Shameless Plug for Extremely Useful Technology!!

November 25, 2010 at 22:00 (Firefox and Add-Ons and Themes, Internet, Rambles and Rumbles, Technology)

As many of you know, I am a bit of a techie.  In fact, I value and treasure awesome innovations in technology, especially if they happen to be either extremely neat or very useful to my regular, everyday computer interactions.  And, since my last few blog posts were, perhaps, a little intense, I thought I’d prove some needed “comic relief” (aka I need to make a post about some thing which isn’t heavily weighted with important issues).  So I hereby introduce a new segment called “MK on Tech”

Recently, I have been having a love/hate relationship with my laptop mini.  I love it for its size and convenience, but hate it because of some of its initially overlooked limitations – in short, solid state hard drives – or at least the ones in this system – aren’t quite what I had in mind when I puchased my lil’ pink box.  (And no, the color was NOT the driving reason for the purchase.  I was motivated instead by the $200 price tag and the solid state hard drive(s) – which I wish I had understood more at the time of purchase, but I’m dealing with them, at least most of the time.)

Anyways, due to a bit of a user error on my part, I managed to completely screw-up my settings (and bookmarks and addons) for Firefox last week.  Despite being extremely upsetting and frustrating to me at the time, I’m recovering well and have decided to share a few tips and tricks I’ve learned over the past few days.

First and foremost, if you don’ use Mozilla’s Firefox – GET IT AND START USING IT!  Right now… right here (Firefox 3.6.12 for Windows).

Strangely enough, I hated the origins of Firefox (and Mozilla) – the dreaded NetScape Navigator.  When it first came out as one of the first alternatives to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, I detested NetScape.  Over the years, however, as my detest for Microsoft has risen, and any and all alternatives to using Microsoft products became my technological goals, I unknowingly returned to NetScape through the reinvented form via the Mozilla Project.  I promptly fell in love with Mozilla (and, since, Firefox, Flock, Thunderbird, and other open-source software).  I’ve been using some version of Mozilla for probably nearly ten years now.  And it’ll take Hell and hot, boiling lava to make me give them up now.

One of the biggest and best things I love about Firefox (which I know that Microsoft has tried to also, but has failed horribly to immitate or even really effectively duplicate with their newest devil-program Internet Explorer version Who.Knows.Who.Cares.900.6.6.6) are the company and user created add-ons.  These tiny kilobyte jewels not only make using the internet easier, but also more time-saving, safe, and effective.  So, after crashing my Firefox accidently by rolling back my Microsoft monster to a restore point while trying to deal with my dual solid state hard drive issues earlier, I was once again forced to re-build my Firefox Dream Machine.

So, here and now, I want to list for you my new and old favorite add-ons for Firefox, and insist that, after you ditch your IE, you get most if not all of them shortly after you download Firefox.  In fact, I demand it, dan it!!!!

Here, in short-ish order, are my new favorite add-ons  Look them up, download them, use them, live them, and love them.  I ask (read DEMAND) nothing less.

1.  Ad Block Plus.  This little gadget has done for me what pop-up blockers only dreamed at before.  This bad boy turns your regular, ad-assaulted internet surfing into blissful harmony, mostly free annoying advertisements information destinations.  It effectively kills almost every ad on any website you visit.  It’s like TV, with out the annoying commercials.  Granted, a few still squee through from time to time, but the vast majority are so thoroughly gone it is like they were never there to begin with.

There are a few drawbacks to this for some people (like my husband, for example).  Some people actually LIKE ads.  Granted, from time to time (when I’m not using adblock, or when I’m using a different computer/browser with out adblock), I might see an ad for a company or website that interests me.  So, by losing the ads with adblock, I know I’m missing out on a few things.  But in reality, I’ll take what I’m missing out on with a grain of salt given the fact that missing out on a few things far outweighs (for me) being able to miss out on completely the vast majority of JUNK in internet ads.

The second drawback of AdBlock is that some websites obviously don’t like it.  I mean, some of them get most of their income from ad-generated sales, and AdBlock keeps them from their money!  One website specifically (last.fm) sometimes refuses to run if AdBlock is turned on.  Luckily for me, I can usually just keep reloading and trick the website into playing my music for me with out disabling AdBlock.  Another nice feature is that there is an option in AdBlock that lets you turn it off for specific webpages with out turning off the AdBlock add-on altogether.  (Or, if you don’t want to go through that trouble of specific website programing options in AdBlock, just click the AdBlock stop sign at the bottom of your FireFox status bar to deactivate it, and do the same to reactivate it.

Overall, I give AdBlock Plus a rating of “MUST HAVE”.

