Better browsing

by Eszter Hargittai on October 21, 2005

It’s been too long since we’ve had some geeky goodness around here. But wait! You don’t have to be a geek to appreciate and benefit from the following so read on regardless of your geek quotient.

I’ve been a big fan of Firefox since last Fall and given its wonderful features (better security [update: see comments for suggestions as to why this may not be the case], all sorts of functionality) I try to do my best to encourage others to use it as well.

In that vein, I have put together a page with a list of my favorite extensions. Firefox extensions are little programs that add features to the browser. Some of my favorites include being able to search for a street address without having to retype the address or pull up a map first, tabbed browsing, better use of browser space, etc. I know some of these features are available in other programs as well, but it’s great to have it all come together so nicely in one program. Feel free to list additional favorites in the comments to this post.

I have also put together a detailed tutorial on how to install the program (on Windows) for those who do not feel comfortable downloading programs. Feel free to pass along these page to your parents, cousins, friends, etc.

This Webuse.Info site contains some additional information so to recap:


UPDATE: Since the comments have gone in all sorts of directions, I have highlighted in green sections of posts that refer to additional extensions for those who want quick access to that info.



JM 10.21.05 at 10:34 am

Hooray for spreading the goodness of Firefox. It’s a testament to the extension authors out there, the sheer number of them making great little tools, that your list of favorite extensions and my list of favorite extensions only has a couple overlapping items.

My list (explanations for each at the link above) includes: BlogThis (for Blogger users), BugMeNot, DictionarySearch, ForecastFox, Gmail Notifier, GooglePreview, Greasemonkey, LinkChecker, Sage, Tab X, TinyURL Creator, Translate, Wiki-Quick-Find.


fyreflye 10.21.05 at 10:40 am

As an enthusiastic user of Firefox (for Macintosh)
I thank you. Being a security freak as well as
someone who hates online advertisements
let me also recommend Adblock (to kill those
ads) NoScript (to block Javascript
permanently or temporarily from untrusted
sites) CookieCuller (to control which sites
receive permanent cookies and which will
expire at the end of the session) and
Password Maker (which allows you to
produce excruciatingly encrypted passwords
for each password protected site, all of which
are recoverable with a single password.)

Avoid downloading any of the current Beta
versions of FF; each new version will disable
most of your extensions.


Daniel 10.21.05 at 10:41 am

any comments on the Google results announcements, Eszter? According to my evening newspaper, they’re claiming that 50% of all internet searches are done on Google. I seem to remember something you wrote a while back suggesting that they’re not actually as ubiquitous as they claim to be but I can’t seem to find it.


fyreflye 10.21.05 at 10:42 am

Oh, and I’m reporting the Crooked Timber site to the
Mozdev bug team for its messed up comments display.


Eszter 10.21.05 at 11:01 am

Jim JM – Thanks for the list. (I do have TinyURL creator installed, I forgot to list it. I’ll add it when I get around to updating the site.) I know about some of the others you listed, but have opted against using them. However, I’m sure they’re helpful for some people. (I don’t quite see the point of GMail Notifier given that – at least in Windows – you can see the number of new messages in the GMail tab or toolbar icon.) I have to add some of the ones you listed though, thanks! (Regarding the various search ones – dictionary, wikipedia – those can all be added through the use of ConQuery and Mycroft explained in the first point. But it may make more sense to break these out into separate items.)

Daniel – I don’t think I have ever said that Google’s claims are wrong. (I don’t recall seeing claims by them about their coverage or popularity.) My comments are usually about _others_ claiming the extent of their popularity.

As for percentage of searches, don’t forget that proportion of searches is not the same as proportion of searchERs given that a small proportion of very frequent searchers probably account for a disproportionate amount of searches. I talk about some of this in this piece. Which one is of interest depends on the questions at hand, of course. I tend to be more interested in the average users so I’m more interested in proportion of searchERs vs searhes.


JM 10.21.05 at 11:11 am

Hi, JM here (not Jim, I’m a girl) again. I use the Gmail Notified in lieu of installing the Google Toolbar, for the same reasons I use the dictionary search and wiki-quick-find extensions — I don’t tend to install bigger things when I only use wee parts of them, and those wee parts have their own light(er)weight extension. I know, I’m going to hell for not using the Google Toolbar, but I personally find it bulkier from a usability standpoint as well as in what it adds to the FF footprint (everyone’s MMV on that one, though), which is why for me the piecemeal approach works better.


