia projects (while obeying copyright and/or fair use rules, of course).

YouTube Downloader isn’t available in the Safari Extensions Gallery, but you can download it from the developer’s site.

Reference, search, translation and more

Apture Highlights

This versatile reference tool from Apture Inc. is especially great for students. Once it’s installed, anytime you highlight a word or phrase on a Web page, it displays a pop-up window in which you can search for additional information about the selected phrase from Wikipedia, Google, Bing, YouTube or Google image search.

PopSearch

When you press a key combination — you choose the combo in its preferences — Canisbos Computing’s PopSearch extension displays a “pop-up” search box overlay that lets you search any of 14 different sites. That list includes obvious ones like Google, Bing and Wikipedia as well as less obvious choices like Amazon, your Instapaper account, Twitter and Facebook.

Search Preview

Félix Cloutier’s Search Preview adds inline thumbnails of linked pages to your search results from Google, Bing or Yahoo. It’s invaluable for getting some context about the pages included in your search results. Search Preview isn’t available in the Safari Extensions Gallery, but you can download it from Softpedia.

UseKit

UseKit is a very handy add-on that rolls up the features of several popular extensions and services into one. It adds a toolbar to the bottom of your browser window with buttons for several functions, from language translation to Web editing. Here’s a list of the services included:

  • Translate: Translate any text you select on a Web page to or from English and six other languages.
  • CrunchBase: Look up company names in TechCrunch’s user-editable online directory of tech industry companies, people and investors.
  • Map: Look up any address on Google Maps.
  • Share: Share a link to the current page using e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Google Buzz, Digg, StumbleUpon and/or other services.
  • Printliminator: Remove unwanted images, paragraphs or page elements for printing.
  • FireBugLite: Explore the code underlying any Web page.
  • Readability: Apply a more readable template to any page, removing ads and other clutter. (Safari’s built-in Reader function does much the same thing, and more elegantly, but on single article pages only.)

Translate

If you want a more complete translation tool than the one provided with UseKit (or if you’re not interested in UseKit’s other functions), give Side Tree Software’s Translate a try. It taps Google Translator to translate the text of any Web page into one of nearly 60 languages (the default being English).

Perhaps the best feature of Translate, which adds a toolbar button to Safari, is that it doesn’t just translate the text, it re-renders the entire page with the translated text and (optionally) displays it in a new tab.

Integration with Instapaper, Google Reader and Gmail

InstapaperIt

Instapaper is a free service that lets you save articles and other Web pages for future reading, optionally formatting them into a easy-to-read format similar to a newspaper (“instant paper,” get it?). Instapaper offers a simple “Read Later” button you can add to Safari’s Bookmarks bar; if you’re on a page you want to read or review later, just click the button to save the page to your Instapaper account.

But an even better option is the InstapaperIt extension from ElasticThreads. InstapaperIt not only lets you save the page you’re currently on to your Instapaper account (just click the “I” button to the left of the address bar), it also lets you save linked pages for later.

To save a linked page, right-click the link and select “Send Link to Instapaper.” Alternatively, you can set a hot key; press the hot key as you click a link, and the linked page will be saved to your Instapaper account.

It’s a great timesaver for business travelers, commuters or Web researchers who want to compile several articles to read all at once at a convenient time. It can also be handy for people who have spotty Internet service or perhaps nasty weather headed their way. Take the Internet and save it.

Instapaper Beyond

This extension from Brett Terpstra adds keyboard-based navigation when you’re browsing your Instapaper account. You can navigate through bookmarks and folders, view bookmarked pages on their original site or in Instapaper’s Text view, or archive pages and send them to other services like Evernote and Delicious. When installed, simply press the “h” key while logged into Instapaper for a full list of keyboard commands.

Add to Google Reader

This extension from Rob Wilkerson does exactly what it says: It adds the RSS feed for the current site to your Google Reader account via a toolbar button.

GReader

This one’s a great companion to the above extension. Rafeed Chaudhury’s GReader displays the unread count of your Google Reader account in a toolbar button — and clicking that button takes you immediately to your Google Reader home page.

Gmail Checker

Much like GReader, LifeFromBelow.com’s Gmail Checker displays the current unread message count of your Gmail inbox via a toolbar button — and clicking the button takes you to your Gmail account.

Final thoughts

Before Safari 5 was released, Apple was criticized for being late to the extensions party that started with Firefox and gained ground with Chrome. Despite the delay, Apple has made installing and updating Safari extensions a breeze. And though the Extensions Gallery is only a starting point, it’s a good one for most users.

More important, extensions give users a more personal browsing experience and a more modern way of navigating around the Web. The one-size-fits-all browser is dead. It’s about time.

Let us know your favorite Safari extensions in the article comments.

Ryan Faas and Logan Kugler are frequent Computerworld contributors.

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