10 Firefox extensions for the workplace

I’ve been recently using my ff at work because I just can’t work with IE anymore. Seriously, I feel that I’m going 5 years backwards when I’m forced to use IE6 because of a design feature or some other silly reason. As a result, I’ve discovered and used a few extensions that although not necessary for the home user, make my job, much more comfortable.

I know that there are a lot of top <insert number here> firefox extension lists out there but I haven’t seen one that focuses on the workplace and to helping staff use their ff with the least set up. This is mainly why many of the ones I list here, have to do with synchronization of some kind. Coordinating your home ff to the one in your [tag]workplace[/tag] makes it very easy to later on move offices, upgrade your machine and generally have a uniform access without too much hassle.

The other part I’m focusing in, is allowing [tag]Firefox[/tag] to integrate better in a classic, strict windows environment, where almost no-one uses it, and thus everything is optimized for Internet Explorer. Switching browsers, enterring passwords etc are all things that get annoying if you need to do them all the time.

Generally, I have other extensions higher up on my necessary list. Extensions such as adblock and TabMixPlus are always installed first, just because they improve ff functionality so much more. Then some personal favorites like del.icio.us and forecastfox that I use regularly. These however, are in so many top 10 lists that they are just not worth mentioning once more and they’re pretty subjective for each person anyway.
The ones I’ve chosen to mention are generally not widely used and hopefully other workers will discover how useful they can be.

Note: Obviously, this list does not work very well in a Linux/Unix or Mac environment, but I believe you will still find many of these useful nevertheless.

So without further ado, here’s my home-made (or should I say work-brewed?) list of…

10 useful Firefox extensions for the workplace

IE TabIE Tab

This is an extremely practical [tag]extension[/tag] for use with an enterprise intranet, designed with Internet Explorer in mind. My company, like many out there, did not really take in mind the browser compatibility when designing the Intranet; afterall, there is a standard and approved browser for the enterprise and most people don’t know better, right? Well…not if you take into account IT professionals.
For me it’s doubly annoying to go to click on a link and figure out it doesn’t work or go to a page that informs me it’s compatible with “Netscape” (!? which millenia is this again?). Previously in those cases, the only solution was to copy the url, open an Explorer (which means a few extra clicks since to clear the desktop and find the shortcut), paste the url in the address bar and GO.

Now, enter the IE Tab. All I have to do is right click on the link and choose “Open Link in IE Tab” and voila.
Not only that, but if I’m already looking at a page and figure out that it’s not displaying correctly because it is IE “optimized” (AKA PoS) then I can just click on the little firefox icon on my statusbar and the tab will instantly be reloaded with the IE engine (and vice versa). Finally, the whole idea of IE in a tab makes the whole browsing experience so much more seamless as I don’t have to juggle multiple windows anymore, even for IE6.

Also, there is that very handy feature that checks where you log on and automatically chooses the engine based on some rules you’ve set up. So if you have a page that only works with IE, you don’t even need to right-click and choose. Just add the site to the rules and when you connect to it, firefox will automatically load the IE engine for this tab.

There are some other features as well, but I think that I need to talk about the rest now :)

AutoAuth

I am especially annoyed by having to enter the same proxy password again and again when I open firefox (or IE for that matter). Something that becomes more annoying when firefox loads my previous session of 6 tabs along with some externally synchronizing extensions, I’m left with 8 password dialogue windows that I have to press OK at (assuming I’m using a master password, otherwise I’ll also have to fill them in as well). Not only that but when ff tries to update add-ons, it can’t because the proxy password is not enterred.

I initially installed AutoAuth to avoid enterring my details on the multitude of sites I check in every day. I soon discovered that I now don’t have to manually approve authentication to the proxy anymore, or to any other internal authentication system for that matter. Just open the page and I’m in. In conjuction with a Master Password and the following extension for added security, this takes away just one more type & click need.

Master Password Timeout

This is an extension that serves for that extra security. Just in case you have not set your screensaver to lock your computer and/or you forgot to set it to activate after a short amount of time. Now you can be rest assured that people won’t be able to login to your profiles and change your passwords and steal your dataz from the intarwebs. At least not on the sites that you don’t have a cookie ;)

Password Hasher

I pretty much explained why this is great in a previous post, but as an added bonus, you now have your password synchronized everywhere (since you only need to remember the master key that is) . Also, if you want you can use the extenstions export-to-html feature to generate a page that you use to generate strong passwords for other places that firefox can’t reach, such as an internal oracle db (generally not a good idea for windows passwords since you don’t have a way to generate the password while logged out).

Google Browser Sync

Google Browser syncThis is a great tool to keep Firefox on your work and personal computer, well, synchronized :) I don’t know how many people use it yet, but being able to have the same bookmarks on both, in a non-disruptive way, has become one of my favorite gimmicks. Not only that but as an added bonus I can have the same cookies, passwords and even open tabs on both as if it was the same computer. No more emailing links to yourself to read later or put them through del.icio.us.

When using this extension, keep in mind not to put intranet links on your bookmarks (if you don’t want them synced that is) as there isn’t a way to exclude specific bookmark folders (yet) . I personally use the next extension for this exact reason :) Also I suggest you first clear out your bookmarks on the new machine so as not to mix things up. I originaly did the mistake of activating the sync after a few months where my home and work computer had a completely different set. I ended up horribly messing them up on both.

