Following in the footsteps of Firefox and Chrome, Apple this summer began allowing developers to create extensions for its Safari 5 Web browser and more recently launched its Extensions Gallery. The idea is to allow users to customize Safari in ways that make Web surfing more efficient and fun.
The gallery, a curated collection of extensions submitted by third-party developers, is similar to the company's App Store for iPhone and iPad software. As in the App Store, Apple picks which extensions get listed in Extensions Gallery based on how well they perform and the functions they add to Safari. Any developer can submit one, but if you look through Extensions Gallery, you'll notice many come from major media outlets or social networks.
Unlike the official Firefox and Chrome extension sites, the Safari Extensions Gallery doesn't have a separate page for each extension. Instead, they're all listed on a single gallery page, which is divided into several categories including News, Shopping, Productivity and Social Networking.
Like the App Store, Extensions Gallery features a simple one-step installation process. Click the Install Now button below an extension you want to try, and the extension is automatically downloaded, installed and activated. If the extension provides buttons, a toolbar or some other always-visible item, you'll see it immediately. If an extension doesn't work for you right out of the gate, try quitting and restarting Safari, but in most cases you won't need a restart.
If you want to delete or disable an extension, simply open Safari's Preferences, click on the Extensions tab, and locate the extension in the list box. You can click a checkbox to simply disable it -- leaving it installed for later use -- or click the Uninstall button to get rid of it entirely. You can also disable all extensions at once, leaving Safari in a clean state.
For many extensions, you can also specify preferences or settings. These vary depending on the extension and can involve anything from adding a username and password for a site to defining what information the extension displays and how it looks in Safari.
Beyond the Extensions Gallery
Unlike the process it uses for iOS applications -- which are only available at the App Store, unless you've jailbroken your device -- Apple allows developers to distribute Safari extensions freely on the Web. Even before Apple got its Extensions Gallery up and running, numerous Web sites and blogs popped up to offer less-restricted ways of finding and downloading extensions.
Downloading an extension from one of those alternative venues isn't quite as simple as the installation process at the Extensions Gallery, but it's not really onerous -- you download the extension's file, double-click to open it and confirm for Safari that you really want to install the extension. As with Gallery extensions, extensions from other sources can be disabled and deleted by using Safari Preferences.
Pimp My Safari, Safari Extendr, SafariExtensions.net and SafariExtensions.tumblr are great places to find a wide array of extensions, many of them offering features beyond those you'll find in Apple's Extensions Gallery.
With hundreds of extensions already available -- dozens in Apple's gallery alone -- finding those that offer useful features and work reliably is a challenge. We've rounded up 30 extensions, from both Apple's gallery and other sources, that make social networking a breeze, finding and reading Internet content more efficient, working with tabs easier, surfing the Web more secure and much more. All of them are free to download and use (although many of the developers welcome donations) and are available for both Mac and Windows machines.
Editor's Note: Safari 5 requires Mac OS X 'Leopard' 10.5.8 or 'Snow Leopard' 10.6.2 or higher, or Windows XP, Vista or 7. Extensions are not enabled in earlier versions of Safari.
More Safari extensions are being added all the time. Let us know your favorites in the article comments.
Tab, toolbar and navigation tweaks
Probably the best tab-related extension out there, Calle Gustafsson's Exposer adds a button to Safari's toolbar that pops up an Exposé-like view in front of the browser showing thumbnails of all your open tabs. This allows you to see exactly what's displayed in each one and easily switch to a specific tab by clicking it. If you routinely use tabbed browsing, this extension is a must.