Tuesday, September 2, 2008

SAM Goes Back To School, Part 2: Top Firefox Add-Ons For Intel Studies Students

One of the basic tools of an intel studies student's life is the internet browser. Everyone has an opinion, of course, but for my money Firefox 3 is the best choice. I have come to really like the flexibility of Firefox for the project-based work we usually find ourselves doing and have become increasingly impressed with the new features on Firefox 3 (introduced back in June).

  • Beyond Firefox 3, of course, there is Internet Explorer 7, Safari, and Opera. I like Opera the best of the three (particularly for cell phones) with Safari a close runner up. IE 8, which should improve on the current browser, is still in beta and Google's addition to the browser wars, Chrome, is not due out until today. There are, of course, other browsers out there and anyone with strong preferences is welcome to post to the comments...
One of the things that makes Firefox such a great browser is the ability to customize it using add-ons. There are add-ons for every conceivable purpose so I will only highlight the ones here that multiple students have found very useful in the past. In addition, Firefox 3 built a number of traditional add-ons from Firefox 2.0 into the browser itself so there is no need to install them.
  • Zotero or Scrapbook. Both are very good ways to store and retrieve web pages for research purposes. Zotero is a little more complicated but is very useful for writing academic style as well as intel style papers (Zotero integrates easily with MS Word which makes including citations and bibliographies in papers a breeze). Scrapbook is easier to use but does not have the power that Zotero has. Because of Zotero's ability to help students in both intel and non-intel classes, we require the use of Zotero in our freshman Advanced Intel Analysis class.
  • IE Tab. IE Tab allows you to see content that is typically only viewable in Internet Explorer in Firefox. There aren't many sites where you need this tab but some troglodytes out there still insist on optimizing their content for IE only. In these cases, IE Tab is invaluable.
  • McAfee Site Advisor, Web Of Trust or Netcraft Toolbar. When poking around the internet you are almost certain to come across what might look like a suspicious website. All of these add-ons provide you information to help make an informed decision. I use McAfee Site Advisor and Web Of Trust has come recommended by a source I trust (Thanks, Megan!). Netcraft Toolbar is another such add-on (targeting phishing attacks in particular) that comes recommended to me.
  • Morning Coffee. This add-on allows you to bring up a whole menu of websites with a single click. It is particularly useful if you are working on a project and want to monitor a number of sites routinely and simultaneously.
  • Adblock Plus. Tired of annoying ads on pages? Adblock Plus gets rid of them.
  • Forecastbar Enhanced. Gives you a complete weather picture whenever you want it. Particularly useful in places where the weather can shift from one extreme to another within hours (like Erie...).
  • Ubiquity. I almost put this one first. It is one of the most advanced tools I have seen for Firefox. My only hesitation is that it is in extreme Alpha status right now (but getting better quickly!) and it requires Firefox 3. What does it do? Just about everything. Check out the video below.

This is a short list of the add-ons that have been repeatedly recommended to me over the last year. If you have others, please post a link to the comments!

Related Posts:
SAM Goes Back To School, Part 1: Wake Up!


Anonymous said...

I've found ShareThis (http://www.sharethis.com) to be extremely useful for people who send links to one another, whether for research or just for giggles. It has a Firefox plugin that puts a button on your toolbar that allows you to instantly email a link to the page to anyone you like.

CS said...

AdBlock Plus is not only extremely useful for taking out all sorts of ads from websites (including those annoying Flash ads that play loud sound effects), but it can also help to protect you from viruses that sometimes get embedded in ads.

It doesn't work 100% of the time, especially with pop-up ads, but it does the vast majority of the time.

Anonymous said...

Students need to be very careful when using Firefox add-ons with a Mac computer. Portable Firefox doesn't work with it, and there are a number of issues with Zotero if you are trying to transfer information between a PC and a Mac via flash drives. If you really want to use Zotero on your Mac, make sure you originate and keep that information in the same place.

Pat said...

I have been using the Groowe Search Toolbar add-on for some time and I strongly recommend it. It not only let's you toggle through a large assortment of search engines using one search window, it provides a separate set of buttons with each search engine. For example, the Google bar offers buttons that take you to Blogger and GMail, as well as Google News and Google Images. It also offers to highlight your search terms. Dictionary.com offers buttons for Dictionary, Thesaurus, and Encyclopedia. I use Groowe exclusively for searches in Wikipedia, IMDB, YouTube, Clusty, and quick searches of eBay. Groowe also lets you fashion your own search buttons, but I'm not savvy enough to do that yet.

As for IE Tab, don't forget to use IE Tab options in Firefox's Tools pulldown menu. You can set a website to always use IE Tab on future visits. Alas, some sites, like Netflix video streaming, don't work with IE Tab.