Martin Bento 10.21.05 at 11:17 am

I don’t use Firefox because, as of the last version I have, they got rid of the excellent cookie manager in Mozilla. Hence, I still use Mozilla.


Daniel 10.21.05 at 11:18 am

ahhhh thanks very much.


abb1 10.21.05 at 11:18 am

No flashblock?


yabonn 10.21.05 at 11:29 am

People, people, people. Please. Learn that – for verily it is the truth – Opera is The Shiznit.

Definitely lacks Firefox’ open source coolness, but if you’re interested into tabbed browsing that helps and mouse gestures that work, it’s the best. And yes, i seriously tried the others, and the extensions, and the cool stuff.


william 10.21.05 at 11:32 am

I have a feeling that the “better security” advantage is going to conflict with the “increased functionality” advantage in the very near future. Extensions are already introducing vulnerabilities — the first link on that Google Search is to a Slashdot story about flaws in Greasemonkey allowing a web page to access data on your hard drive.

Additionally, the security model is changing. As people’s data migrates from the desktop to the web, protecting local data becomes inadequate. The trick will be to stop code on one site accesing another site, even another site that you’re looking at at the same time. Since so much of the functionality we love — bookmarklets, etc — depends on this cross-site access, it’s going to be a hard problem to solve. Firefox will have to face the same questions Outlook faced over the last few years — having started as open as possible to increase usability, it’s going to have to make some uncomfortable decisions about what to lock down.


Andrew 10.21.05 at 11:47 am

It doesn’t actually have better security than IE or Sahari or any other browser.
AS this says :’From March 2005 to September 2005 10 vulnerabilities were published for Microsoft Internet Explorer, 40 for Mozilla Firefox. In April-September timespan there were 6 exploits for MSIE, 11 for Firefox. Conclusion? As you can see, the facade that Firefox is the cure to the Internet Explorer security blues is quickly fading. It just goes to prove that any popular software worth hacking that has security vulnerabilities will eventually have to deal with live working exploits. Firefox mostly managed to stay under the radar from hackers before April of 2005.’

The reason it IE has had so many exploits is because it’s been so popularly used. As Firefox wasn’t used much when it came out it was relatively more secure. But as it’s popularity has grown, it’s been exploited at a very rapid rate. And the reason it has more exploits now is because it is actually inheritently less secure rather than more.


Eszter 10.21.05 at 11:47 am

JM – Sorry about that, I thought I saw an i in between j and m. FWIW, I don’t have the Google Toolbar installed either. I agree, I don’t need toolbars with lots of functions I don’t use. They take up too much space. And again, the ConQuery and Mycroft features add all those search functionalities to the right-click option, just fyi.


Chris W. 10.21.05 at 12:06 pm

Great! It’s great when people outside the geeky enclaves discuss this — there are still many internet users around who totally miss out on the great things that they can get for free from Firefox.

Interesting list. You don’t use the two extensions I’d take on a desert island: SpellBound (spell checking in input forms like this one, dozens of languages) and Scrapbook (save pages or marked passage, annotate, organizes from inside the browsers).

Next most important Adblock and “Link Toolbar”: (navigate in series of pages; I’m linking to this one because it’s hard to find[1]).

fn1. It works best when the site designer uses the appropriate “rel” attribute, like “next” and “prev” and “archive”, um.


Michael 10.21.05 at 12:12 pm

“From March 2005 to September 2005 10 vulnerabilities were published for Microsoft Internet Explorer, 40 for Mozilla Firefox. In April-September timespan there were 6 exploits for MSIE, 11 for Firefox”

That might be true, but in my experience it’s not the number of vulnerabilities but the type of vulnerabilities. Some are more dangerous than others. In the time that I have been using Firefox, I’ve encountered no truly malicious scripts, no spyware or other executable files, no hijacking of my browser’s features (search, home page, etc.), and no compromising of my system software. With IE, I had all of these problems. I’m frightened when I surf with IE, but not with Firefox. Having said that, the rising popularity of Firefox will indeed lead to an increase in security problems.

I also love Firefox because it is far more standards compliant than IE, and its RSS features and tabbed browsing are beautiful — and in version 1.5 (the beta for “Deer Park”), you can reorder the tabs by sliding them back and forth. That’s a great feature.


KCinDC 10.21.05 at 12:19 pm

SessionSaver sounds great, but if it’s incompatible with LiveHttpHeaders I’m afraid I can’t make the sacrifice. LiveHttpHeaders is essential for debugging in my work.


Andrew Brown 10.21.05 at 12:36 pm

None the less, “Opera” is quicker, smaller, and comes with the equivalent of all the really useful firefox extensions already installed.

