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Saturday, July 10, 2004

OT: Building a Better Mozilla

Wired News: Building a Better Mozilla

By Michelle Delio

Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/infostructure/0,1377,64085,00.html

02:00 AM Jul. 07, 2004 PT

Most people who switch to Mozilla or Mozilla's Firefox browser quickly notice that the browser is pretty bare. It contains exactly what you need to browse the Web -- no less and no more.

And while there's a lot to be said for running a lean, clean program, sometimes you long for more features, a little extra functionality.

Enter Extensions, little programs that you can add to Mozilla or Firefox to make the browser do what you want it to do. There are now close to a hundred extensions available for downloading. Most work perfectly; others are a bit buggy.

Below are some of the extensions that have been rated highly by Mozilla users. All the extensions work with both Mozilla and Mozilla Firefox -- an enhanced version of the Mozilla browser -- unless otherwise noted, but most developers are now creating and updating extensions only for Firefox.

Mozilla's privacy settings allow users to configure the browser to avoid being pestered by marketers as much as possible while online. But those annoying Web registration forms remain, demanding personal information before you can read a news story. If you hate having to fill in forms try BugMeNot.

After installation, BugMeNot supplies an appropriate name and password from a database that seems to include registration info for the vast majority of websites that request registration. The BugMeNot developers note that most people enter false information on registration forms to protect their privacy, so BugMeNot actually cuts down on database pollution. The only problem is that The New York Times may wonder what happened to all those 86-year-old Albanian grandmothers who head up huge technology firms that used to sign up to read the NYT website.

There's also Cookie Culler for those who really want to take control of their cookies, and half a dozen other privacy-protecting extensions.

There are extensions intended to make browsing faster too, such as Magpie, an extension for Firefox that lets you bulk-save content from websites. After the extension is installed you can Ctrl+Shift+S, to download all files linked to the page you're currently browsing.

Magpie also includes tools for adjusting a site's URL by incrementing or decrementing the numbers in it and for "sanitizing" links to real content by stripping off redirector script prefix/suffixes. This is a good extension for those who do a lot of research online.

Once you've made the switch to Mozilla you'll no doubt run into a Web page that will only display properly in Internet Explorer. You could manually fire up Microsoft's browser and enter the URL, but it's easier to install ieview, which will open websites in Internet Explorer with one right click on a selected page or link. This is also a good extension for website developers who want to see what their pages look like in IE.

Web developers will also want the aptly named Web Developer extension, which adds a menu and a toolbar to the browser with assorted Web development tools.

Some extensions are intended to improve Mozilla's features, like the Download Manager Tweak extension which -- no surprise --enhances Firefox's bare-bones download manager. The extension allows the Firefox download manager to be opened in a separate window, a sidebar or a window tab, and also modifies the default appearance of the download manager to make it easier to work with.

Some extensions solve annoying issues outside of Mozilla. Copy Plain Text adds a menu item to your edit and right clickable context menus that, when clicked, copies the selected text without formatting. If you've ever wasted time reformatting pasted text, you'll really appreciate this extension. On the same page you'll also find the Bandwidth Tester, that will tell you the speed of your current connection. It's a useful add-on for traveling laptop users.

There are a multitude of extensions available for staying on top of the news, like Sage, a basic RSS and ATOM feed aggregator for Firefox. Also check out the Reload Every extension, which lets you right-click on a Web page to reload it automatically every few seconds or minutes, as you choose. It's great for those who are checking news, sports scores or stock prices.

Mozilla's search extensions are often real timesavers. Dictionary Search gives you one-click access to up to four dictionaries or translation services. To look up or translate a word in a Web page you just select the word, right click and choose "Dictionary Search for ..." A new tab or browser window will open with the meaning of the word you selected.

Miss your Google Toolbar? Perturbed at having to click twice to access a specific Google search function? Until recently direct access to most of Google's offerings via a browser toolbar was a luxury only granted to Internet Explorer users. Happily, now Mozilla browsers can also reach all of Google's specialty searches -- like newsgroup, images, news and shopping search, right from their Mozilla toolbar after downloading Googlebar.

And if you're easily amused, or a longtime Mozilla user who misses the development team's whimsical changing of Firefox's name (it was Firebird just a few months ago), you'll want to install FireSomething, an extension that randomly changes the name of Firefox in the browser title bar, Help menu, and About dialog title bar each time a new window is opened.

At the moment, I'm browsing the Web with Mozilla MoonCow. You can also add your own list of random names to the extension for a truly personal and delightfully dorky browsing experience.

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