2.  Colorful Tabs.  This artful sounding add-on is actually more than just cute – it’s very useful!  In addition to adding a splash of color to your tabs, it can help you organize and distinguish your tabs very simply and easily.  Some of it’s great features include being able to assign a color to specific websites (which is neat, but I rarely use), and being able to adjust the color intensity of non-active tabs (so basically, the tab you are using is in “bold”, while the others are faded).

If you are a tab-addict like I am, Colorful Tabs is the way to go.  The colors make distinguishing between tabs quick and easy, and you can always know which of the half-dozen tabs you are working in with the color intensity scaling.  Another cool thing is that it randomly assigns colors to tabs and that includes such a variety of colors that you won’t very often have to yellow tabs right beside each other.  Again, with the ability to assign colors to specific websites (or domains) and a multitude of other color setting options, keeping things clear and in order for multi (or, like me, massive) tabbed browsing makes Colorful Tabs an essential add-on.

Overall, I give Colorful Tabs a rating of “Pretty Darn Cool”.

3.  Smart Bookmarks Bar.  If you are a tab-freak like me, than most likely you’re also an organizational freak too.  For example, when my “Bookmarks” list in my browser gets “too full” for my liking, I HAVE to go and reorganized it (making new folders, catagorizing links, moving from here to there, deleting useless ones – you get the idea) [I also regularly do this sort of thing to my desktop and “Start” menu/programs menu.  I can admit it, I’m OCPD – and I’m OK with that….just so long as I don’t have to sit at YOUR computer and deal with YOUR cluttered desktop and start/program menu.  Then, we’d have problems.]

Anyways, Smart Bookmarks helps solve the problem of the “too many bookmarks on the bookmark bar, and not enough room”.  Sure, you could add another line to your bookmark bar, but why do that when you can get Smart Bookmarks?!  Ok…enough about WHY you need it, here’s what it does.  Simple: it hides the full name of the bookmark and just shows you the webpage icon (like the facebook “F”, or the craigslist peace sign).  This can let you fit probably twenty times the bookmarks on your bookmark bar, all with out sacrificing anything!

But, you may ask, what if my favorite website doesn’t have an icon?  No problem.  Smart Bookmarks settings let you show a bookmarks full name if it doesn’t have an icon.  In addition, if you can’t always remember what icon goes with what link, you can set it to show the full site name of the favorite when you roll your mouse over its icon.  Plus, with the option of being able to chose what size the icons display as, you can ensure you always have the favoritest of your favorites right in your browser where you want them.  The only thing that is missing from this current incarnation of Smart Bookmarks is the ability to SET an icon for websites that don’t have one.  It used to have that feature, but either it wasn’t useful (or I can’t figure out how to do it anymore).  Still, this add-on not only adds practicality to your browsing, but also a hint of awesomeness.

Overall, I give Smart Bookmarks Bar a rating of “MUST HAVE”.

4.  WebMail Notifier.  While I said earlier that I like Thunderbird, the truth is that, if given a choice, I prefer the webmail interface hands down.  Of course, not all webmail interfaces are created equal, so obviously Gmail is my favorite.  Still, no matter how good your webmail may be, there is always the issue with either frequently visiting the website to see if you have “new mail” or keeping the webmail tab open in your browser ALL THE TIME to keep up with your messages.  WebMail Notifier makes that all a thing of the past!

WebMail Notifier not only makes it easy to tell when “You’ve got mail”, it also keeps it out of the way when you don’t need it.  It supports almost every variety of major webmail there is out there, including gmail, hotmail, yahoo, aol, and many more.  Plus, unlike some other similar add-ons, you can monitor all your webmails at once!  (This feature is great if you, like me, have more than one gmail – I combine the two (or more) gmail accounts using gmail labs, then monitor my main account using WebMail Notifier – and never miss an important (or unimportant) email again!)  The new mail notifications are also nice because they aren’t “IN YOUR FACE” or overly annoying.  There is a small pop-up in your lower right hand corner (and this pops up so long as your have an active browser open, not only when you are using your browser), and a short, soft “beep” like noise is played – all letting you know that its time to check your mail.  You can set it to check at any time interval that you want (I generally set it to every 5 minutes), and forget about it – till it reminds YOU!

Other great settings include opening your webmail in a new tab (or browser window) so you don’t loose your work or place in the current website you are using, being able to simply click on the envelop tab in your status bar to get into your webmail (skipping login screens and such), and programming it to monitor more than one type of webmail (like your gmail, your hotmail, and your yahoo mail).  Heck, you can even customize your “new mail” notification sound and other settings besides.  With the invention of this add-on, anyone who habitually keeps their webmail window open just to check for new messages is officially a n00b.

Overall, I give WebMail Notifier a rating of “MUST HAVE”.

