Nina's Stillwater Calendar

Saturday, February 24

4 Steps to a Better Browser

1. Install Firefox

For those of you still using IE, Firefox is faster, slicker, and leaner. As an added bonus, it comes with fewer features! Wait a minute, you ask, why is fewer features a good thing? Well, because it comes with fewer features. So you add only the features you want. Plus, any developer anywhere who wants a feature can write one and share it with everyone else. These new features are called add-ons.

2. Extend

Extensions are a type of add-on that add new functionality. I am usually too lazy to bother customizing my surfing experience to that extent. But a new computer looming on the horizon has lit a fire under me so I checked them out. Installing extensions is a painless process. Go to the page of the add-on you want, click the big green install button, and then do as prompted. It only takes 2-clicks and about 6 seconds. The install will ask if it may shut down Firefox. Don't worry, it will bring all your tabs back up just the way you had them, only with the new features added. These extensions are the best I found for my Internet use:

Better than copy-pasting into a Word Doc named Untitled every time

ScrapBook - ScrapBook is a left-pane browser, much like bookmarks, where you may "scrap" websites along with comments. You may scrap entire websites, linked material, etc...or just a highlighted paragraph. You may annotate, highlight, and comment on any scraps. And extra stuff, like linking to the original URL and viewing metadata are only 2-clicks away. The browser itself can be closed when not in use. The ScrapBook menu resides next to Tools and the browser comes back up with an easy Alt-K or 2-click menu selection.

For More Info
Quick 'n easy lookups

Research Word - Highlight a word or phrase then right click and select a site to look it up:, Wikipedia, etc. This requires a double-click to highlight, a right click to bring up the menu, a click to select the option, and a click to select the site you want for a total of 5 clicks. There are straight mouse-over options, but I prefer the lower profile and greater options this extension affords. And at 5 clicks, it is still better than opening a new browser, going to the site, and then copy-pasting over. If you primarily read websites that are not in your native language however, you may prefer a mouseover translation extension.

Map This - Highlight an address, right-click and choose Map This, and Google Map pops up. You may also set your home address and then choose Map To This from your right click menu to get driving directions.

Change - Double-click an amount in a foreign currency to see your chosen currency appear next to it in parentheses. I love this feature. When you install it you'll see a toolbar. Choose your currency and then get rid of the toolbar. It just clutters things up.

Custom Experience
Make your browser feel like home.

Menu Editor- Once you have all these sweet little features, your right-click menu will be quite a mess. Install this editor to customize your right-click menu and the menu bar at the top. You get to this toy through Tools->Add-Ons->Menu Editor->Options. Off the beaten path, but how often do you really need to use it? Then drag-and-drop to customize your menus to your heart's content. You can even move items between menus. For example, you can put "Bookmark This Page" onto your right-click menu. This really is a must-have extension. Bookmarks - is like your standard bookmark menu in the same way my Motorola Razr is like the rotary dial phone we had when I was a kid. The one I hated dialing 9 on because it took so long to finish rotating back around. is just more intuitive, easier to use, and lets you get ideas from other people who think like you. And this extension integrates your bookmarks into Firefox and keeps them in sync so you can access your bookmarks anywhere.

Gmail Notifier
- This is perfect for anyone who misses "you've got mail!" Discreet little Gmail icon sits in your status bar on the lower right with the number of new messages next to it. But I can put that same info on my system tray with a little app, oddly enough also titled Gmail Notifier. Then I can see it whether I am surfing or not.

Gmail Skins - Gmail is a dependable email service with an intuitive organization and storage structure and tons of space. But, like many great offerings (read: Firefox) it is slim on features.

This skin allows you to change the colors, menu location, scrolling, and tiger-stripe your inbox. You can also add your Google homepage as a column on the right-hand side. I didn't know such a thing as Google homepage existed until I installed this, but it is drag-and-drop customizable, like blogger. Mine displays Stillwater weather with Oklahoma and NPR news. To setup this extension just install and then go to your Gmail. There will be a link above your inbox that you click on to choose your settings. This link goes away once you are done.

This extension still has a few quirks, but is in active development with some very cool planned features. The biggest bug is that once you've chosen you're settings, you may not be able to edit them. Instead, you'll need to delete the settings, which are saved under labels as "gmskin:" and then go back to the main page. Basically this starts you over and the link at the top will be back.

Safer Surfing
Think of these as your online cannon fodder.

Magic Password Generator - Most of us pick an easy to remember password and then use it over and over and over. While this is convenient, it is also very bad security. A password generator gives you the convenience of one password with the security of unique and very strong passwords.

Here is how it works: You choose a master password, something you will remember. When you want to login somewhere, the generator does a hash on your master password and the domain that you are creating a login for to create a login password. A hash is a 1-way mathematical process, a type of encryption. Because it is 1-way, anyone who has the login password won't be able to recover the master password. So an identity thief who gets your login password only gets access to one of your online accounts. As an added bonus you have some protection against phishing. If you enter your master password on a bogus Bank of America site, the hash won't produce the same password as on the real Bank of America site because the domains are different. And because it is a straightforward mathematical process, every time you go to the real Bank of America domain to login, you enter your master password and the generator creates the same login password as the last time you were there. You just remember your master password and the generator does all the rest.