Adblock, incremental search, customisable search bars, tabs, link toolbar, notes (scrapbook equivalent). All built in, and all work together. I have had endless pain with firefox extensons whenever I upgrade it. Opera just works.


Chris W. 10.21.05 at 1:11 pm

Different browsing habits need different browsers. There’s no one browser or broswer configuration that’s the best for everyone. (Though there’s one particular browser I can’t imagine being ideal for anyone.)

Opera is great. I used Opera 6 for all its life cycle, and still like it very much. But it’s a limousine, just like Mozilla (and of the two, I prefer Opera). Whereas Firefox is that top-of-the-range motorcycle you customize for your precices needs. If you have no idea what your needs are (or if you want a limousine), Opera is an excellent choice. I install it for my non-techie family members who use obsolete, underpowered computers.

I just can’t believe anyone would link to that Symantec security report without comment (and via that most level-headed of sites, Slashdot). Obviously Firefox will have security holes. Obvisously there will be people harmed by exploits. Here’s an “eWeek”:,1217,a=161360,00.asp article that puts it into perspective:

I asked Elias Levy, aka Aleph One, former moderator of Bugtrac and today, a Symantec architect. He told me that Symantec reported on the number of flaws that had been confirmed by the vendor.

“Mozilla is forthcoming about vulnerabilities,” Levy said, whereas “it takes Microsoft far longer to acknowledge vulnerability.”

How much longer? “In the last reporting period, the second half of last year, Microsoft had acknowledged 13 vulnerabilities. We’ve now revised it to 31. The difference is that now Microsoft has acknowledged these vulnerabilities.”

That’s more than double the number of problems Microsoft started with.

The article is short and explains very well why “number of vendor-acknowledged secuity holes” isn’t a useful measure. (And I’d rather have a browser that a doesn’t require me the right to control the data on my hard disk. See the MS EULA for SP2.)


Chris W. 10.21.05 at 1:13 pm

Sorry: “require me to sign away the right.
And “precise”.


Andrew 10.21.05 at 1:58 pm

I just can’t believe anyone would link to that Symantec security report without comment (and via that most level-headed of sites, Slashdot).
Whatever. My point is only that one cannot rely on a browser to be secure and that Firefox is not inherently (I spelled that wrong in the last comment :( ) more secure. I am sure as are many other people involved in the industry that if/when Firefox has as large a market share as IE that it will have as many or more exploits as IE does. If one is concerned about security, it is important to take initiative for one’s own self and not rely on the benevolence of software engineers who cannot always predict what hackers will try to do. I use firefox all the time and love the product, but I’d be fooling muself if I thought I could rely on it to protect me from malicious hackers who want to hijack my system and spy on me.


Alex 10.21.05 at 2:50 pm

Somewhat off-topic comment – been meaning to ask this for a while and this is as good an excuse as any:

Can anyone recommend a good open-source relational database? I work in a Wintel environment and am generally competent with MS office but have never made my peace with Access.

Thanks for any suggestions.


Andrew 10.21.05 at 3:00 pm

Ingresql and PostgreSQL are the most popular open-source relational databases. PostgreSQL is nice because it is an object-relational database which many people prefer. MySQL is a really great open source database that is extremely widely used and supported, however it doesn’t have all the features of a truly relational database nor does it have stored procedures or transactions. MySQL more than sufficient as a substitute to Access.


mikmik 10.21.05 at 4:06 pm

The vast majority of system security breaches is caused by PBCAK: Problem Between Chair And Keyboard. People let stuff into their system, it doesn’t have to break in.

I have never had a problem with Maxthlon, or Firefox – course I am far to ancient to go to the naughty sites any more, ;o]

Very, very good tutorial, I maight add!


Eszter 10.21.05 at 4:21 pm

Thanks, mikmik!

A reader writes in with a suggestion: FireFTP. It looks promising. It’s an FTP client that runs in just one tab of Firefox.

Re the open-source software thread, I’ll post something along those lines in the next few days.


novakant 10.21.05 at 4:25 pm

would have to agree with mikmik: don’t go to pr0n or crack sites, don’t click on flashy ads, don’t download anything you don’t want to, run MS Antispyware Beta and a good virus scanner weekly, when all else fails hit alt-F4 or pull the plug and you’ll be safe ;)

P.S. I like Avant Browser


jason 10.21.05 at 6:03 pm

I can’t believe that no-one mentioned the extension that, for me, puts FF light-years ahead of the rest: the Web Developer Extension. A-freakin-mazing…


A. Nony 10.21.05 at 6:19 pm

Opera 8.5 is it. Solid code that crashes only as often as IE or FF, both of which have been tried on this same install of – yes – Win98. Opera will also pretend to be either IE or FF so that exploit will attempt to attack IE or FF, not attack Opera, and fail. Works great. Also tres magnificent for trolls as proxy server logins are built right in.

