Better Web Browsing Through Extensions

By Joseph Moran | Posted May 16, 2008

Although Mozilla Firefox has many handy features built-in, its biggest strength is the huge number of extensions (officially called add-ons) for the browser that offer additional features and capabilities. Literally thousands of useful Firefox add-ons are available. Here are 10 connectivity-related favorites and handy Web-based services that work with any browser.

1. Get Quick Router Info

If you want a quick overview of your broadband router's configuration without having to log into it first, Router Status can be a handy tool. Mouse-over its icon in the lower right corner of Firefox, and it will display settings like LAN and WAN IP addresses, SSID, the channel in use, the number of connected clients, and how long your wireless network has been up. If you need more info or must change settings, double-clicking the icon will open your router's login page. This add-on is not compatible with all routers, although it does support many common D-Link, Linksys and Netgear models.

2. Quick-Paste E-mail Addresses

Do you frequently find yourself sending Web articles and other content to people via e-mail? If so, the Paste Email plug-in can be a huge timesaver. With it, you can specify up to 16 e-mail addresses in advance. Whenever you right-click on an e-mail address field, a context menu will let you enter the address you want without typing it. It works for other kinds of text, too.

3. Control PDF Downloads

When you encounter a link to a PDF file on a Web page, it's not always clear whether the link will let you download and save the document or open it in the browser. Depending of the kind of file, you may prefer to do one or the other. Plus, PDF files sometimes have a nasty habit of taking forever to open or even hanging the browser. PDF Download addresses this problem by offering a choice to open or save a PDF when you click on one.

4. Know What You're Clicking On

Unfortunately, there's no law that says the text or graphic describing a Web link must reflect the link's actual contents. To avoid potential problems, it pays to know what's behind a given link before you click on it. Link Alert lets you do just that at a glance. When you pass your cursor over a link, Link Alert will add an icon next to it denoting what the link points to, and whether it will be another window, a particular kind of file or a script.

5. Use IE in Firefox

Although it's not especially common, there are Web sites that don't look or work right with Firefox because they were designed or optimized for Internet Explorer (IE). (Microsoft's Windows Update site is one example.) IE Tab gets around this issue by using your system's installed IE browser to display pages, but it does so within Firefox. All you need to do is right-click a page and select View Page in IE Tab, or you can pre-enter URLs to open with IE Tab each time you visit them.

6. Kill Two Search Birds with One Stone

Google and Wikipedia are probably the two most popular research tools on the Web, and Googlepedia lets you access both of them at the same time. Whenever you perform a Google search (either from the search or a toolbar) Googlepedia will call up the Wikipedia page of your search term within the Google results page. Googlepedia also turns any Wikipedia links to Google searches and integrates Wikipedia info with them as well.

7. Check Out Site Status

Whenever you're unable to access a particular Web site, most likely the first thing you do is check with a friend or colleague via IM or phone to see if they're having problems with that site, too. Another option: Head over to downforeveryoneorjustme.com and enter the suspect URL. It will report back whether the site you're looking for is actually down, of if it's an issue on your end.

8. Convert and Share Files

Need to convert a file from one format to another, either for yourself or to send to someone else? www.youconvert.it offers a way to do so without the need for conversion software on your computer. The site lets you specify up to five files to upload and convert, after which you'll receive an e-mail with links to the new versions. If you want to directly send someone the converted file, simply specify the intended recipient's e-mail instead of your own. The tool works with pretty much any file format and category you can think of — documents, graphics, audio, video and even compressed archives, are all supported. With the Convert Online Video feature, you can specify a URL and have the site download and save, say, a favorite video from YouTube or similar sites.

9. Just the Fax

Sending or receiving an occasional fax doesn't justify the purchase of a fax machine or even the high per-page prices from local shops. Drop.io provides 100 MB of storage reachable from a customized URL (no registration required), from which you can send any document to a U.S.-based fax number. To receive a fax, e-mail a customized coversheet to the sender that will route the fax to your Drop.io account.

10. Pick Strong Passwords

Using a short, convenient password is barely better than none at all. Microsoft's Password Checker at www.microsoft.com/protect/yourself/password/checker.mspx provides a quick and easy way to see if a password you're using (or are planning to use) is up to snuff by assigning it a strength rating as you type it in.

Adapted from PracticallyNetworked.com, part of the EarthWeb.com Network.

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