One of Firefox's greatest strengths is that it can be extended to provide additional functionality to the end user. However, the vast number of extensions available for Firefox can be a bit overwhelming. We look at that top 10 Firefox add-ons that can improve your productivity on Linux.
Somewhere along the line, the browser stopped being an application to view Web pages and the occasional bit of multimedia, and became a vital part of the daily workflow for millions of users. Since you’re probably already spending much of your workday using Firefox, why not add to its functionality and increase your productivity even more?
Firefox supports extensions, plugins, and themes — which are collectively called “add-ons.” This probably isn’t news to anyone who’s been using Firefox for more than a few days, but what might not be obvious is which extensions would be most useful. It’s a bit subjective, but I’ve tried to highlight ten of the most useful extensions for professional Linux users. This means I’ve slanted the choice of extensions to ones that extend productivity rather than social media extensions like Power Twitter.
Though other browsers do support extensions, widgets, etc., Firefox has by far the largest selection of bolt-on features of any Web browser. The Mozilla folks have done a really good job of creating a platform for development that has made the browser far more than an application for displaying Web pages. Let’s take a look at what Firefox has to offer.
Mix and Match Extensions
Before we get started on our tour of useful extensions, let me step back and give a few words of caution. Firefox itself is usually a stable beast, but when you start adding extensions, things can get unstable in a hurry. Especially when you start installing a bunch of extensions.
While I’ve tried and enjoyed all of the add-ons here, I don’t run them all at the same time. Keeping the number of add-ons that are installed and active at any given time has kept my browser reasonably stable. (Conversely, I’ve found that when Firefox crashes frequently, it’s usually solved by turning off or unininstalling one or more extensions.)
But what if you want to try out a new extension or have different sets of extensions for different tasks? Managing extensions by turning them off and on can be a major hassle, especially since it requires a restart of the browser — but there is a solution.
Firefox allows you to have one or more profiles, and each profile can have its own set of add-ons. Not only can you run separate profiles, with each having its own set of extensions, you can run multiple instances of Firefox using different profiles.
Here’s how it works. Shut down Firefox and run the following:
firefox -ProfileManager -no-remote
This will pop up the Firefox Profile Manager, and you can configure new profiles or choose existing ones to run.
The default profile will be started automatically when you load Firefox if you don't issue the -ProfileManager or
-P ProfileName argument. If you'd like to bypass the Profile Manager and just start a different profile, just run
firefox -P ProfileName argument.
Nightly Tester Tools
If you're reading this article, odds are you like to have the latest and greatest features. With Firefox, that means running alphas, betas, release candidates, and even nightly builds rather than the stable releases.
I've found that stability usually isn't a problem in this scenario, but you'll often run into extensions that "aren't compatible" with the latest version of Firefox. Sometimes this is due to genuine incompatibility, other times it's because the extension author hasn't verified the extension against the latest releases and the extension hasn't been marked compatible with the version number in use.
If it's just a matter of version numbers, you can use the Nightly Tester Tools to override this and run the extension anyway.
That's not the only advantage to the Nightly Tester Tools, of course. In addition to making it easy to use "incompatible" extensions, the tools are useful to developers who want to work on Firefox and extensions.
You can view previous crash reports, copy a list of installed extensions to the clipboard, display build information in the titlebar, take screenshots of Firefox, and more.
All Web pages are not created equal. In fact, some sites could use a little help, or a lot. You could lobby the site owners to make improvements, or you could use Greasemonkey to make the improvements yourself.
Greasemonkey stores and runs scripts for specific Web sites. You can either create your own script and use it, or grab scripts from Userscripts.org.
Once you've installed Greasemonkey, you can install scripts in much the same way you install extensions to Firefox.
You can employ Greasemonkey scripts to make your Bugzilla more useful, add features to Twitter, open GMail for mailto links, and many other hacks.
The Platypus extension provides a toolbar with several tools that allow you to manipulate objects on a site. For example, you can use Platypus to isolate a piece of a Web page so you don't have to put up with ads and unnecessary cruft around the content you want to view.
Platypus isn't perfect. I've had mixed success creating Platypus scripts for various pages -- for example, I didn't have a lot of luck creating a script to display only the results column of a custom Google News search failed to do anything after I saved the script. However, more often than not, the scripts work perfectly -- though you may need to edit the URL for affected pages by adding a wildcard.