20 must-have Firefox extensions

These plug-ins give you souped-up functionality, better look and feel, and streamlined development tasks. And some are just plain cool.

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Visual improvements

Firefox Showcase

Firefox Showcase is a great extension both because of its usability and because it takes away one feature advantage that Internet Explorer 7 has over Firefox: the ability to display thumbnails of all open windows and tabs.

Once you install the extension, you'll have a new Showcase submenu under the View menu. From here you can choose to show thumbnails of all tabs in the current window or all tabs in all windows. (IE7, incidentally, only shows thumbnails of the tabs in a particular window.)

Additionally, you can choose to show these thumbnails in a new tab or in a floating window.

Firefox Showcase doing its thing.
 
Firefox Showcase doing its thing. (Click image to see larger view)

You also get new options under the Sidebar submenu: a choice to open tabs from the current window, or from all windows, in Firefox's sidebar. No matter how you choose to display the thumbnails, once you do, clicking on one of them takes you to that window/tab combination.

In some ways, this extension is too complex for its own good. You can safely ignore most of the options and just use the extension in its default configuration.

If you habitually find yourself awash in open tabs, clicking around looking for the page you need, Firefox Showcase will save you a lot of aggravation.

Version reviewed: 0.9.2.1

addons.mozilla.org/firefox/1810

Cooliris Previews

This interesting extension allows you to preview a Web page before clicking off the one you're on. After installing Cooliris Previews, a small blue icon will appear next to any link you hover your mouse over. Slide the mouse over to that icon and a window pops up containing the destination page. For all intents and purposes, you're on that page, except if you move the mouse off the icon and the pop-up window, the preview vanishes.

At the top of the pop-up window are some additional icons that let you lock the window open, open the preview into a new tab, e-mail it to a friend (though this requires registration at the Cooliris Web site), close the window or use a Back button. (You can surf around in the preview window, ergo the Back button.)

A Cooliris preview of a YouTube video.
 
A Cooliris preview of a YouTube video. (Click image to see larger view)
It is in some ways more neat than useful, but for certain sites, such as YouTube, the preview is enhanced. If you preview a link to a YouTube page, only the video opens in the preview window.

In addition to the Preview feature, Cooliris adds a context-sensitive search feature to the right-click menu. Highlight a word or phrase on a page, right-click, choose Cooliris Search and select either thefreedictionary.com, Google Images, Google Search or Wikipedia to search on the highlighted term. If you hover the mouse pointer over any of these four selections, the results will display in a preview window. If you click, they'll open in a new tab.

If you find the preview icon is getting intrusive, you can easily disable previews by clicking an icon in the status bar. You can also disable/enable previewing on a site-by-site basis.

Version reviewed: 2.1

addons.mozilla.org/firefox/2207

Colorful Tabs & ChromaTabs

Colorful Tabs is pretty basic. It colors each of your tabs using lovely pastel colors. After a long day of research, this becomes more than just something pretty and can make life easier on tired eyes.

Colorful Tabs is a sight for sore eyes. Tab colors are assigned randomly.
 
Colorful Tabs is a sight for sore eyes. Tab colors are assigned randomly.

The version reviewed requires Firefox 2.0 or later. Version 1.4 of Colorful Tabs will work with earlier versions of Firefox. See the link for more details.

Version Reviewed: 1.9

addons.mozilla.org/firefox/1368

ChromaTabs is in many ways similar to Colorful Tabs. The difference is that ChromaTabs determines a tab's color based on the hostname in the URL. For instance, any tab displaying a Computerworld page might always be a light green color. If you surf away to a different site, the tab's color will change.

ChromaTabs looks similar, but its tab colors are assigned based on domain name. In this example, all tabs showing a <i>Computerworld</i> page would appear light green.
 
ChromaTabs looks similar, but its tab colors are assigned based on domain name. In this example, all tabs showing a Computerworld page would appear light green.

Version reviewed: 1.0

addons.mozilla.org/firefox/3810

It's a personal preference, really. Colorful Tabs assigns tab color at random, and as long as a tab stays open, its color remains the same, no matter where you surf. With ChromaTabs, the colors shift (and some might not be very appealing), but after a while you can tell at a glance where a Computerworld page is loaded just by scanning for that light green color.

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