Due to it’s open source and collaborative origins as well as its standards compliance, the Firefox Internet browser is very easily extensible. This is hugely beneficial for users of Firefox as the already powerful core Firefox application can be extended to perform all sorts of additional functions. As the creators of Firefox extensions have substantial benefits to gain through making available good quality applications and functionality (such as showcasing their skills and gaining links to their websites), most of the extensions are available at no cost (i.e. free) at addons.mozilla.org
My Top 3
Listed below are three free extensions which I use often (there are well over 6500 Firefox extensions available):
TwitterFox: Twitterfox integrates Twitter unobtrusively into Firefox. A small twitter icon appears in the bottom right of the Firefox window from which one may post a Tweet as well as read others Tweets. As noted at http://twitterfox.net: ‘This extension adds a tiny icon on the status bar which notifies you when your friends update their tweets. Also it has a small text input field to update your tweets’. There are numerous other Twitter extensions (e.g. Twitbin), however I am more than happy with TwitterFox.
Shareaholic: As the Shareaholic home page (http://www.shareaholic.com/) says ‘Shareaholic is a free tool that enables you to quickly, and very easily share, bookmark, and e-mail web pages via a wide array of your favorite web 2.0 social networking, bookmarking, blogging, and e-mail services’. A convenient drop down from the menu bar allows sharing to a multitude of sites such as; Twitter, Facebook, Digg and reddit. I particularly like that using Shareaholic means that I only need a single visible icon in order to share and bookmark. Shareaholic is very similar to ShareThis and Tell-a-friend however has the advantage of being available for any web page due to being integrated into Firefox.
What about Other Internet Browsers?
Although the most popular Internet browser in general use, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, does not offer the extensibility of Firefox. This is likely due to limited standards compliance and propriety code (although IE8 makes strides towards standards compliance).
Google Chrome is gaining popularity rapidly and is likely the most significant threat to Firefox. Google has a history of collaborating with external developers and its products are generally standards compliant. Whether Chrome manages to wrestle market share from IE remains to be seen.
Safari by Apple has a very loyal following and is standards compliant however commands a small market share. Due to the small market share, producers of add ons and additional content are more likely to produce content for one of the market leaders (e.g. Firefox or Chrome).
Why is Standards Compliance an Issue
Quite simply, common standards (best practice) enables extension providers to concentrate their work on what they generally enjoy doing (creating functionality) rather than spending significant time on making the product usable on differing end-products. Most web designers and developers have encountered the frustration where they have created the web-site but pages display differently in Internet Explorer to, for example, Firefox.
As an analogy, just think what would happen if some cities decided occassionally to change on which side of the road traffic should drive. The number of accidents would increase substantially as confusion would reign. This is what web designers and developers are faced with; creating software that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Obviously web designers and developers are going to create content / extensions for products for a defined end-product rather than a changing environment.
Firefox has many extensions available to enhance user experience and functionality. Whether you are a web developer or a Twitter junkie there is likely to be an extension available to use. If there isn’t one available then why not go ahead and create one?