Thursday, May 19, 2005

Make Your Browser Better

Are the core features of your browser of choice not cutting it? Before you ditch the whole thing, consider the myriad add-ons available from third-party developers. They could add just the functionality you're looking for. Here, we run down our favorite extensions for the market-leading browsers, Firefox and IE.

Firefox Extensions

Firefox, like other software based on the open-source Mozilla browser, was built from the start to use extensions that integrate with its menus and toolbars. You can find hundreds of extensions at the default location that opens when you use Tools | Extensions and click on Get More Extensions. But for some of the best, you'll need to visit We've noted home pages for sites not available from the default site. All these extensions are free.

Right-click on a page and About This Site 0.1.1 adds items to the pop-up menu that take to you the WaybackMachine archive of earlier versions. You also get links to Google and Alexa information and to the Whois database, which tells you who owns the site. (

Everyone except ad sales people will probably pick AdBlock 0.5.2 as their favorite Firefox extension. Surprisingly effective out-of-the-box at blocking banners and animated ads, it provides an extensive Options dialog for fine-tuning its controls and adding addresses that you want to block.

Unless you like to spend time filling in registration forms on newspaper and other Web sites, install BugMeNot 0.62, right-click in the password field on the site's log-on page, choose BugMeNot from the pop-up menu, and a username and password magically appear. Press Enter and you're logged in. ( Can't keep track of all the extensions you've installed? Install one more, Ext2Abc 0.2.1, and you'll get a Sort button in the Extensions dialog that rearranges the list in alphabetical order. (

DictionarySearch 0.9.2 adds a Search Dictionary item to the right-click menu that Firefox pops up when you select a word on a Web page. By default, the search takes you to You can, however, replace this with other dictionary and translation sites listed on the add-in's home page or easily build a menu item of your own that searches any reference site you choose.

ForecastFox 0.7.1 displays an icon for one or more day's weather on any Firefox toolbar or status bar you choose in its extension options setup. The icons for current and future conditions can display different information. You can move your mouse over an icon for a tooltip with further details or turn off the tooltip altogether. There's no guarantee that an extension will still be available if you need to install it again. Save your favorites to disk from their home pages and use MR Tech Local Install 1.2.5 to install them to disk. This disk adds an Install button to Firefox's Extensions dialog. (

OpenBook 1.2.0 lets you add multiple options to the dialog that appears when you bookmark a page with Ctrl-D or the Bookmarks | Bookmark This Page menu item. The expanded dialog can show the full tree structure of the bookmark menu, open a field for editing the URL, and much more.

Tabbrowser Preferences 1.2.4 lets you fine-tune the way tabs open and close in Firefox. Go to Tools | Options and you'll find a new Tabbed Browsing item in the sidebar, with options to move the tabs to the foot of the window, open a new tab with the results of that searches that you type into the search bar, and much more.

Internet Explorer Add-Ins

IE add-ins have a long history, and many have become mature, complex products. We've chosen a small selection of the most useful and interesting.

AIRoboForm 6.3.6 ($29.95) remembers everything you want to fill in on a form and fills it in automatically, with optional password protection for sensitive items. Its toolbar recognizes the sites you visit, remembers your entries on any form, and fills them in with a mouse click. It looks complicated but works effortlessly. (Siber Systems Inc.,

Euris 4c 2.0 (9.90 euros) creates thumbnails of every page you visit and displays them in a sidebar showing thumbnails of all currently open pages, or in a thumbnail-image view of your history list, links, and favorites. This unique add-in isn't for everyone, but if you prefer images to words, this may be for you. (Euris 4c GmbH,

Google Toolbar 3 beta (free) updates this classic add-in by adding links to Google Maps, Web form spell-checking, and single-word translations into the language of your choice. Add automatic form-filling with your name, address, and password-protected credit card numbers, plus a multitude of search options. (

IeToolbox ($14.95) is an unobtrusive no-frills information manager that works entirely in tabs in the left-pane Explorer Bar. After filling in a form on a Web page, you can save the form data to an item that is added to a list in the Webform tab; when you want to fill the form again later, you right-click on the saved item and choose Form Fill from the pop-up menu. A separate list of passwords works in similar ways. It's not fancy, but it's less in-your-face than other products. (WinCentric Media Network,

A favorite with Microsoft programmers and other high techies, Maxthon 1.2.4 pumps up Internet Explorer with tabbed browsing, a drag-and-drop "collector" for any text you want to save, and a supercharged left-pane Explorer Bar that contains RSS feeds, a resource list with currency conversions, weather reports, and more. You'll need a week to set all the options and experiment with free and commercial Maxthon plug-ins. Maxthon may be too much of a good thing, but nothing else adds so much power to IE (donations accepted; Mysoft Technology,

OnFolio Personal Edition 2.0 ($29.95) is a powerful, elegant tool that gives information addicts a way to read RSS feeds in a newspaper-style interface inside IE, organize bookmarks more easily than in IE itself, and store on-disk copies of Web pages with one keystroke. It also integrates with Outlook to provide one-keystroke saving of mail messages. The $99.95 Professional Edition can share research content on a network drive and feed it to collaborators through an RSS feed. (Onfolio Inc.,

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