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Windows XP Unwired

Using Extensions in Firefox

by Wei-Meng Lee, author of Windows XP Unwired
09/21/2004

The 1.0 Preview Release of Mozilla's next-generation browser, Firefox, was rolled out last week, and like earlier versions, it packs many features that improve on Internet Explorer, such as faster load time and support for tabbed browsing.

One key Firefox feature that I like is its extensibility--you can download additional plug-ins, known as extensions, to enhance it. In this article, I will take a look at some of the more useful extensions that you can download for Firefox.

Keep in mind that while not all extensions in the preview release currently work, it's expected that all will in time. For example, the Googlebar extension wasn't working initially, but within a few days it was updated and now works fine.

Where to Find Extensions for Firefox

Locating extensions for Firefox is a simple task. Simply go to the menu Tools -> Extensions, and the Extensions window will appear (see Figure 1). The window lists the extensions currently installed on your browser. You can select an extension and uninstall it or update it. To find additional extensions, click on Get More Extensions.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Viewing the list of extensions installed on your browser

You can also go directly to the Firefox Extensions page. In either case, you should see the following page, shown in Figure 2:

Figure 2
Figure 2. The Extensions page containing the list of extensions available

Installing an extension is easy. Click on the extension you're interested in, and you'll be sent to a page with a description of the extension, as well as an Install Now icon (see Figure 3).

Figure 3
Figure 3. Installing an extension

Click on Install Now, and you will see the Software Installation window (see Figure 4). Click on the Install Now button to proceed with the installation.

Figure 4
Figure 4. Installing an extension

Adbar--Ads from Google

One extension that I find useful is Adbar. The Adbar extension displays Google ads related to pages you view. The extension sends your page request to Google whenever you visit a site. Relevant ads are then displayed in the toolbar, as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5
Figure 5. Displaying Google's ads using the Adbar extension

You can get the Adbar extension here.

Sage--The Lightweight RSS and ATOM Aggregator

One of my favorite extensions for Firefox is Sage, a lightweight RSS and ATOM feed aggregator that transforms your web browser into an RSS reader.

You can find Sage here. Once it's installed, go to Tools -> Sage to run it.

In Figure 6, the left column of the page displays the news feeds I've subscribed to. The right column provides a summary of the selected feed's content.

Figure 6
Figure 6. Reading a news feed using Sage

What's more, you can subscribe to a news feed simply by browsing that page and then clicking on the Discover Feeds icon (the magnifying glass shown on the left in Figure 6). Figure 7 shows how I add the Microsoft WebBlogs feed by going to http://blogs.msdn.com and then finding a feed. To add one, select the feed you want and click on Add Feed.

Figure 7
Figure 7. Adding a news feed in Sage

Googlebar--Google at Your Fingertips

Another handy extension that you might want to install is Googlebar. Even though Firefox already comes with a Google toolbar installed, Googlebar comes with more features and makes Googling much easier. You can download the Googlebar here.

When Googlebar is installed, you will see a toolbar containing a list of icons (see Figure 8). All these icons contain shortcuts to the various functions in Google.

Figure 8
Figure 8. Using the Googlebar

Web Developer--The Swiss Army Knife for Web Developers

If you are a web application developer, then the Web Developer extension is a godsend. Web Developer adds a menu and a toolbar to the browser with various web developer tools such as converting POSTs to GETs, hiding and disabling images, outlining block-level elements, disabling styles, and so on. You can obtain Web Developer here.

Figure 9 shows the Web Developer toolbar displayed in Firefox. If you are a hard-core Web developer, you'll have a great time exploring all the features that Web Developer provides. I will leave it to you to explore this great extension.

Figure 9
Figure 9. Using Web Developer

Firefox Toolbar--Search Engine Aggregator

If you use multiple search engines, Firefox Toolbar is a useful download. Firefox Toolbar allows you to access various popular search engines such as Google, Gmail, AltaVista, Yahoo, and even Amazon.com. You can download the toolbar here. Figure 10 shows Firefox Toolbar installed on my Firefox.

Figure 10
Figure 10. Using Firefox Toolbar

Besides Firefox Toolbar, you can also download five different toolbars that make posting and navigating your own blog easier. These five toolbars are Bloglines, Blogger, TypePad, LiveJournal, and Technorati. Figure 11 shows the LiveJournal toolbar (the one with the pencil icon) installed on my Firefox browser.

Figure 11
Figure 11. Using the LiveJournal toolbar

Getting Updated Extensions

If you had an extension installed on a previous version of Firefox and you install the 1.0 Preview Release, the extension may no longer work. You can check for udpated versions of the extension, though, by choosing Tools -> Extensions, clicking on the extension you want to update, and clicking on Update. If there's a newer version available, you'll be able to download it; otherwise you'll be told no new version is available. You can also have Firefox automatically check for updated versions of extensions by choosing Tools -> Options, clicking on the Advanced button, and, in the Software Updates section, checking the box next to My Extensions and Themes.

Wei-Meng Lee (Microsoft MVP) http://weimenglee.blogspot.com is a technologist and founder of Developer Learning Solutions http://www.developerlearningsolutions.com, a technology company specializing in hands-on training on the latest Microsoft technologies.


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