Plain Old Favorites

Plain old Favorites

As I mentioned before, it always irked me that after using the previous extension, my home bookmarks where getting messed up. This became even worse when at some point I sat on a third computer with an old bookmark set that ended up mixing things one more time.

I found this solution to be much more organized. Now I can keep all my intranet or job specific bookmark on the side where they do not affect anything. Not only that but if I need to use Explorer later on, I do not have to import anything back. All changes I make to the favorites are visible for both browsers. It’s even got the same editing menu as IE (not that that is a great thing but anyway)

The only problem I’ve seen until now is that the context menu does not allow me to open a favorite in an IE Tab. Hopefully the feature of IE Tabs to open the correct engine by a site filter comes to the rescue.

Gmail Manager

Gmail ManagerChecking external mail has become sort of a short and frequent litany for many people, especially ones that do not like to merge their personal mailbox with their work one. However, it doesn’t look very good to be seen checking your mail all the time so this is an appropriate workaround. Gmail is also the superior free mail account at this moment of time and the most extendable no less, so this extension has a lot of features that you might find useful.

As an aside, I also prefer to use this instead of having gmail open in a tab, mostly because I do not like being logged in to gtalk from there.

And since we’re on the subject of gmail…

Better Gmail

I will not go into a lot of praise or details on this extension since you can already find many such reviews if you look around the internets. However the point where I especially like to use this extension on the workplace because it gives me a quick way to send emails from “mailto” links on the intranet without having to copy the address -> open Gmail – go to “Compose” > and paste the address. Otherwise my default mail client pops-up which uses my business mail address that I do not want.

This is of course just the icing on the cake since this extension is absolutely great for anyone that prefers to use Gmail’s own control pannel (as opposed to downloading everything through pop).

Foxy Proxy

If you access the internet through a proxy, like most enterprise environments do , then you either have to put the proxy information by hand or use an proxy configuration script provided by your IT department. Most of the time the first is not enough and the second is either non-existent or difficult to find.

Foxy Proxy gives you much more flexibility than the simple firefox configuration. Now you can have as many proxies set up as you like and by using the filtering patterns you don’t even have to select a proxy to use every time. You just set the default proxy for the internet and create another entry for the direct access with a whitelist of all the internal urls. If your organization uses even more proxies (say for anonymous access etc) then it’s even better for you.

If you are tech-savvy enough you can even set your private tor and run it behind the firewall for personal anonymity.

Tidy Meebo

Lets face it, everyone uses instant messaging these days and having your MSN, ICQ or whathaveyou blocked by those pesky firewalls is annoying. So what better way to access your network than to log in through Meebo? Once you login, all you have to do is pop all your windows out, protect the meebo tab (so that you don’t close it by mistake) and the the window sit on the background as a normal IM client…Well, there are those annoying ff status bars and location bars that make the whole thing look fake aren’t there? This extension solves exactly that. ;)

Yes, I know that this extension is probably completely unnecessary but I like it and at the least some more people might discover meebo from it ;)

Runner ups

Ghostfox

For those that are afraid of people looking over their back etc. This little extensions attempts to hide firefox when your mouse moves away from it’s window and then recover it in an “embedded mode” after a secret mouse maneuver. Only really necessary in extreme situations.

Google Reader Watcher

Similary to the Gmail Manager, if you like to keep up to date on various news but don’t want to have a tab open all the time and/or check the page frequently, you can use this discreet extension to keep an eye on the new items and head there when there is something to look.

And generally the Google Reader functionality is, as always, googlicious.

Foxmarks

A lite alternative to the Google Browser Sync. If you’re only interested in syncing bookmarks I believe this is a better option and to tell you the truth, I still use both (got burnt one too many times by the Google sync). The feature I like most about it is that you can force your browser to discard it’s current bookmarks and just download the ones you have online. An excellent option for a new Firefox installation.

Extras

Now that you have some nice extensions to make your job a bit easier, you might be interested in these simple tips that I’ve found useful as well.

Theme

I find it generally a good idea to have Firefox not stand out too much from the general desktop. If you use a colourful theme like BlueIce, you just scream to anyone throwing a glance at your side that you’re browsing the net. Even if the only thing you’re doing is checking some information on the Technet. I’ve personally found out that a discreet and integrated theme goes a long way to avoid attention. To this end, I’ve used Outlook 2003 Silver to camouflage ff as IE and then turned on WinXP’s silver theme. Obviously if you don’t care about this, use the Nasa Night Launch theme with impunity ;)

Size

If a lot of people are moving behind you, as in an open area, then reducing the size of firefox to a small window might help reduce attention. I’ve found that the best place to place ff to is Outlook’s preview window while modifying the size to the same as the window, remove the navigation and bookmark toolbars, and ff is now almost completely invisible, unless you open a fancy website ;)

Epilogue

So, that’s basically it for my personal top ten ;) I hope that some of these might be actually useful to anyone other than me.

Of course, if you have any more ideas for extensions that might come in handy, feel free to send me a link.


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