More Search and Browsing Fun with Firefox

Mozilla Firefox has features and extensions that go far beyond what you get with Internet Explorer. Here's how to turbocharge the browser to enhance your online experience.

This is the final part of a series; Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here.

In yesterday's installment, I looked at Firefox's built-in search tools, and a few plugins that extended these capabilities. There's a lot more available: Developers have built literally hundreds of add-ons and extensions that enhance the browser.

Firefox Search Tools

The best place to start looking for search tools for Firefox is at the Mozilla Update site.

The Firefox search tools extensions page lists nearly 30 extensions available for download. Most of these have specific, limited functions, such as changing the behavior of the search button, enhancing the word highlighter feature, and so on.

Other extensions provide features that some will like, but others will find irritating. For example, I love the idea behind the Google Preview extension, which adds thumbnail images to Google search result pages. If you use Google's default 10 search results per page, this preview function works really well.

However, if you change your preferences to display 50 or 100 results, it takes a lot of time to download the previews for all results. It would be great if the developer let you independently control the number of thumbnails displayed.

Other extensions do things like open search result pages in their own tabs, recommend related pages and display links to view previous versions of a page in the Wayback machine.

The cool thing about Firefox extensions is that they are easy to install—and equally easy to uninstall if you don't like what they do. The Extensions Manager (accessible from the Tools menu) keeps track of all extensions and makes it easy to uninstall those you don't want any longer. The Extension Manager also has a button that lets you easily check for updates to your installed extensions.

Non-Search Extensions

Other extensions to Firefox enhance browsing or other online activities. There are extensions for blogging, bookmarks, chat, contacts, download tools, games, navigation, privacy, security and many others.

I've found several of these non-search extensions to be really useful. IE View is a utility that lets you view pages in Internet Explorer if they don't render properly in Mozilla, which can happen on sites that have been designed only to work with IE.

The Gmail notifier lets you know when, well, you've got Gmail. And I love the bandwidth tester that lets me see how zippy (or not) my hotel room connection is.

Extensions are grouped by category at the Mozilla Update site. You can also see those that are popular, top rated and those that are newest.

Another site, the Mozilla Developer's Extension Room, offers links to more than 200 extensions for Firefox. Many of these extensions are similar to those found at the Mozilla update site.

Firefox as an RSS Reader

Live Bookmarks lets you view RSS feeds and blog headlines in the bookmarks toolbar or bookmarks menu, effectively turning Firefox into an RSS reader. Firefox displays a small icon in the lower right corner of the browser when displaying a site that has enabled the Live Bookmarks functionality. Click the icon to add the site as a Live Bookmark.

Alternately, you can add any RSS feed manually as a Live Bookmark. To do this, select Manage Bookmarks, and from the File menu select New Live Bookmark, then enter the name and URL of the feed.

Once you've created Live Bookmarks, the easiest way to view your feeds is to open bookmarks in the Sidebar (Select View > Sidebar > Bookmarks). Click the minus sign next to the Live Bookmark to expand the feed; click any link to view the full underlying story in the main browser window.

If you find this approach to getting news feeds attractive, check out the new Bloglines Firefox Center, which offers both extensive information about Firefox and also provides two extensions that further enhance the browser's RSS reading capabilities.

Other Firefox Resources

I've just scratched the surface of what you can do with Firefox. Some of the other features you'll likely find quite useful include:

  • Tabbed Browsing - Web pages are loaded in "tabs" within the same browser window, making it easy to switch back and forth among multiple web pages.
  • Plugins - Tools such as the Acrobat reader, Macromedia Flash and others that support specific tasks.
  • Themes - Skins for Firefox that allow you to change the look and feel of the browser and personalize it to your tastes.

Bottom line: Firefox is a killer browser, offering features and enhancements that leave Internet Explorer in the dust. Firefox also neatly avoids many of the security problems that plague Internet explorer. Even if you opt to continue using Internet Explorer, you should download and run Firefox and play around with some of its seriously cool extensions.

Want to discuss or comment on this story? Join the Firefox: A Browser Built for Search discussion in the Search Engine Watch forums.

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