Browsing Tips and Tools From Hassle-Free PC

Back Up Your Bookmarks

If you're like most users, you've accumulated years' worth of bookmarks in your browser--a collection you definitely don't want to lose. Fortunately, it's a snap to back them up to the most logical place I can think of: the Web.

Firefox users should install the free Foxmarks plug-in, while Internet Explorer users can accomplish the same thing with BookmarkSync. These tools automatically copy your browser favorites to the Web, where you can access them from any PC (handy if you're working on someone else's system and need to recall a favorite) and restore them to your machine if the need ever arises.

Even better, both plug-ins can keep your bookmarks in sync across multiple PCs (home and work, for example), which is insanely handy. I've also used this feature to help with migration to a new machine, as it sure beats trying to manually dig up the browser's Favorites file, copy it over, import it, and so on. Foxmarks recently added the option to sync your passwords, another incredibly useful feature.

BookmarkSync and Foxmarks are freebies. I can't recommend them highly enough.

Filter Unwanted Web Sites with ScrubIT

If you run a household or small business, you'd probably prefer to keep your users from visiting x-rated and/or malicious Web sites (regardless of whether it's intentional or not). One of the best solutions I've found is ScrubIT, a "filtered DNS" that promises to block pornographic and harmful sites and even fix inadvertently misspelled Web addresses (which can lead users to the aforementioned).

To use ScrubIT, a free service, you simply configure your network router to use ScrubIT's domain-name servers (DNS) rather than those supplied by your ISP. If you're not comfortable poking around your router's settings, there's a small configuration utility that gets the job done (but it's compatible only with Windows 2000 and XP).

Once the configuration is complete, ScrubIT will automatically block any "adult" or potentially malicious sites--over 3 million in all, according to the site. However, you have no control over what sites get blocked, which is the only real downside to using ScrubIT over, say, content-filtering software. If you decide you don't like it, there's an "unscrubit" utility on the FAQ page that will revert your router to its original DNS settings.

This is a terrific solution for parents concerned about their kids' online activities, schools concerned about the same, employers trying to keep the workplace orderly, and so on. In fact, hey, the airlines could adopt ScrubIT for their new onboard Wi-Fi offerings. Just thinking out loud...

Bring the PermaTabs Extension Back to Firefox

Much as I love Firefox 3, several of my favorite extensions still haven't been updated to support the new version of the browser. Chief among them is PermaTabs, which lets you make any tab "temporarily permanent" (meaning it appears each time you run Firefox).

Thankfully, a coder by the name of Deos decided not to wait for the original developer to update PermaTabs, so he whipped up PermaTabs Mod. It functions just like its namesake, but works in Firefox 3. Happy day!

After installing the extension (which is free, of course), you can make any open tab "permanent" by hitting Alt-P. (You can also right-click a tab and choose Permanent Tab from the context menu.) Said tabs turn yellow so they're easily distinguished from regular ones, though you can choose any color by dipping into the Options menu.

Honestly, I'd be lost without this extension. I use it as a kind of temporary-bookmark feature, so I can easily return to sites I want to revisit in my next session. It's a must-have for Firefox users.

Toggle Between Two Firefox Tabs With FLST

I hate having to take my hands off the keyboard, like when I reach for the mouse to switch between tabs in my browser. It's particularly annoying when I have a bunch of tabs open and the two I'm hopping between are separated by a bunch of other tabs.

Enter FLST, or Focus Last Selected Tab, a Firefox extension that lets you hop between any two tabs using a simple keyboard shortcut (Ctrl-period). Alas, you can't customize the shortcut, but I find it extremely easy to hit while typing along.

For months I've been dismayed that FLST wasn't updated to support Firefox 3, at least according to Mozilla's add-ons site, but the version available directly from the developer's site (linked above) works just fine.

Now, savvy Firefox users will note that the browser has a built-in solution that's nearly as good: Press Ctrl-Tab to switch to the next tab, Ctrl-Shift-Tab for the previous tab. But that assumes the two tabs you're using are side by side. Sure, you can drag them next to each other, but that's an extra step. And you have to remember whether you need to go forward or back. With FLST, the same key toggles you between your two most recent tabs. For bloggers like me, that's crazy-handy.

Rick Broida writes PC World's Hassle-Free PC blog. Sign up to have Rick's newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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