Ask Slashdot: Best Browser Extensions — 2016 Edition

Slashdot is running a discussion thread on what are the best browser extensions these days.  The comments cover a variety of browsers and all kinds of extensions.  The most popular are, of course, well know.  But there are a few gems here and there.

snooze_panel

For me personally, I’ve picked the Tab Snooze extension.  I’ve tried quite a few tab management solutions, and neither one of them fits my needs even though most tried (I want to run a single browser window, with dozens or hundreds of tabs open, but I want them to be organized into groups and hidden until later, when I need them).   Tab Snooze approaches the problem from a slightly different angle. It sets the reminder for when to reopen the tab, and once that’s done, it closes the tab.  You can find all snoozed tabs and open them before the due date, of course.

This works surprisingly well for me.  If only I could control the opening of the tabs with something like “17 tabs were woken up and are about to be open. Continue?”.  Currently, I get the notification and the tabs are open automatically, which is often not at the best time.  Waking up a lot of tabs can slow the system down a bit and get in the way of things on which I’m working at the time.

Firefox 29.0

It’s been a long time since I stopped being a Firefox fan.  Back when it was the only full featured open source browser, it was awesome.  But then the development slowed down, the browser started eating memory like a starving Godzilla, and daily application crashes became a norm.  On top of it, Google Chrome came out.  It was faster, cleaner, and much more stable.  It lacked the functionality bits and pieces, but all that was nothing compared to the speed, polish, and stability.  And as years went by, Firefox, it seemed, didn’t even try to catch up.

firefox-29.0

Today, my Fedora updates pulled in brand new and shiny Firefox 29.0 and the first time in years I am actually liking it.  The first thing that stands out immediately is the much cleaned up user interface.  The tabs look slick and main menu is moved into a single icon to the upper right corner, much like Google Chrome has it.  The menu is also reworked into a customizable area of icons, rather than nested text items.  The second important addition is the browser synchronization.  Once you create an account and enable the sync, your tabs, passwords, history, and forms will automatically synchronize between different machines.  That’s a very handy feature for those who have different home and office computers or some other scenario with multiple devices.

There is still a long road for the Firefox browser to catch up with Google Chrome though.  Two things that come to mind are the performance and the ability to install/uninstall extensions without restarting the browser.  But I sure appreciate all the hard work that went into this version.  After all, open competition pushes all products and the end user ultimately benefits.  It’s been a long while since there was a feeling of competition in the browser marketplace.  It’s good to catch a scent of that again.

Social Fixer – improved Facebook experience

Social Fixer – improved Facebook experience

Enhance Facebook And Remove Annoyances!

Social Fixer for Facebook plugs into your browser and improves the existing Facebook.com web site. You get to pick which features you want to use:

  • Filter your news feed by keyword, author, and more
  • Tabbed news feed organizes posts by games, apps, etc
  • Hide parts of the page you don’t want to see
  • Don’t show posts you’ve already read
  • Auto-switch to the Most Recent news feed
  • Add some style with custom themes
  • And much more! See the List of Features.

Pentadactyle Firefox add-on for Vim and Links addicts

Pentadactyle Firefox add-on for Vim and Links addicts

Pentadactyl is a free browser add-on for Firefox, designed to make browsing more efficient and especially more keyboard accessible. Largely inspired by the Vim text editor, the appearance and finger feel of Pentadactyl should be familiar to Vim users. Additional web-specific features, such as our ‘Hint’ mode, command interface, and key bindings to automatically follow back and forward links, make it easy to navigate without touching the mouse and give Pentadactyl a habit forming nature of its own.

Pentadactyl is a fork of the Vimperator project by most of its primary developers. Major differences include a 7-fold startup speed improvement and other speed improvements elsewhere, the command-line is hidden by default, better private mode and :sanitize support, better forward and reverse incremental find support, and the ability to separate multiple Ex commands with a |.

Rapid releases killed Firefox’s reputation

Via this LWN post I came across a very insightful blog post by Brian Jono, one of those many people who develop Mozilla Firefox.  In his blog post Brian talks about Firefox’s rapid release cycle and how it drove a lot of people to Google Chrome.  There’s nothing new to that.  But Brian’s post is a must read for anyone involved in software development – there are several lessons to learn.  Here are a few bits that I found interesting.

