The Firefox development community has been busy developing a range of new tools that enhance your searching and browsing activities, and best of all, they're free.
Today's launch of the Google Toolbar for Firefox (Gary has the story here) prompted me to check in again with the Mozilla Update web site to see what new extensions, plugins and other goodies have been developed since I last wrote about adding contextual search to the browser.
As expected, I found lots of new and interesting things to play with. One of the nicest features of Firefox is that it was designed from the get-go to be easy to enhance with third-party software. Installing extensions and plugins is easy and straightforward, and better yet, all it takes is a click to uninstall anything you don't like or that doesn't work as expected.
The easiest way to find extensions for Firefox is to select Tools > Extensions from the Firefox menu. This opens a window displaying all of the extensions you currently have installed. Use the "Update," "Uninstall" and "Options" buttons on this window to manage your extensions.
There's also a link to Get More Extensions; click it and you'll be taken directly to the Mozilla Update page.
What's available? Here are a few of the extensions I've been playing with and find useful. Each of the links below takes you to a description of the extension with additional information. To install an extension, click the "Install Now" button on the page. After you've installed an extension, you'll need to restart Firefox to use it. You'll also have to play around a bit to figure out how some of these extensions work—some appear in the Firefox menu, others just do their thing automatically.
Note: When you download extensions, you'll often see a warning that an extension is unsigned, and that malicious software can damage your computer or violate your privacy. I have yet to experience problems from any unsigned extensions I've installed—and the Mozilla organization has a staff of volunteers that review everything posted to the site.
That said, you should be cautious about what you try. You can get a good indication that an extension is safe by looking at its rating (one to five stars), user comments and the number of times the extension has been downloaded. Most developers also link to their own home page, so you can investigate them in more depth, if you're really concerned.
CustomizeGoogle enhances Google search results by adding extra information, such as links to re-run your search on Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, MSN and other engines. You can add links to similar alternate search resources on News, Images and other specialized Google search result pages.
CustomizeGoogle also can be configured to remove ads and anonymize the Google cookie (though be careful with this—anonymizing the cookie may make some services unstable). A particularly useful feature allows you to add filters to search results, blocking specific web pages or entire sites from appearing in search results. You can import lists of sites as filters from other sources, as well.
Although I love Firefox's built-in search box, I find it irritating that it's so small, and worse, not resizable. This simple little extension changes that, allowing you to drag the edge of the search box with your mouse to make it any width you desire.
These days, almost all web sites set cookies, or tracking codes, on your computer. The View Cookies extension lets you see exactly what cookies a particular site has set when you view it, including the contents, expiration date and other information. The extension also offers the ability to delete a cookie, and "delete permanently" which means blocking any further attempts by a web site to set a cookie. After installation a "Cookies" tab appears in the Page Info dialog box accessible from the Firefox "Tools" menu.
A Windows "feature" that drives me nuts is when you copy and paste text from a web page, all of the formatting information is maintained. I know a lot of people like this, but all I want is the unadorned text. Sure, you can use the "paste special" command, but the Copy Plain Text extension does away with all the trouble.
Want more Firefox extensions and tools? See my earlier series of articles starting with Mozilla Firefox: The Searcher's Browser. Want to keep up with new Firefox extensions as they are released? Subscribe to the Firefox Extensions RSS Feed using your news aggregator.
Want to discuss or comment on this story? Join the Firefox: A Browser Built for Search discussion in the Search Engine Watch forums.
NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.