RSS feed handling is top notch. Quick downloads of images is uniquely powerful feature, as is the opening of pages in background. A few glitches in the UI, the password wand, and image loading, but all appears to be on track for this to be The One.

Opera: There Can Be Only One.


ArC 10.21.05 at 8:14 pm

I’ve been using graphical browsers since Mosaic. Mozilla and Firefox were the first ones I used that didn’t allow Ctrl-O as an “open URL” command. I used to go in and hack the innards of Mozilla to fix this, but now Firefox has the much simpler Keyconfig extension, which I highly recommend if you’d rather adjust Firefox than your muscle memory.

I’d also recommend Bookmark Backup. It backs up the browse history as well, optionally, which is handy for me since Firefox regularly dumps all my history (known bug, I believe). With the backup extension, I only lose about a day’s worth of history rather than everything.


hugo 10.21.05 at 8:41 pm


Firefox was my browser of choice, but since I installed Opera I have no desire to go back.


jb 10.22.05 at 5:21 am

i’ve been tempted by opera, but the one extension that keeps me with firefox is, without a doubt, hit-a-hint. laptop users in particular should take note – it makes keyboard browsing not just practical but preferable.

currently, my “magic key” is semicolon and my link keys are asdfrvcexwqz. it’s worth a try, and it’s something that opera has yet to offer.


jb 10.22.05 at 5:22 am

oh, i’m also quite fond of fasterfox, which appears not to be mentioned yet.


Jon Moyer 10.22.05 at 2:09 pm

I use both Opera and Firefox — the latter because I’m a heavy blog reader and I slightly prefer Ff’s ability to load bookmark folders in tabs to Opera’s session manager.

But overall, Opera is my preference. My big complaint about Ff is what most Ff lovers claim is its advantage: extensions. The fact of the matter is that there are so many extensions and a very high percentage of them are either not very good, or can’t be relied upon to be maintained well (if at all). Just wait until your favorite extension fails to work with an Ff upgrade — it will be a very unpleasant *slapping forehead* moment.

It took me forever and a day to finally find a tabbed browsing extension (Tab Mix) that had most of the features I wanted, and could be configured easily. Just too much trial and error — I want to browse, not tinker.

With Opera, other than the session manager, there has been nothing that I have not been able to configure to my satisfaction, with a minimum of research, and I’ve been an Opera user for more than 5 years.


Alex 10.22.05 at 5:00 pm

Thanks Andrew, I’ll take a look.


Danny Yee 10.22.05 at 6:47 pm

Martin, it took me a while to switch from Mozilla to Firefox too, for much the same reason – the image and cookie handling in Firefox isn’t so good.

But now I use the AdBlock extension to manage images, and the CookieButton extension to manage cookies (I block by default, and enable for sites where I want/need cookies).


Robert Wiblin 10.22.05 at 9:03 pm

For better word processing give 2 a go. Just released yesterday. Completely free and open source: . It has replaced expensive Microsoft Word on my desktop!


james stevenson 10.23.05 at 10:36 am

It’s not just users who appreciate firefox. As a web developer, I cannot tell you how much nicer it is to design and code for Firefox. It’s probably somewhere around 95% compatible with the official CSS 2.1 spec, and the few places where it’s not are pretty minor. Compare this to the ridiculous number of CSS hacks one has to use, even now, when trying to get a page to look right in IE (hopefully, maybe, these will finally get fixed in IE 7). Even javascript and DOM standards are better supported. Safari and Opera are basically about as good in this respect, although there are still a few annoying CSS hacks in Opera. Check out the CSS section of QuirksMode for a good overview of the various bugs and gaps in IE’s CSS implementation vs. Firefox/Mozilla and Opera.
I second Jason’s enthusiasm for web developer. It’s absolutely indespensable if you make web pages. Another one I haven’t seen mentioned is refSpoof. It allows you to change the referrer header to any value you want. I was developing a simple PHP script that would direct users who’d come from a google search one way and everyone else another and this was a great way to test it.


Benedict Eastaugh 10.24.05 at 10:16 am

Eszter: the font element was deprecated some time ago.


Richard 10.25.05 at 6:59 am

See here for my list of suggestions.

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