Making the web a better place
Using your PC for desktop software like Microsoft Office and Photoshop is nice, but the cold, hard fact is that most of the time our PCs are just glorified browser launchers. So much of what goes on in our lives these days lives on the web, whether it’s our social networks, email, financial dealings, or simply catching up on the day’s news. That’s why it pays to trick out your browser with extensions that make it easier to live online.
Here’s a look at 25 browser add-ons and extensions that will make your browsing experience smoother, easier, and far less problematic.
Lazarus Form Recovery
We’ve all been there: You start filling out a form online and then you have to leave it to come back later, or the server times out. It sucks to have to fill out all that stuff again.
That’s where the cheekily named Lazarus comes in. This extension saves the data you’ve entered into web fields so that in case of a mishap, you don’t have to re-enter all that information again.
Web clipping and annotation
AdBlock Plus was once the gold standard for stopping ads from intruding on your browsing experience, but many people have turned sour on the extension thanks to its advertising whitelist that allows some ads through. If that’s your objection, then the newer uBlock might be a better option for you. This lightweight browser extension has some serious ad-blocking chops and allows you to customize the filtering to your preferences.
Supporting SSL/TLS encryption is becoming the de facto standard on major websites and services. There’s even a push to get smaller sites up and running with HTTPS. Despite all that, however, there are still many sites that default to the insecure HTTP instead of HTTPS—meaning every interaction with that HTTP site is potentially viewable by passive eavesdroppers.
That’s where the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s HTTPS Everywhere extension comes in. It forces your browser to connect via HTTPS whenever you visit a site that supports the encryption method.
Browsers: Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, Safari
The only realistic way to manage your online life securely is to use some kind of password manager, whether it’s a piece of paper, a desktop app, or your browser. Doing so ensures you’re able to use strong, unique passwords for every site you visit. The most convenient way—by far—to manage your passwords is with a browser extension like Dashlane or LastPass.
Sure, LastPass just had a big security breach, but the company handled it well and so far it appears the damage will be minimal. As long as your master password is hard to guess and you enable multi-factor authentication, you should be just fine.
Social Fixer for Facebook
This browser extension doesn’t do just one thing. It’s more like a toolbox to give you more control over your Facebook feed.
Some of the primary features it adds by default include a tabbed news feed to easily sort through read and unread items, a scrolling list of all your pages, and a full-size preview of images whenever you hover over them. Social Fixer doesn’t show up in your Chrome browser the way extensions typically do. Instead, it appears as a new option whenever you login to Facebook.
Privacy Badger from the Electronic Frontier Foundation is an aggressive privacy-protecting tool that destroys third-party cookies and other trackers that try to follow you across the web, building a dossier of your habits for advertisers.
The extension sends a “Do Not Track” header request to every webpage you visit. Unfortunately, many sites and advertisers choose to ignore this request. Privacy Badger is designed to figure out if that request is being ignored and if it is: Chomp! The cookie gets eaten, ‘cause Privacy Badger don’t give a flip about advertising!
If you need a VPN but don’t want to use a desktop app that can sometimes be slow to start-up, try Tunnel Bear’s Chrome extension—it also works with Chromebooks.
Instead of a true-blue VPN, Tunnel Bear’s extension uses a proxy that affects only your web browser and may be ineffective on some region-blocking sites such as Hulu. Free users only get the usual 500MB per month, while subscribers can use the extension just as though they were using the desktop VPN. Tunnel Bear is Chrome-only for now, but the company says a Firefox extension is in the works.
Vimium takes inspiration from Vim, the keyboard navigation-centric plain text editor, and applies it to web browsing. Admittedly this is a little on the hardcore side, but if you take the time to learn even just a few of the keyboard shortcuts contained in Vimium it will dramatically increase your efficiency.
Vimium allows you to do almost all of your web browsing and navigation without—or at least rarely—taking your hands off the home row of your keyboard. You can use Vimium to open links in new tabs, scroll up and down a page, open new tabs, navigate between tabs, and more. If you’re not sure where to get started, we previously covered Vimium with a few basic commands to begin your voyage.
Streamkeys is another keyboard shortcut extension, but designed specifically for more than 50 online music players (including YouTube). By default, Streamkeys binds all functions to the media buttons on your keyboard, but you can also specify your own shortcuts if you’d prefer. The advantage of this extension is that it unifies all the controls for the numerous players online into one set of control keys instead of using site-specific ones.
Streamkeys is Chrome-only, but the developer says if there’s enough interest he’ll consider porting it to other browsers.
Netflix is great, especially with the new mobile-style interface on PCs, but it could be better. There’s so much movie information out there in the great, wide Internet and Netflix plugs into none of it. (Facebook sharing doesn’t count.)