On updates in general:

I’ve been thinking a lot about the fundamental disconnect between the developers and the users. I think it comes down to: Software developers have a perverse habit of thinking of updates/new releases as a good thing.

It’s hard to convince a software developer otherwise: their salary depends on outputting a constant stream of updates, so of course they think updates are good.I used to believe it. Only after I heard from dozens of different users that the rapid release process had ruined Firefox did I finally get it through my thick skull: releasing an update is practically an act of aggression against your users. The developer perspective is “You guys are going to love this new update we’ve been working on!” The user perspective is “Oh god here comes another update, is there any way I can postpone the agony for a few more days?”

On changes to the user interface (UI):

So many companies release updates which radically change the interface for no significant gain — they seem to be moving sideways rather than forward, changing things around for the sake of change. Maybe their UI designers are bored and need to do something to justify their jobs, I don’t know. After years of aspiring to improve software usability, I’ve come to the extremely humbling realization athat the single best thing most companies could do to improve usability is to stop changing the UI so often! Let it remain stable long enough for us to learn it and get good at it. There’s no UI better than one you already know, and no UI worse than one you thought you knew but now have to relearn.

On competition-driven development:

I have another theory, too: When software companies get to a certain size, they start taking their users for granted. They start treating their users as pawns in a battle against some other company. Faceless millions. Gotta copy everything the other company does, or risk falling behind. So they end up doing everything the other company does whether the users want it or not, and probably doing a crappy job to boot.

On user loyalty:

Software companies would do well to learn this lesson: anything with the phrase “users love our product” in it isn’t a strategy, it’s wishful thinking. Your users do not “love” your software. Your users are temporarily tolerating your software because it’s the least horribleoption they have — for now — to meet some need. Developers have an emotional connection to the project; users don’t.

All software sucks. Users would be a lot happier if they had to use a lot less of it. They may be putting up with yours for now, but assume they will ditch you the moment something 1% better comes along — or the moment you make your product 1% worse.

There’s more.  Just read the whole thing, it’s well worth it.

Firefox 4 is awesome!

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I switched my default browser a few times already.  I went from Mozilla Firefox and Opera to Google Chrome and back a few times.  Recently, I’ve been very satisfied with Google Chrome.  The main advantage of it is that its super fast.  And the initial downside – extensions – got way better now.  There is pretty much any extension that I need.  Some extensions still have a bit of Firefox catching up to do, but overall, I’m covered.

Recently, Firefox 4 was released.  There has been quite a few improvements, especially in the area that concerned me the most – performance.  Firefox 4 is blazing fast.  Not as fast as Google Chrome, but pretty close.  But.  It also has a few things that I wanted for a long time and that Google Chrome doesn’t have yet.  Here are the two features that were a deciding factor for me to switch back to Firefox as my primary browser for the time being:

  1. Tab groups.
  2. Browser sync with support of the Android.

Tab groups is a feature I wanted for a really long time.  In fact, I’ve blogged about it back in October of 2007!  I was using hundreds of open tabs back than and not having groups was a real pain.  Now I am much more moderate with my tabs, but groups still make a lot of sense.  Have a look at the screenshot below.

With just a couple of clicks I can now group related tabs into groups.  When I switch between groups, in the list of tabs I see only the tabs open within the current group.  This saves plenty of time and confusion.  Also it makes keeping track of open tabs much easier.  Tabs can be dragged from one group to another group.  Groups can be renamed, rearranged, resized, and so on.  When I’m done with the task, I can close either a single tab or a whole group.  And I can even undo the closing operation on both.  Now that is the tool to boost productivity!

The new Firefox 4 also has the browser synchronization functionality, with which one can sync several computers and (now) even mobile devices.  You can choose what to synchronize and where. Bookmarks, history, passwords, form data, and even open tabs are supported! And this solves yet another problem for me.  I’ve been looking for an elegant solution to send URLs from my desktop to the mobile and back.  It’s a problem that I have on a daily basis.  And now it’s solved!  I simply installed Firefox 4 for Android on my mobile, enabled browser synchronization, and that was it.

With these new features in, and much improved performance, I don’t see any reason for why I shouldn’t switch to Firefox 4.  So that is exactly what I am doing starting today.

On a separate note, I have to once again highlight how important are competition and open standards.  Competition brings in the cutting edge technology and much improved end user experience. Open standards allow for simple switch between different implementations.  Kudos to all the open source developers, participating companies, and anyone else involved.  Keep it up guys!