April 13, 2005

Essential Firefox extensions you should download today - part 2

Author: Chris Lynch

Yesterday we look at three useful Firefox extensions -- small applications that add functionality to Mozilla's Web browser. Here are a few more favorites.

StumbleUpon toolbar

StumbleUpon boasts a large community of subscribers to its service, the primary goal of which is to help you "stumble upon" Web sites you might otherwise miss, through the reviews and recommendations of other users. The StumbleUpon toolbar extension for Firefox allows you to register, log in, and join these "stumblers" on their quest to find the best of the Internet.

Based on the preferences you enter, StumbleUpon will endeavour to send you to sites that you will like, based on the recommendations of users with similar preferences to your own. If you like a site, you can vote for it by clicking a button on your toolbar. If you don't like a site, you can cast a negative vote in the same fashion.

StumbleUpon also allows you to recommend pages directly to other stumblers, if you know their IDs, and to suggest new pages.

The existence of StumbleUpon has not escaped the notice of the more nefarious commercial interests on the Internet. Expect to find a fair number of commercial sites now listed, even if they pop up rarely thanks to StumbleUpons democratic voting system. There have also been reports recently of some functions of the toolbar failing under Firefox 1.0.1; check the StumbleUpon bug list for details.

If you enjoying exploring the dustier corners of the Web, or wonder why people are ignoring all of the great sites that only you seem to know about, StumbleUpon might be for you. The StumbleUpon toolbar is also available for Internet Explorer, Netscape, and Mozilla.

Add Bookmark Here

Adding a bookmark deep within your bookmark hierarchy can be a little fiddly at times. The Add Bookmark Here extension simply adds an "Add Bookmark Here" option to all the folders and subfolders in the bookmark structure to allow you to add bookmarks directly into a given folder.

Whilst this does not supplant the need for the Firefox bookmark manager, it does alleviate one of the headaches of using the browser if you are heavy user of bookmarks.

Googlebar

A basic Google search is already built into Firefox, but to leverage the true power of Google without visiting the site itself, Googlebar is a must-have extension.

Initially created to serve the user community's desire for a Firefox/Mozilla-compatible version of Google's own Google Toolbar (which is still available only for Internet Explorer), the latest version of the extension now provides access to Google tools and services that are not even included in the official toolbar yet, including Linux-specific searches, Google Answers, and other tools direct from the Google labs.

The Googlebar extension provides rich internationalisation support, allowing you to direct searches to your "local" Google, rather than defaulting to www.google.com, and to control features such as the number of saved searches.

One feature missing from the toolbar is a measure of a visited page's PageRank. This is a popular feature of the current "official" Google toolbar, and one that has been requested for the Firefox Google Toolbar many times. According to the developers' own notes, visible in the options dialog of the Googlebar, it's still missing predominantly due to legal constraints around accessing the data, and the necessity to constantly check that the feature is still working, as Google take steps to keep the PageRank system from becoming too transparent and, therefore, open to manipulation.

Google PageRank

If you simply can't do without seeing Google's PageRank for every page that you visit, then the Google PageRank extension will help fill the void left by the absence of the "official" Google Toolbar.

This extension simply adds a panel to the Firefox staus bar, at the bottom of the main browsing window, that displays the current page's PageRank both visually and numerically. If the site or page is in the Google directory, the extension also provides a link to the relevant category. PageRanks are automatically checked when the extension is active; a click on the PageRank panel will toggle the panel's active/deactive state.

Google Preview

Another extension aimed at improving Firefox's interaction with Google is the Google Preview extension, which dynamically updates your Google search results to include previews of the pages that have been returned.

The previews are drawn from thumbshots. For the bandwidth-conscious, the extension can be activated and deactivated by clicked the "GP" text that appears in the Firefox status bar when this extension is installed.

This extension adds an extra dimension to Google search results, and serves as an excellent example of how Firefox extensions can be used to not only enhance the browsing experience itself, but to enhance the quality of the content being browsed.

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