Make Firefox a Productivity Powerhouse

Spending most of your workday in Firefox? Most of us live in the Web browser for day to day work, so it's important to make it as productive as possible. With the help of a few add-ons and Web services, you can easily double your productivity in Firefox.

You can make Firefox a one-stop research and productivity powerhouse. All it takes is a few extensions and Web-based services to make Firefox better at storing information, saving notes for later, and putting important documents at your fingertips whenever you’re online.

Like most folks these days, I practically live in my Web browser. After completing the Week in the Life of a Browser Test Pilot project last week, I found that I spent more than 45 hours using Firefox actively in the span of seven days. And that includes the weekend, when I didn’t touch my primary workstation (where the test ran) at all.

When spending that much time in a program, you want to use it as effectively as possible! Here’s how I make Firefox work for me.

Read It Later

If I stopped to read every article, blog post, or other piece of information on the Web that looked interesting in the middle of the day, I’d never get any actual work done. One of the ways to make sure you can slog through the work day with minimal Web-based interruption is with Read it Later. (RiL)

Read it Later Drop-Down in Firefox
Read it Later Drop-Down in Firefox

Sure, you can save bookmarks for every page you want to revisit. I’ve collected thousands, literally, of bookmarks that way. Read it Later is a much better solution for the pages you want to revisit once or twice, not hundreds of times.

Read it Later is an extension that works with a Web-based service. If you’ve looked at it before last December when Read it Later 2.0 was released, you might want to take a second look. The revision no longer depends on Firefox bookmarks, and has a much cleaner and easier to use interface.

Here’s how it works. Once you install the extension, RiL adds a yellow icon to the “Awesome bar” in Firefox, and a similar icon to the toolbar next to your search. When you’re on a page you want to save for later, just click the yellow icon.

Google Reader fans will also love RiL because it will also clip items from Google Reader without having to view the page first. Once the extension is installed, it adds a RiL icon to Google Reader items (right next to the star). Just click that and the entry will be added to

When you have some time to go through your reading list, just click on the RiL icon next to the search field on the Firefox toolbar. RiL will display the list in chronological order, or reverse order, or by name. You can also search through your RiL list. To customize RiL, just click the gear icon.

The Web service also works with other browsers, but official extensions aren’t provided. However, if you need to get to your reading list, it’s not a problem — but might not be as convenient as Firefox.

One privacy note. The RSS feed for RiL is, by default, open. If someone knows your username they’d be able to access your RSS feed of items and see what’s on your reading list. This can be changed using the RiL preferences, though, so if you don’t want anyone on the Web to be able to access your reading list, be sure to set a password.

Instapaper

Another save now, read it later tool is Instapaper. Like Read it Later, Instapaper lets you tag pages for later use. It’s a bit more than that, though. In addition to reading pages later, it also helps convert pages to formats that are easier to read off the computer or just easier to use in the browser.

You don’t need to install an extension for Instapaper to work. Simply drag the bookmarklet from the Web site to the bookmark toolbar and then click it when you’d like to save something for later. However, if you really want to install an extension, the Instaright! add-on will provide a context menu entry for Instapaper and allow you to even add content from a link — so you don’t need to visit the link to add it to your reading list.

Instapaper works in conjunction with Google Reader as well. Like RiL, you can add items from your Reader subscriptions to Instapaper by clicking the bookmarklet while an item in Reader is selected.

Want to read your stuff offline? Instapaper also lets you convert items to Kindle and ePub formats, so you can copy your materials off to an eBook reader and catch up on your Web reading away from the computer.

Evernote

Evernote is a tool to “remember everything,” Web-based and otherwise. What this really means is saving the important stuff in a central location you can get at later. Evernote is a Web-based service that allows you to create notes with file attachments. If you add the Firefox extension, you can also clip entire Web pages or just sections of Web pages. (An Evernote extension is available for Chrome, too, if you prefer that browser.)

With the extension installed, you’ll have an Evernote icon on the toolbar that will pop up a clipping tool. Evernote requires an account to work, but they do provide a choice between free and premium accounts. The free account is fine if all you want to do is save Web pages with a few notes. The monthly 40MB upload allowance is plenty for that. For a few extra bucks you also get the ability to upload any type of file, 500MB of upload allowance, and syncing and offline storage with the iPhone/iPod version of Evernote. I find the phone syncing particularly helpful when traveling to store flight and reservation information, and driving directions.

The Web-based client can create new notes with attachments, so if you want to take meeting notes or save a presentation for later, just browse to the Evernote site and log in. The notes also allow tagging and saving in specific folders, so you can organize your notes to the nth degree if that sort of thing makes you happy.

The only thing that is lacking with Evernote is the absence of a Linux-based desktop client. Evernote provides native clients for Windows, Mac OS X, and the iPhone — but not Linux. The Web-based tools are usable, but the desktop client is far better integrated in the desktop experience and makes it much easier to upload other files (like PDFs, pictures, etc.) if you have it. I’ve tried running the Evernote Windows client under Wine in Linux, and it does work but it’s sluggish and doesn’t integrate as well.

QuickFox Notes

Last, let’s take a look at QuickFox Notes. This is a note-taking add-on for Firefox that saves notes as bookmarks in Firefox. This means you get all the convenience of browser-based note-taking, and cross-browser syncing if you’re using Mozilla Weave, Xmarks, or another method to sync your bookmarks between instances of Firefox.

Once you’ve installed the extension, QuickFox adds a couple of icons to the Firefox status bar on the lower right-hand corner, labeled T and B. The T icon pops open a full-screen tab with your notes. The B icon opens a note dialog that takes up about one-third of the browser space, but allows you to see the page that you’re on while taking notes.

Aside from making it easy to take notes in the browser, what I like about QuickFox is that it saves notes as bookmarks. This means that the notes are synchronized across browsers if you’re using Xmarks or Weave. If you use multiple browsers, this can be a major plus.

It’s All Text!

Finally, I want to point out It’s All Text!. This adds an icon to any textarea that will call your favorite text editor. So if you prefer Vim or Gedit, or any other text editor, to writing text in the browser, this is an extremely useful add-on.

It also provides a bit of extra cushion if Firefox crashes, because the text is saved in the external program, not in Firefox.

The combination of these services make it easy to save documents you find on the Web for later, store files for access anywhere on the Web, take and access notes in your browser, use your favorite text editor with Firefox, and convert Web documents to eBook formats for reading offline and away from the computer.

Firefox has tons of productivity boosting extensions, and everybody has a favorite. But the extensions and services I’ve mentioned here provide a lot of additional functionality for Firefox. If you’re spending most of your work time on the Web, you’ll want to check each of these out.

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