5.  Update Notifier.  If you use add-ons (or themes) for FireFox, you know it’s important to keep them up to date.  Of course, this isn’t exactly hard to do, but I don’t like habitually going into my add-ons manager and checking for new updates all the time.  The add-on Update Notifier fixes this problem!  By putting a little gray arrow right under your minimize/maximize/close program buttons, you are kept up-to-date on all the newest versions of all the add-ons you use!  It checks for you every 8, 16, 24, or 48 hours for all of your add-ons for newer versions.

If there is a newer version of an add-on (or theme), the gray arrow turns blue (for add-ons, green for themes).  Hovering over the arrow tells you which add-on has been updated, and clicking on the arrow gives you several options, including installing the newest updates.  You can even have it automatically install new updates.  Finally, remind you to restart FireFox after updating an add-on (or theme) by turning the gray arrow into a red exclamation point (or you can have it automatically restart FireFox after installing updates).  For add-on and theme addicts who like to keep it current, you can’t miss out on this gem.  It is so simple, seamless, and painless that it lets you keep up-to-date with out a hassle.  The short list of features in its options menu are all practical, keeping you from useless or unneeded choices.

Overall, I give Update Notifier a rating of “MUST HAVE”.

6.  Add-ons I often use but, for one reason or another, I haven’t gotten back to installing again yet.  I’ll be short and brief on these, and while I may not be using them right now on my netbook, I’ve either got them on my desktop or work laptop and think they are great!

A.  FoxyTunes.  This handy add-on allows you to control playback of your music player right from the convenience of your browser (since we all know that we’re usually browsing when we’re listening to music (or listening to music while we’re browsing) anyways).  It supports almost every music player known to exist (and perhaps some not generally known about), is fully customizable (lets you pick a WIDE variety of buttons to display or not in your browser status bar), and even has the neatest pop-out option that lets you use the FoxyTunes controls when you’re not in your browser (like when you’re in Word writing a term paper).  There isn’t much this thing doesn’t do, and if you’re a music lover like me, this is a MUST HAVE!

B.  FoxClocks.  For some people, the only time that matters (besides party time and happy hour) is the time it happens to be in their current location.  For others of us, there is FoxClocks.  With a plethora of options of what time it is around the world, FoxClocks lets you add a clock (as simple or as complex as you want it to be) to your status bar.  With almost as many settings as there are locations to know the time of, you can make it simple (hovering over to show the time in other places) or complex (using the status bar to list the times anywhere in the world you want).  If knowing the times around the world is of any importance to you, FoxClocks is definitely a “Pretty Darn Cool” add-on.

C.  Sun Cult.  Ever had one of those days when you were SURE it was a full moon, but didn’t have a calendar handy (and didn’t want to google moon phases) to find out?  Then Sun Cult is a fun little add-on to put the answer at your fingertips.  Although called “Sun Cult”, it covers much more than just moon phases.  I can tell you, according to your geographical location, sun and moon rise and set times, the current phase of the moon, when the next full/new moon will be, and other sun/moon related details.  Although not strictly needed for most people in today’s modern society, this is a super fun add-on, earning a strong “Pretty Darn Cool” rating from me. [Sadly, development on Sun Cult has basically ceased, and it is not supported on FF 3.  I’m not sure if there is another add-on that has taken its place or is similar, but I really hope support for this is brought back soon, as I really liked it.]

D.  Meebo.  The internet has brought us almost as many chat clients, websites, and programs as there are languages to in which to speak (ok…maybe not THAT many, but it’s probably getting pretty darn close by now).  And although there are several programs out there that seek to help you combine your 40-odd chat screen names, one that rises heads and tails above the rest is a little web-based program called Meebo.  Unlike some other chat program compilers, Meebo not only supports through its web-based format almost every chatting platform out there (again, maybe not everyone, but at least the 8 main ones, and lots more besides), it will allow a user to log in (and chat and manage them) ALL at the same time.  Even if you have three AOL screen names, you can sign into them all at the same time with out conflict (something that I’m not even sure you can do with the AOL chat program itself!).  Additionally, Meebo will let you bring all your IMs together under one Meebo ID, letting you IM with whoever you want from anywhere you want, all with no software to download.  The Meebo IM lets you take Meebo a step further by integrating it into your browser.  This means you can sign into Meebo (and at the same time, ALL your IMs), then be notified by a simple pop-up (which disappears after a few seconds) when you get an IM.  While this add-on isn’t perfect yet (you DO have to keep at least one tab or browser window open to Meebo at all times to keep Meebo signed in and the add-on working), it beats the alternatives (like Trillian) to pieces.  In my opinion, it is definitely a “Pretty Darn Cool” add-on.

E.  Cooliris.  If you are a frequent browser or searcher of images, you’ll love Cooliris.  It can turn any search for an image into a WALL of pictures that you can easily browse, meander through, and marvel at.  Simple mouse-only navigation combines with the smooth interface and easy image selection to make this add-on the “tool of choice” for those that love images.  It works for most image websites, including Google, Facebook, and Flickr, and even works for videos!  Makes finding the perfect image not only easy, but lots of fun by eliminating the need to “click” through pages and pages of pictures.  This add-on has come a LONG way since I first discovered it, but unlike some things, it has gotten better with time (and development).  Hands down, this add-on is “Pretty Darn Cool”.