Of course, this sounds very technical, but once it is setup, it is push button use. So let's talk about setting it up. Install the extension like normal. In Tools->Add Ons you can select Magic Password Generator. Select options. Then enter your default username and email. The Magic Password Generator will auto-fill login information. Now right click on your toolbar and choose Customize. Drag and drop the padlock icon onto your toolbar. If you don't want this button, you can use the right-click menu.

If you are away from your home computer this handy little button won't be there. In that case you will need to use a bookmarklet (Firefox, Opera) or online form (IE). This password generator has both. I recommend saving the link to the generator in your bookmarks, your homepage, your blog, your email, or some other URL you will remember no matter where you are.

There are two things to consider before upgrading your security protections this way. The first is the start-up time. You will have to change all of your existing passwords that you want to use the generator with. This takes time, but, especially for financial records, is totally worth it. And you can't use the generator for passwords that you are required to change periodically since it will always generate the same password. The second is what generator you use, because once you choose one, you will have to change all your passwords again if you switch to a different hashing scheme. For example, there is an extensionless password generator, SuperGenPass, that operates as a bookmarklet and can be used anywhere. I find it too clunky for home use, but you may prefer it.

Little Things You Always Wanted
These features fix annoying little problems we all run into.

BugMeNot - Allows you to bypass compulsory web registration to view free stuff. Like signing up at a website just to view a news article. It's annoying and pointless since logging in doesn't give you personalized features and it doesn't cost anything. BugMeNot works by allowing any user to go someplace, make a generic login, and enter the info into BugMeNot. Then when other users go to the same place, they use the same generic login by right-clicking and selecting BugMeNot. Obviously, you don't use this to login to your email. The same folks have a coupon code sharing site called RetailMeNot that you can check out, but I have never used.

Extended Copy Menu - Adds two copy options to right-click menus: Copy as html and Copy as plain text. Not strictly necessary since there is a paste as plain text option, but still handy.

IE View Lite - Some websites just aren't optimized for the Firefox experience. IE View allows you to view those sites in IE, without opening up a whole different browser.

Resizeable Textarea - Allows you to resize some textareas for posting to boards or forums or whatever. You just mouseover the edge of the textarea and the cursor switches to a double-headed resize arrow. Operation is a little gummy at times. Specifically, it acts funny if I try to use a diagonal resize on Gmail's To: textarea. Works fine if I use the vertical resize. And right now there is this one particular spot left of middle of the blogger textarea where I get the resize arrow, but at least nothing bad happens if I click on it. Despite the gumminess, I think I could get to depend on this feature.

Nuke Anything Enhanced and Remove It Permanently - These allow you to right-click on some annoying object (typically flashing or moving ones) and get rid of them. You may remove them for this visit (Nuke Anything) or ask your browser to remember you don't like that object on future visits as well (Remove It Permanently).

Nerdy Features

Stuff only people like Scott will like. Warning: I haven't checked these out. They just look cool. And have really high user ratings.

ServStats - Check out other users' experiences with the server you are trying to connect to including failures, latency times, etc.

View Dependencies - Lets you view all files that were loaded in order to view the current page.

CookieSwap - Some websites (i.e. Google, Amazon) offer different search results or prices based on your browsing history. CookieSwap allows you to change between multiple cookie 'profiles' so you can see how this changes your search/shopping results. You may even hand edit the cookies to check for specific oddities.

About This Site - Right-click menu to view traffic information, references, previous versions, etc. This actually doesn't have any user ratings, but PC Mag named it a Top 15 Firefox Extension. If you care about what PC Mag has to say.

StumbleUpon - Basically channel-surfing for the web, StumbleUpon takes you around to random, well reviewed sites and quickly matches your preferences to which sites it takes you to. I haven't installed, not because I think I wouldn't like, but because I think I would like it to much. A reviewer called it crack.

3. Skin

Skins (or Themes) are another type of add-on. Add a skin to your browser to customize the look. These are as easy to add as extensions. Now you've got an easy to use and totally personalized browser. So just remember...

4. Don't Junk It Up!

Be careful not to install too many bells & whistles. They can make your browser unmanageable.

The Bad and the Ugly

Google Toolbar
- I love most everything Google does, so this extension came as quite a disappointment. The Google toolbar has tons of helpful features, but they are all done better, slicker, and less annoyingly by someone else. My biggest problem with the toolbar is the screen real estate it requires. Even if I want only two buttons and the search textbox, it insists on a whole 'nother toolbar.

1 comment:

Scott said...

Well Nina is feeling like her hard work is being under appreciated so I thought I would take a moment to inflate her ego. Nina I am generally impressed by the bravado that you showed in installing dozens of extensions for your review. Also I am looking forward to installing many of them on my new machine when it arrives. I especially appreciate that you provide the link for installing each extension in addition to your review. As far as the geeky ones go I think that I will definitely need to install 'About This Site'. Sometimes you just have to wonder how many people are reading the same goofy stuff ;). PS: Please be nice to your new computer, which is setup at the dining room table until you finish migrating over.