Rule the Web with Four Firefox Add-ons

You don't have to take the Web as-is, you have the power to change it! With a few handy add-ons for Mozilla Firefox, you can take control of the sites you visit and make them look and work the way that you want to.

Most of the time, we think of the Web as static: We accept sites the way they are and grumble about the problems with sites that aren’t entirely optimal. With Firefox, this isn’t necessarily the way it has to be. With a few well-placed add-ons, you can tweak some of your favorite sites to be just what you want them to be.

Internet Chunky Style

The first extension we’ll dabble with is Webchunks, an extension to implement Internet Explorer style “Webslices,” even for sites that don’t support them.

What’s a Webslice? Basically it’s just what it sounds like — a little slice of a Web site. Instead of visiting, say, Woot every morning to see what the latest deal is, you can grab a Webchunk of the page and just view it from your toolbar.

The IE8 implementation requires that a site support Webslices. Webchunks, however, can just pick out a section of the page and track that. It’s a bit touch and go sometimes — but for the most part, you can usually grab a bit of the page that you’re looking to see.

Webchunks also supports IE8 Webslices, so if a site like The New York Times offers Webslices, then you can automatically pick those up. Just click the Webchunk icon in the toolbar and it will list any Web slices on a given page. A little slice of irony: You can use the IE8 add-on gallery to look for sites with Webslices to try out with Firefox.

It is a bit touch and go with some sites. Using Webchunks I can track the latest on Google News, no problem, but sometimes trimming a chunk out of a page displays no results at all when converted to a Webchunk. It’s a bit unpredictable with sites that have no support for Webslices. Some sites, like Gmail, don’t produce any results at all when trying to create a Webchunk.

Chunky Monkey

For sites that aren’t entirely cooperative with Webchunk, there’s still hope. You can use the ever-popular Greasemonkey to create a chunk.

The instructions are on the Webchunks tutorial, and require a bit of hacking. If you really want to carve off a slice of a page, though, it might be worth a few minutes of hacking to get the desired effect.

And, of course, Greasemonkey has quite a bit to offer in its own right. You’ll find literally thousands of scripts to enhance the Web using Greasemonkey on Userscripts.org.

Get Stylish

Some pages are well-designed, fun to look at and use. Then there’s the other 90% of the Web. If you want to spice up some of the pages you use frequently, check out Stylish, an add-on that restyles pages a lot or a little.

It’s described of being “to CSS what Greasemonkey is to JavaScript” and that’s a pretty apt description. You don’t need to be a CSS whiz to spruce up your favorite sites, either — there’s a pretty hefty collection of premade styles on userstyles.org. You can find pre-made styles that spice up Gmail, tame CNN, and clean up the Yahoo! homepage, for starters.

My favorite so far is the Mac OS X Snow Leopard style for Google Reader. Even though I’m not a Mac fanatic, it sure makes Reader look nice. I spend at least an hour a day (off and on) using Reader, so it’s nice to have a theme that’s a bit more pleasant to look at.

YesScript

JavaScript is a wonderful thing. Except when it isn’t. Some folks prefer to blacklist all JavaScript using NoScript, but that can get tedious having to whitelist the sites that you do want to allow scripts on.

Another approach is to use YesScript and blacklist the handful of sites that abuse JavaScript or have scripts that wind up hogging system resources. Just install YesScript and it sits patiently in the status bar. When a script bugs you, just click the script icon in the status bar and it will add the site to your blacklist.

Alternately, you can add sites by going to Tools -> Add-ons -> Extensions, and clicking the Preferences button for YesScript. There you can add sites manually if you already know of a few sites you want to restrict scripts on.

With a few Add-ons installed, you can make major changes in the way you interact with the sites you use most. If you spend a lot of your time using the same sites, spending a few minutes grabbing extensions and Greasemonkey and Stylish can make your day a bit more productive.

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