7.  Still evaluating, but things are looking good so far!  In this category, I’ll again try to be short and sweet.  There are a few add-ons that I’ve recently discovered, or for one reason or another have gotten (either on my work laptop or desktop) but have yet to really use enough to determine whether or not I like them enough yet.  The ones I’ll mention here have great potential, and may soon become in part of my list of “tops”.

A.  ScribeFire Blog Editor.  As you read this, you are reading my first blog post created using ScribeFire.  I’m still evaluating this add-on, but it’s not too bad.  There are clearly some features that could be improved, and I’m not sure that I wouldn’t just prefer to use the WordPress interface, but there are also some advantages over the WordPress dashboard (so far).  The main advantage is the formatting options.  While with WordPress, you can essentially format something to look just about anyway you want it to, much of that formatting is can require at least basic (if not advanced) HTML knowledge.  So far, however, ScribeFire seems to allow for simpler, easier formatting, which I like (I’m a little formatting obsessed, among my other wonderful obsessions, lol).  Though I’m still in the “we shall see” stage with this add-on, I’ll rate it “I like what I see so far”.

B.  CLIP: CraigsList Image Prefetcher.  I really like CraigsList (or however it’s supposed to be spelled or written).  What better site than a non-ad-infested classifieds?  It’s like a search-able old-fashioned classifieds section of the newspaper!  You can find free stuff; you can find cheap stuff; you can find sex (ok, not technically anymore, but let’s be real here, people – oh, and NO, I don’t USE CraigsList for that, but a person COULD); you can find people to come and haul off your old junk you don’t want anymore; heck, you can even find people who will PAY YOU to haul off old junk you don’t need or want anymore!  What better website is there for someone that needs or wants something?!  The add-on CLIP takes an already good thing and makes it better.  Fairly simply, it shows you the picture related to a CL post with out making you click on the post JUST to see the picture.  This makes CL’s browsing much faster – especially when you’re like me, and only really interested in posts with pictures most of the time.  Although I’ve only been using this add-on for a week or so, I rate it “A Keeper”.

C.  Google Shortcuts – All Google Services at a glance.  As the name implies, this add-on puts ALL the tools of Google at your fingertips – something even Google’s websites themselves haven’t done very well yet.  There are probably nearly one hundred Google-ets that they make, including gmail, google docs, google maps, google reader – to infinity and beyond.  But till I found this add-on, sometimes I’d have to search google itself just to find the ones I was interested in (like Google Health, and Google Voice).  Even in my gmail account, I don’t have easy access to those google-ets that I frequently use (most of them, yes, but not all of them).  Google Shortcuts fixes that problem with amazing ease!  It puts a button on your tool bar that links you to all of google’s services.  Even better, through the options and settings, you can customize the list of services included in your google shortcuts button.  Now, I have almost instant access to my Google Docs, Google Voice, Google Mail, Google Calendar, and YouTube – all in one simple button.  And I can add or take away as many services as my little heart is content to demand.  Again, I’ve only had this beauty for a week or so, but I also rate it “A Keeper”!

D.  Lazarus: Form Recovery.  This is another add-on that I really like the idea of, but haven’t had the need for exactly yet, so I can’t be sure if I like it or not.  Essentially, the idea here is that if you’re typing some long form submission, and for one reason or another you lose it, it can be recovered easily.  I’m sure this is something that has happened to most if not all of us, and this tool looks promising to really relieve the frustrations that come with losing the data, but as I really try to avoid getting into the circumstances that result in this in the first place, I’m not sure what to rate this, so I’ll just say “Pending On Form Failure”, lol.

E.  Extended Copy Menu.  If you are like me, then you do a LOT of copy and pasting from websites.  I do it at home, at work, in the car – ok, not really, but just about every day, hundreds of times, for lots of reasons, I copy and paste something from my browser to another document.  And there is NOTHING that annoys me more than to copy not JUST the text, but the formatting, coloring, web links, and anything else the selection contains – WHEN ALL I WANT IS THE TEXT!  There is another add-on that I used to use, called “Copy Plain Text”, but it doesn’t seem to be working or supported anymore.  So I’m downloading this extension tonight.  As far as rating goes, the best I can do is rate it “Hopeful”.

I’ll conclude this post here.  There is lots more I can say, but I’ve written enough for today, and it is now time to kick back, nibble leftovers (CHEESEBALL!!), and give thanks that I don’t have to go back to work for the next three days!!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  For you guys that are psycho enough to go shopping tomorrow, good luck and yes, there is medication for that.

Yours in service,
-MK

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