A couple of days ago, I wrote glowingly of a little program called Darkroom, which is a simple text editor that blacks out my screen and gives me a non-distracting interface so that I can concentrate on my writing. Darkroom is an example of what’s coming to be known as “zenware,” an attempt to get us away from the clutter of our desktops and back to using computers as tools, rather than allowing them to control our lives and every thought.
I’ve run across an exception problem in Darkroom that involves the .NET framework and seems to make saving some documents problematic. (It may also have to do with the It’s All Text extension mentioned below.) So far I’ve been unable to work around it, despite removing and replacing the Darkroom program with a fresh download. When I get around to it, I may refresh .NET as well. I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, I can’t really continue to recommend it since it might be the cause of a data loss.
You can achieve a similar effect in many other editors by reversing the color scheme in the window and going to full screen. I really like the effect, and the removal of distractions. You might give it a try.
Anyway, I wanted to mention that and throw in the link about zenware before getting on to the subject of this column, which is the ever-popular Firefox extensions. (Oh no! Not THAT again!)
I recently uninstalled a whole bunch of the things, because while Firefox was doing its usual exemplary job of browsing and supporting me generally, it was taking waaaay too long to start up and shut down. Even with Google Browser Sync and several other add-ons disabled, it was the same deal — and we’re talking a fast computer with a lot of RAM.
I was brutal: if it wasn’t necessary to my online way of life, or if I used it so seldom that I could occasionally drag out something else, or go to a web page directly to accomplish the same thing, then it was a goner. There were a lot of goners, among those already disabled and those I’d been currently using. Unfortunately, I failed to write them down before I uninstalled, so I can’t tell you what they were. I can, however, tell you the survivors, and why I kept them.
del.iciou.us Bookmarks: Allows me to access my bookmarks online, and download them to Fx, on any computer running Firefox and the extension. That’s cool, but mostly it was because it puts buttons on the menu bar and commands on the context menu so that I can post any link I like with just a click or two.
Flashblock: Gets rid of all those annoying flash objects and replaces the. with a button you can click to view if you like (especially helpful if you have a slow connection — those suckers take forever to load over dialup).
Forecastfox Enhanced: Puts weather, including radar, a mouse-over away in the status bar. Be sure to get the enhanced; there’s also a plain old Forecast fox that has fewer features.
FoxClocks: The handiest multi-zone clock I’ve seen. The adjustments used to be a bit Byzantine, but they’ve improved. Now it even shows cute little country flag icons. The writer gets extra points for resisting the temptation of “FoxClox.”
Gmail Manager: Gmail-wise, the only way to fly.
Google Browser Synch: I use this for bookmarks only, although it will do a lot more. It’s handy when you move between computers, as I do twice a day.
Google Toolbar for Firefox: Get it off the Google site. If you don’t want the full toolbar, my article here explains how to customize your Firefox toolbars to save space and incorporate buttons from GooBar.
ImgLikeOpera Allows me to block images on web pages (see “Flashblock”), speeds surfing, and works extremely well. You can choose no images, cached images only, images native to the site, and all images. Excluded images appear with a click.
It’s All Text: A new one that I’ve only been using a few days. I have trouble imagining how I got along without it. When you’re replying to a blog, commenting, or filling in any text field, you can click on a little icon that appears near the field (or right-click and use the more sophisticated drop-down menu). Either will open the text editor of your choice, so that you can write in comfort instead of trying to compose in one of those dumb little boxes.
When you’re done, you can save to both your hard drive and the text box, or to the text box alone. It’s convenient, fast, makes entering text ever so much more pleasant, and if you save to the HDD it avoids those glitches on websites that cause the hair-tearing at least once a week when you lose your post.
McAfee SiteAdvisor: Available for both Firefox and that other browser. You should have it. Period.
Notefish: The best online note-saving system I’ve tried. For larger documents I like Google Notebook and Google Documents, but for speed and ease of use, Notefish is da bomb!
Scribefire: Integrated blogging editor and posting agent. Takes care of an easy 95% of my posting, without opening the blog site. Handles most common hosted blogs such as Blogger, WordPress, etc.
Tab Mix Plus: Takes tabbed browsing out of the dark ages and makes it the only way to go. (Several features are in the newer editions of Firefox, and several more will be in Fx 3.0, but for now…)
Tiny Menu: Combined with a lightweight theme, it saves a bunch of browser real estate. Takes all the menu selections from the top bar and combines them into one drop-down, freeing the bar for other customization. See the article on Firefox Real Estate.
TinyUrl creator: Integrates the TinyUrl URL-shortening tool into the browser. Messes like
http://www.google.com/search?q=zenware& sourceid=navclient-ff&ie=UTF-8& rls=GGGL,GGGL:2006-19,GGGL:en
These are extensions that I use every day. The dozen or so that I uninstalled were either used very seldom or, essentially, unnecessary answers to nonexistent problems, as my friend the late Col. Jeff Cooper used to say about unrelated issues. You might want to check out your Add-ons menu. Disable the things you don’t often use, and if you haven’t missed them after a week or so, uninstall. Firefox will load faster and be more responsive.
Extensions for Firefox and other Mozilla products are available here.
Note: a friend who is testing Firefox v. 3 says that it is much faster than 2.x.x and uses fewer resources. That’s a good thing. People are always complaining about Fx being a memory hog, and slow in comparison to Internet Explorer. It’s necessary to remember, in that regard, that IE is a part of Windows; thus, much of its engine is already running when you invoke the browser. Firefox, being a stand-alone program, is slower to load and — yes — uses more RAM, but probably no more than Internet Explorer would if it didn’t have Windows to lean on. When it comes to rendering speed, the servers make far more difference than the browser.