Retooling in a Post-Firefox 3 World

Webmasters and web developers have a very intimate relationship with their browsers.  All the web developers I know use Firefox because they can customize the browser with an impressive array of extensions, plug-ins and add-ons.  It also doesn’t hurt that the browser is open-standards-friendly, and open source.

However, there are certain drawbacks to this heady cocktail of freedom and openness.  The extensions aren’t necessarily developed by the same team as the browser.  And when the browser people are ready to put out a new version, the extension guys might be busy doing something else.  Or they may have decided to drop the extension altogether.  And even if they do have a new version ready for your updated browser, it may not be available from the same place you got the original one; so the update won’t tell you about the newest version.  One way or another, you’re left with a big hole in your toolbelt, unless you can find something to replace the missing extension.

Here’s a list of some of my favourite Firefox extensions, and what’s happening with them in Firefox 3.  I’ll start with add-ons for general consumption, and move on to developer-specific tools.

BetterSearch 1.20
http://bettersearch.zottmann.org/

This is a lovely extension, and usually the first one I install on a new browser.  It enhances search results in a number of search engines, including Google, of course, with screen shots of the results pages.

FF3 Status: compatible.  (Yay!)

Tab Mix Plus 0.3.6.1
http://tmp.garyr.net/tab_mix_plus-dev-build.xpi

Absolutely essential to control every aspect of the behaviour of tabs.  For instance, when I click on a bookmark it opens a new tab for it and gives it focus.  The default behaviour (sans TMP) is the new page replaces the page you were just on.  The one drawback to TMP is that it has a ton of options, making it somewhat difficult to get acquainted with.  On the plus side, you can save your preferences to a file, and import it in another setup; making it a snap to configure new installations of Firefox.

Update 2008-07-27: The link I had up before was to the Mozilla add-ons page, which had the old  version of TMP, and wasn’t compatible with FF3.  The link I’ve just put up, now points to a development build of TMP which is compatible, but perhaps not as fully tested as you’d care for.  Therefore, I recommend you keep an eye on this extension, making sure it behaves properly.  You may also want to keep a look out for newer, stabler versions of TMP.

FF3 Status: compatible.  (Yay!)

Google Browser Sync 1.3.20070523
http://www.google.com/tools/firefox/browsersync/

As you move from your home computer to the office machine, to your parents’ desktop, to the laptop in the living room, don’t you wish you could carry your bookmarks, cookies, and passwords with you?  That’s exactly what GBS does for you!  It will quickly become indispensable.  However, keep in mind that it creates a huge security hole: anyone with access to a browser updated with your settings could easily access websites you frequent with your ID and password!  This is why I always (ALWAYS!) lock my computer when I step away.

FF3 Status: discontinued.  (So much for not being evil.)

I’m currently investigating alternatives.  Some have moved to del.icio.us.  Mozilla is developing a web services framework (Weave) which is supposed to do this and more; but it brought my MacBook Pro to it’s knees on a couple of occasions, so it’s outta here.  However, the next version is supposed to be out soon, and they claim to be working on the performance issues.  I’ve yet to try Foxmarks, but it only does bookmarks.  Film at 11.

GMail Notifier 0.6.3
http://www.nexgenmedia.net/extensions/

It sits in the lower right-hand corner of your browser window and lets you know when you’ve got GMail.  It’s simple.  It’s useful.  Why would you be without it?

FF3 Status: compatible.  (Yay!)

ScreenGrab 0.95
http://www.screengrab.org/

Terrific tool: Not only will it take a screen shot of the current web page, it’ll actually capture the entire page!  Even if it’s really long.  Plus, it’ll save it as a .png.  Can’t beat that with a stick.

FF3 Status: compatible.  (Yay!)

OK, that’s it for the civilians.  Onto extensions for web warriors.

Web Developer 1.1.6
http://chrispederick.com/work/web-developer/

Awesome extension gives you unprecedented control over many aspects of the browser, including forms, images, cookies, cache, JavaScript, and the list goes on.  Just a couple of examples of features I use everyday: outlines tables, showing you sites that still use table layout; and displays browser-inserted passwords in plaintext when you’ve forgotten them.

FF3 Status: compatible.  (Yay!)

User Agent Switcher 0.6.11
http://chrispederick.com/work/user-agent-switcher/

Brought to you by the same awesome dude who birthed Web Developer, Chris Pederick.  This handy little tool allows you to change the user agent tag your browser sends to the server when making a request.  Not something you’re going to need often, but handy when you do.  I wish he’d just incorporate it into Web Developer.

FF3 Status: compatible.  (Yay!)

MeasureIt 0.3.8
http://www.kevinfreitas.net/extensions/measureit/

Such a handy little tool: allows you to measure the size of a given element by stretching a box around it.  Doesn’t snap to a grid or anything, so you totally have to eyeball it, but its still very useful.

FF3 Status: compatible.  (Yay!)

ColorZilla 2 beta
http://www.iosart.com/firefox/colorzilla/

Another handy tool, this one’s main claim to fame is as an eyedropper tool to pick up the colour of any pixel on a page.  It will then format it in any of several standard ways for you.  It also has a dandy colour picker from a standard colour palette.  And, I just noticed a cool DOM colour palette analyzer.

FF3 Status: compatible.  (Yay!)

Firebug 1.2.0b4
https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/1843

I’ve kept the best for last.  If you’re a web designer or developer and don’t use Firebug, just pack up and go home.  Forget about web development and just sell used cars.  The Console shows you JavaScript errors, as well as AJAX calls and responses.  The HTML tab shows you the page’s source as derived from the DOM.  This is probably the most useful part of the tool: as you scroll over the source, the associated portion on the web page is highlighted.  Plus, you can go the other way: hit Inspect, and as you scroll over the web page, the source code is displayed and highlighted.  Hit the element you’re interested in and the code gets highlighted and sticks (i.e. you’re no longer changing the highlight by scrolling around).  There’s also an integrated JavaScript debugger, and a DOM explorer, as well as a function which shows how long each element of the page took to load.  Plus a new feature: a profiler.  Can’t tell you much about it: I just noticed it.  More as I play with it and research.

FF3 Status: compatible.  (Yippee!)

Well don’t just stand there gawking: go install some of these terrific extensions!  Play, explore, discover.

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