Extending Firefox

By now you must have heard about the Firefox browser from Open Source champions Mozilla. One of the joys of Firefox is that it is not a “take it or leave” package of features. Rather, Firefox is expandable and enjoys the benefits of being associated with an active developers community of programmers and enthusiasts who turn out a wide variety of enhancements (called “extensions”) which give you the ability to customize Firefox to your needs. In the best Research Launchpad tradition of letting you benefit from my extensive (and unfortunately sometimes wasted) hours online, I’ve prepared a quick survey of Mozilla Firefox extensions that are relevant to searchers, and indeed to most any aspiring power surfer: Amazon Sidebar The Amazon Sidebar lets users of Firefox search Amazon sites from a sidebar search dialogue. Supported Amazon sites are .com, .co.uk, and .de. Very useful for hardcore bibliophiles and anyone conducting research for citations, authors, related works, or bibliographies. Context Highlight Select a word on a web page, right click, and choose “Highlight Word” from the menu. This extension will quickly and easily highlight all instances of your current text selection within the current page. One heck of a lot easily than CTRL-F (over and over again!) Context Search Combines wonderfully with Mycroft, described below. Select a word on a web page, right click, and choose “Web Search For” from the menu and a submenu appears listing all the search engine plug ins you have installed giving you instant access to a web search on the selected word. I love this extension! Dictionary Search Dictionary Search provides a very easy way to lookup (or translate) a word in a Web page or an email in an online dictionary such as dictionary.com. Simply select the word you want to lookup. Then right click and select “Dictionary Search for …”. A new tab or browser window will open with the meaning of the word you selected. You can use up to 4 different dictionaries, which you can configure yourself. FlashBlock Flashblock is an extension for the Mozilla and Firebird browsers that takes a rather cynical approach to dealing with Macromedia Flash content on a webpage and blocks ALL Flash content from loading. It then leaves a placeholder on the page that allows you to click to view the Flash content. It works with Shockwave files, too. I feel guilty, but I love it… Flowing Tabs If you don’t use Firefox this won’t mean much to you, but if you do – it will! Normally when you open lots of tabs in Firefox they each become narrower and narrower, and eventually just disappear off the end of the tab bar. With this extension installed the tabs instead wrap around onto multiple rows when required. MSDBar This one borders on the really obscure, but hey. If this is what you need, I bet you’ll thank heaven for this thing! MSDbar is a Bioinformatics toolbar application for searching the MSD and other macromolecular structure resources. The toolbar can be used to search the MSD, RCSB, PDBj or OCA directly from the browser. Information can be retrieved using a general text search or on specific fields such as Author name(s), Keyword, bound ligand etc. The toolbar can also be used to retrieve detailed information about specific PDB IDcodes from any of the above services thereby removing the need to visit each of these sites independently. Additional external searches in the menu empower the user to search the Uppsala Electron Density server (EDS) or the PubMed database. Mycroft Here’s one everybody can use: Mycroft search plug-ins. A search plug-in allows you to access a search engine right from your browser, without having to go to the engine’s page first. In Mozilla Firefox you use the search box on the toolbar. All the major search engines are supported, including Google and Yahoo, as well as over 100 academic and reference resources. If you only install one extension on this list, make it Mycroft. (Then download and install Context Search (see above) and your searching life will change forever!) Note that the default Mycroft installation includes 30 search plug ins; more are available on the Mycroft project homepage. QuickNote QuickNote is a note taking-like extension slightly modeled after ‘Post-It’, ‘Sticky’, and the “Quick Notepad”. This is extension is handy and unobtrusive. It supports International Language (characters), includes Autosave, and allows up to 4 tabs for notes. It can be opened in either a floating window, a tab or as a sidebar. Great for taking notes as you surf and storing URLs. You can find a full list of extensions here: http://texturizer.net/firefox/extensions/ with hyperlinks to the extensions home page and a quick link to install the extension. Once installed you can manage all extensions from the Tools>Options menu in Firefox. Good luck and good hunting! Article originally written for Research Launchpad.com in June, 2004.

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