That’s where Netflix Enhancer comes in. This extension beefs up Netflix with links to trailers and ratings from Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb.
Easily managing multiple open tabs is a problem that no browser has really fixed. While we wait for someone to design the ultimate way to manage tabs, the Firefox add-on Tab Colors can help by allowing you to assign colors to specific background tabs. If you’ve always got Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter open, this feature will allow you to color code those tabs so you can spot them at a glance no matter how crowded your browser window gets.
Open Link in Silent Tab
This add-on is great for Firefox users who lack the upcoming Chrome feature that will stop certain auto-playing videos from kicking off the minute you open a new tab. With Open Link in Silent Tab you can choose to open a new tab without actually opening it. Instead, what happens is the tab opens with the URL ready to go and the minute you click on the tab it starts loading the page. That way videos don’t start until you’re ready, plus it also prevents your browser from taking up too many PC resources at once by loading an endless array of tabs.
Another helpful add-on for managing multiple tabs, Tab Grenade allows you to bookmark a list of tabs and keep them handy for when you need them. To start, you just open a bunch of tabs (let’s say there are six), then click the Tab Grenade icon. All six open tabs disappear, and a single tab remains with a list of links to all six webpages you just had open. Then, when you need to open one of the pages, just click the link in the Tab Grenade list.
Keep in mind this is best used as a temporary tool. If you want permanent bookmarks, use Firefox’s built-in bookmarking feature.
Here’s the scenario: you’ve found an absolutely killer app that you want on your PC, but you’re on a public Wi-Fi hotspot with an unbelievably slow connection. So what do you do? Bookmark the page and come back later? Not with Download Plan installed. All you have to do is schedule the download for a later time, and the add-on takes care of the rest.
You can’t have a hassle-free toolbox without mentioning this classic. NoScript protects you from any malicious scripts that can be used for clickjacking and cross-site scripting attacks. It also stops a lot of superfluous crap from running on any webpage you visit.
The downside is that NoScript can sometimes prevent a page from functioning properly, but you can enable certain scripts on the fly when you run into that problem.
Ever meant to visit Google.com, but you type in Google.co instead? This add-on tries to help you avoid those stupid moments by fixing any mistypes for you. You can also require the add-on to confirm a change before correcting a URL, and add custom corrections if you frequently mistype a specific site address.
Dropbox for Gmail
If you use Outlook.com, you’ve got deep integration with OneDrive. If you use Gmail, there’s easy access to Google Drive. But Dropbox users are out of luck—or at least they were until February.
Dropbox for Gmail adds the cloud storage service’s icon to your Gmail compose window in Chrome. Click it and you can add links to Dropbox files in your message, or save attachments you receive via email directly to Dropbox.
This add-on won’t be for everybody. In fact, it won’t be for most people, but if you’re a keyboard shortcut freak then this is an add-on you’ll at least want to try.
If you find yourself frequently typing in website addresses like Google, YouTube, Facebook, et cetera. URL Alias lets you specify specific aliases for those sites. Instead of typing Google, for example, you could tell the add-on that when you type “go” it should turn that into google.com. YouTube might be “yt,” and Facebook could be “fb.” Whatever you choose, URL Alias saves you a few seconds of typing and will make power users even more efficient while browsing.
Another hot one for power users, FireGestures takes six basic mouse movements and lets you assign specific tasks or user scripts to them. This add-on is a little complicated for the average user, but if you like customizing your browsing experience you’ll probably find this add-on very handy.
Privacy-conscious users will love this one. Instead of opening a private browsing window, Close’n Forget allows you to erase all cookies and history related to a specific tab. The add-on’s author warns that sometimes cleaning up the history will only be partial, but for the most part it should do the job just fine.
There’s nothing more annoying than clicking a link to the iTunes Store and having your computer attempt to start-up the bloated resource pig known as iTunes—especially when all you want to do is read the write-up of an app or album online.
As this is a Safari add-on, Windows users are out of luck, but Chrome and Firefox will ask for your permission before opening iTunes, so that helps. Now if only someone would make a similar Chrome and Firefox extension for Windows Store apps…
Pretty much every major browser has its own bookmarking system that syncs your saved sites across the same browser on PCs and mobile. That’s not so great if you’re the multi-browser type, using Chrome on Windows with one PC and Internet Explorer on another. LastPass-owned Xmarks can help by syncing your bookmarks across any PC regardless of the browser brand. There are also mobile apps for premium subscribers.
Pushbullet isn’t just a browser extension. It’s a service that lets you send data between your Android or iOS device and your PC. You can share files, links, and notes between devices or even answer text messages with a full keyboard. It doesn’t get more hassle-free than that.