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Joel on Software

My three favorite Firefox extensions

by Joel Spolsky
Friday, August 25, 2006

Here are three Firefox extensions I can't live without.

IETab

IETab takes advantage of the fact that Internet Explorer is available as an ActiveX control, which is available to be embedded in any Windows application, to open certain websites in Firefox using Internet Explorer. Whenever a website comes up complaining that you need to get "Netscape 4.0 or some other modern browser" you can just right click on the tab and it'll pop up right in Firefox being rendered by Internet Explorer. You can set up a list of websites that always come up in IE tabs:

Screenshot of IETab

This is extremely useful for Microsoft websites, SQL Reporting Services, and other Microsoft stuff that just hasn't been tested with Firefox (or degrades terribly, like the MSDN site.) You can also toggle a tab back and forth between IE and Firefox which is helpful when you're developing a website.

Web Developer Extension

Which leads me to Chris Pederick's Web Developer Extension (click the image to see the whole thing):

It is impossible to imagine developing web software without this. Probably the feature I use the most often is the resize menu, which makes it easy to check how your site will look on smaller screens. You can also use it to quickly turn off JavaScript, Cookies, CSS, etc., to make sure your site will work in these awkward conditions.

I'm constantly finding new features that make my life easier. Just yesterday I wanted to check that some code I was writing would work even if malicious users evaded the maxlength attribute of my <input> tags. It took me about 5 seconds to find the "Forms | Remove Maximum Lengths" command. Tada!

Adblock

Finally, for general browsing, I installed Adblock. This is a utility that lets you set up regular expressions of URLs that you never want to see.

Now, let me say, I don't generally mind advertisements on the web and I do understand that this is how sites support themselves. I don't have some kind of ideological opposition to commerce or advertising. Sometimes ads are the best part of the content: this month's GQ magazine has 100 pages of full-color, full-page ads before you even get to the first page of quote-unquote "editorial" content. That's why people buy the magazine. I guess. To see cute models wearing Izod Jeans. Did you even know that Izod made jeans?

Where was I. Oh yeah. I installed Adblock because flashing ads give me headaches.

It turns out this is not an accident. Human eyes and brain has evolved together so that your attention is drawn to things that move. Everything about vision is designed to force you to look at things in the periphery, like lions and snakes and stuff, that might be a threat. Of course, that's why the ads are blinking.

When you're trying to read a page with flashing crap in the corners, you can literally get a headache trying to drag your eyes back to the content that's not flashing. You're trying to defeat millions of years of evolution and it's painful. I'm sorry, but if websites and advertisers have so little respect for me that they are willing to subject me to headaches just to sell a few more dancing hamsters, well, to hell with 'em.


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