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.
Most of us have one or more Web applications we use extensively throughout the day. It can be useful to split these out of the regular browsing experience into their own “application,” using Prism.
Formerly known as Webrunner, Prism is an extension from Mozilla Labs that let’s you create a single use instance of Firefox as a desktop application. Just grab the extension and browse to the site that you’d like to run separately. Go to Tools -> Convert Website to Application and you’ll get a dialog to choose the URL, name of the application, icon, and the location of the shortcut.
After you’ve created the Prism application, you can launch it separately and run one or more instances of Prism while still using Firefox normally. If you restart Firefox (or it crashes) for some reason, the Prism instances will be unaffected. Likewise, if you end your Prism session, it won’t have any effect on the running Firefox session.
As nice as Firefox is, sometimes it’s not the right application for the job. To augment Firefox’s features, you can use Launchy to configure Firefox to open Web pages in new applications, use external apps for FTP and download, external editors, and view media in external players.
The only letdown with Launchy for Linux users is the lack of application autodetection. If you want to use Launchy, you have to edit the launchy.xml file and tell it where to find the applications you want to use.
Web-based applications are great, but typically not so useful when you’re offline. If you depend on Web-based apps, it can be somewhat inconvenient trying to get work done on those cross-country flights.
For a small subset of applications, though, you can use Google Gears — a framework that allows Web application developers to enable offline use as well as the usual online use.
Despite the name, Google Gears can be used with non-Google applications — so, even if you’re not using any Google services, you may still find use for Gears. Sites like Remember the Milk and WordPress.com work with Gears, in addition to Google’s GMail, Reader, Google Docs, and others.
When you load a Web application that supports Gears, it may ask permission to use Gears, or you may have to enable Gears manually. You can choose to enable or deny Gears, or to never allow the site if you don’t want to see the dialog again. After enabling Gears, it will download some data to enable the application to work offline, and then you’re off to the races. You’ll be able to work offline and synchronize data when you’re online again.
Last, but definitely not least, is Ubiquity. Ubiquity is a Mozilla Labs project to allow “on-demand, user-generated mashups,” a command-line browser tool that gives fast and easy access to a number of tools and sites.
After Ubiquity is installed, you’ll have a hotkey to display the Ubiquity interface. This is usually
Alt-Space, but can be modified. Go to
about:ubiquity to change the shortcut to invoke Ubiquity and then take the Ubiquity tutorial to get the basics.
A couple of quick examples. If you want to search Wikipedia for a term, just hit
Alt+Space and enter the search term. To translate a section of text, highlight the text you want to translate and then type “translate” and then the language you want to translate it to.
From Ubiquity, you can quickly compose emails using Gmail, look up strings in Google, Wikipedia, IMDB, and many others, map addresses, create bookmarks, and a lot more.
Ubiquity isn’t limited to the commands that come pre-installed. You can create your own, or search for new commands created by “The Ubiquity Herd.” Note that these scripts are not vetted officially by Mozilla, so you’re taking some risk in installing them to run in your browser.
Of course, Firefox has hundreds of useful extensions, but these are the ones I’ve found to be most useful over time. New ones, however, are being created every day. It’s well worth checking out the Firefox Add-Ons site on a regular basis, or just browsing the recommended add-ons displayed when you go to Tools -> Add-ons. You’ll find plenty of new and interesting extensions to improve Firefox.
Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier
is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years covering IT. Formerly the openSUSE Community Manager for Novell, Brockmeier has written for Linux Magazine, Sys Admin, Linux Pro Magazine, IBM developerWorks, Linux.com, CIO.com, Linux Weekly News, ZDNet, and many other publications. You can reach Zonker at
firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter