Yet another round of extension recommendations · 2007-04-16 10:04 by Wladimir Palant

Update: 15:07 – Added Tab Mix Plus and TBE to the “not install” list.

ComputerWorld managed to generate quite a lot of buzz with its list of must-have extensions and extensions to avoid. But, as many commenters noticed, the extensions listed appear pretty random. The first list contains a number of extensions that are based on good ideas but either didn’t manage to implement these ideas properly or are simply useless to most Firefox users. On the other hand, some extensions that these users would really consider absolute “must-have” like Adblock Plus are simply missing which undermines the credibility of this article. The second article is no better. It lists several very popular extensions without giving good reasons why these should be avoided. And it is filled up with extensions that fall into the category “useless” — as if there were a point in warning users about hundreds of existing useless extensions. No wonder I have yet to see a single positive feedback on this article.

But since extension lists are so popular, I want to present here a list of my own. I do not expect anybody to agree with my choice of extensions, quite the opposite. That’s why I will describe each of them and tell who the extension is meant for, how good it is at doing its job and what its shortcomings are. Being an extension developer myself I choose extensions very carefully and evaluate them not only on the aspect of what they are doing but also on how they are doing it, something that most people don’t notice.


These are the extensions that I have been using for a long time and found very useful (in alphabetical order).

Reluctant recommendations

I am using a few more extensions that are useful but have considerable shortcomings.

Extensions I would never install

There are a few popular extensions that are often recommend and that I often install in my test profile for that reason. I would never use them in my work profile however.

I hope my perspective will be useful for some people. It is a short list, unfortunately good ideas only rarely meet good programming and user interface design skills so that I have to be very selective with what I install.


Comment [16]

  1. LorenzoC · 2007-04-16 11:17 · #

    Even if I had to disable it because It was slowing down FF each time I opened a new tab…
    I would also reccommend Firebug.
    It is not for the average user but It is a must for people who work on Web pages and need an advanced debugging tool.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    I had my trouble with Firebug. It is potentially a nice tool – yet lacking in implementation. I had to uninstall it.

  2. insignificant · 2007-04-16 11:19 · #

    I hadn’t realized how Adblock Plus worked. Now I’m wondering if it would provide better page-loading performance than I now get with Ad Muncher. (And there’s also the system-wide performance issue regarding Ad Muncher’s use of global hooks.)

    I have 37 extensions installed, a few of which I think are very good. I won’t bore anyone with any more detail than that!

  3. LorenzoC · 2007-04-16 12:36 · #

    By the way, ADBlockPlus is not missing.
    It comes right after NoScript in the list of “extensions to avoid”.
    Adblock and Adblock Plus
    Obviously, we have some bias when it comes to ad-blocking extensions, as Computerworld is an ad-supported site. We also understand that these are very popular extensions. But if everyone blocked ads, how would sites such as ours continue to offer content free of charge?

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    I know that. I was talking about the first list – it is missing there. As to the second, it is one of the extensions where they provided a lame reason for why it should be avoided.

  4. Sam · 2007-04-16 16:47 · #

    I find IE Tab very useful for Web Development. And while rare, I still come across the odd site where it is faster and easier to switch the tab to IE, do whatever I wanted to do, then switch it back afterwards. A few days ago Picasaweb wasn’t loading photos in Fx – it was fixed the next day, but while it was broken I just switched the tab to IE to use the site.

    The extensions lists weren’t too bad…I have 8 of the ‘best’ ones installed (out of my 40-odd extensions) and only ABP out of the ‘worst’ lot. I agree about FiltersetG, Fasterfox and Noscript though, they’re all awful.

  5. pirlouy · 2007-04-16 23:29 · #

    I agree for all unrecommended extensions.
    However, I have to disagree for an extension: Chatzilla.
    Firefox is already known to be “heavy”. It’s a web browser. Adding IRC possibility has nothing to do with Firefox.

    If you want to use IRC, you’d better use an IM software like Miranda IM (for example). I had been using Chatzilla, but I understood the problem when I had to restart firefox (Java site for example ;-) ). I think you like Chatzilla because IIRC it was kinda pretty, but this extension can’t be in the recommanded list.

    The extension Userchrome.js could be in recommanded extensions too. In fact, it should be built in Firefox. This extension allows to customize browser easily. However, Javascript can be very evil, and can be poorly used, like for an extension…

    Else, I also think LocationBar² and Download Statusbar indirectly allow a better navigation.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    As I said – I expect you to disagree. But last time when I tried Miranda I couldn’t stand the user interface. And I generally didn’t see any standalone IRC clients with a good user interface. I also don’t understand what you mean by “heavy”. ChatZilla doesn’t add any complexity to the browser (one additional menu item). It doesn’t have any impact on performance or memory use unless you start it – that’s what I expect. It doesn’t seem to cause any significant changes in performance when it is running though is uses up some memory for the backlog – also exactly what is expected. Restarting Firefox is a problem however, which is why I might go for a standalone ChatZilla running on XULRunner in future (no sooner than Firefox will run on XULRunner of course, otherwise it would be a waste of memory).

    I only listed extensions that I have been using for a while so that I can tell for sure whether they are worth using. I never used Userchrome.js however, and neither did I use LocationBar² or Download Statusbar.

  6. ABP Fan · 2007-04-16 23:43 · #

    I like Noscript though. I definitely agree that it is an excellent annoyance blocker, In fact I use it as such.
    Noscript is my first line of “defence”, I have configured it to allow all top level domains while blocking scripts from all 3rd party sites.
    This first line takes care of surprisingly many ads that are outside my whitelist.

    Then I have ABP for the finer surgery, it easily takes care of the rest, especially with the aid of Element Hiding Helper and the various subscriptions.

    Then I also use CookieSafe/View Cookies CS to block all cookies by default, and manage the 20-30 cookies from sites I view regularly.

    Blacklisting by default in Noscript is annoying as heck since it breaks sites for me far too often and then I have to allow the scripts anyway plus reloading the sites. This is rarely the case with cookies though, so I find the approach of blacklisting by default acceptable in case of cookies.

    Those 3 are like my trinity of web privacy :3

    (And of course ABP is the most important of my extensions. ABP is 60% of my reasons to use Firefox if that tells you something)

  7. rick752 · 2007-04-17 07:10 · #

    Besides the more complex extensions, some the “less powerful” extensions provide great use. I love Download Statusbar because I simply hate Fx’s Download Manager or a floating status window that disappears when I go back to Firefox. Having a small progress bar on the status bar is really nice.

    Permit Cookies is a small but really useful extension. I just set my Firefox to ‘session’ all cookies as default and then use permit cookies to always allow or totally block a cookie. The control/status icon sits in the status bar and changes color to show the ‘allow’ status for each site you are on … nice.

    Firebug is also a terrific extension. It was a little buggy at first, but I think that the last update really helped with that.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Rick, the last three Firebug updates only helped with security issues. And I am afraid that there might be more, Joe Hewitt really should change the way he displays data.

  8. LorenzoC · 2007-04-17 13:35 · #

    I’ve tried NoScript intensively and I’ve got mixed ideas about it. The main flaw in my opinion is the “trusted/untrusted” mechanism. White/Black lists are proven to be un-effective and annoying, maybe un-effective because annoying :). Once you have allowed a site to execute scripts you can’t really know what will happen one day. And “untrusted” is the whole WWW out of your “trusted” list, so you are always asked to authorize something until the white list grows out of control. Does it make sense? You need a “detection by behaviour” or some euristics to run the scripts in a “sand box” and then let them execute or not if they comply the “rules”. IMHO.

  9. insignificant · 2007-04-18 00:54 · #

    Mr. Palant: You don’t use Firekeeper? I learned about this extension from you… But you only did say you prefer its approach over that of NoScript, and not that you actually use it.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    No, Firekeeper is in early alpha stages and I don’t think it is good for anything other than testing the concept. I might try it later when it matures.

  10. Greg · 2007-04-18 06:51 · #

    I use extensions for three main reasons – safety, convenience and UI improvements.

    For safety:
    Adblock Plus *
    Adblock Plus: Element Hider Help
    CookieSafe *
    Flashblock *

    For web convenience:
    Gmail Manager
    IE Tab
    Show Image
    Stop Autoplay

    For UI improvements:
    Add to Search Bar
    Context Search *
    Organize Search Engines
    Download Statusbar
    Tab Mix Plus
    Tiny Menu

    The ones with asterisks are recommended for anyone. The others are all useful, but may not be for everyone.

  11. insignificant · 2007-04-18 21:20 · #

    I use a lot of the same extensions Greg does. But I recently did away with the Context Search extension after (finally) realizing I could simply drag one or more words to the search bar to effect the same thing. When you drag to the search bar and use the Second Search extension, it pops up the search menu nicely. If the Context Search extension had a menu icon, it would be easier for me to pick out among all the other context menu items, and I might use it again. Oh well, who cares, right?

    Oh—regarding Firekeeper: I think it’s useful, if (a big “if”, I know) it works without introducing other problems. And so far, to me it seems to do just that. I recently began using the Malware Block List with Firekeeper. Nice idea that seems to work pretty well. But the default Firekeeper list seems pretty lacking so far.

  12. Bill · 2007-04-20 16:27 · #

    The IE tab is a wonder for those of us in specialty fields (mine is Real Estate). Getting the powers-to-be to program for Firefox is remote. We are perceived as being a small group of nerds.

  13. Brett · 2007-04-26 07:30 · #

    Just as Adblock Plus gets used without noticing i recommend “Drag de Go”, u can alter the default settings to let u open links in the background just be clicking and dragging a link, instead of right clicking and going to open in new window. It also lets u select text and drag the selected text to open up a search window in the background with ur default search engine.

  14. Matt Nordhoff (Peng) · 2007-04-30 10:28 · #

    There are caveats with some of those:

    ChatZilla — If you’re someone like me who’s in like 30 channels 24 hours a day, it will use a LOT of memory. Using XULRunner (as of sometime last year), like 200 MB after a few weeks or a month. And then it’ll probably crash. While I’m sure it’s Gecko’s fault (and the obvious and useful choices CZ made since it’s based on Gecko, like using HTML for channel views), that doesn’t make it any more usable on a system without a lot of extra RAM.

    Live HTTP Headers — Something to be aware of is that it isn’t always exact. Capitalization of header names can vary (I send “ETag” headers and it shows “Etag”) and if you send more than one of some headers, it will be collapsed into one. Also, the Page Info header tab will list headers in <meta http-equiv> tags at the end (but their names will be all-lowercase). I use when I need to see exactly what is sent.

    (Lists don’t work in comments? That sucks.)
    (Nor does surrounding code in @s?)
    (HTML is also stripped instead of escaped in the Message box after hitting the preview button. Hopefully it won’t be stripped when I submit this.)

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    LiveHTTPHeaders only displays the headers as Gecko has them. They might be normalized already (though this is rarely the case). And – of course a sniffer can get more information, theoretically. But using a sniffer is very rarely necessary if you have LiveHTTPHeaders. And you cannot replay a request with a sniffer (note that this feature also has its limitations but it is very useful nevertheless).

  15. Jakob Breivik Grimstveit · 2007-05-14 10:55 · #

    Nice to see your view on IE Tab and Fasterfox, amongst other things. Good thing to be reminded about Live Headers, will have to install that one again, even though I’m not a web developer anymore :-)

    Keep up the good work, both in regards to the blog and the extension development!

  16. Don Pedro · 2009-01-07 09:35 · #

    “I haven’t seen a single site that would not work with Firefox. ‘’ you wrote about IE Tab.

    Maybe you do not spent a lot of time surfing on internet !

    Unfortunately or not IE Tab is a must have .

    You miss lines or information on some sites.
    the owner login…if you do not install IE Tab the line about the VAT does not appear and you can’t fill the form.
    I asked them to correct it 2 years ago still the same.,problem etc…

    Even I could not complete this order without to install IE tab. (It was 2 years ago I did not check this year), I can’t send you money from this bank if IE Tab is not activated.
    Friendly regards

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