When you first pulled your cell phone out of the box, you probably spent the next few hours making it uniquely yours. From selecting ring tones to choosing a photo or theme wallpaper, or downloading apps to make your Smartphone more productive or fun, the customization transformed it from “a phone” to “your phone.” You can tailor your Web surfing experience in a similar way with browser extensions and add-ons. Most are free and they allow you to personalize the look, functionality and features of Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari or Opera.
As the originator of browser add-ons, Mozilla reports that more than 85% of Firefox users have installed add-ons. Yet if you’ve never explored customizing your browsing, you aren’t alone – I was surprised to see the huge number of add-ons available through Chrome and Firefox. Firefox boasts at least 25,000 developers with add-ons and over 150,000 user-created collections. Chrome is gaining on Firefox’s numbers and while Internet Explorer offers a less extensive collection, it has enough variety to satisfy most users.
Some of the most popular categories of extensions are those that support productivity, security, interface personalization, shopping, games, integration with social media, and streaming of news and videos. Here’s where to find the add-ons supported by the most popular browsers:
Whenever I’m presented by an overwhelming selection of programs to consider, I sort by most popular. At least I can trust that a million or so users can’t all be wrong. Highest rated can be deceiving: a five star program rated by 20 users isn’t as sure a bet as a 4 ½ star program rated by 1,100 users.
With thousands of add-ons available to personalize and/or improve so many different aspects of web browsing, it would be impossible to create a comprehensive list. Here are a few of my favorites.
The most downloaded add-ons across the board are ad-blocking programs that strip banner ads, block pop-ups and disable video ads on sites likeYouTube. Adblock Plus and Adblock (oddly enough, not the same program) are the two most popular ad-disabling extensions. Both programs are available for Firefox and Chrome.
As someone with a relatively bad memory who is also a proponent of improving online security, I like LastPass, an extension for Firefox and Chrome (there is a version that supports Internet Explorer but it’s not free). It stores and encrypts passwords for websites and can pre-fill forms securely, allowing you to create more challenging passwords without having to memorize them all.
I surf the net a lot, for work and fun, and inevitably find content that I find intriguing but don’t have time to read right then. Instead of adding yet another bookmark that I’m sure to never return to, I use the Readability Chrome add-on. When I come upon an article that I find interesting, I just click on the little icon at the top of my Chrome toolbar that looks like an easy chair. “Read Now” strips all the superfluous text, ads and sponsored links to give me an easy to read page. “Read Later” sends the article to my Readability account, or “Send to Kindle” lets me read it on the go on my eReader. Users of other browsers can download Readability’s “Bookmarklets” (http://readability.com/apps) to achieve similar results.
Greasemonkey on Firefox or Stylish on Chrome allow you to customize the look and performance of web pages you visit. These popular add-ons allow you to change the appearance while improving browsing on Facebook, Google, or many other popular sites.
Finally, the bargain hunter in me loves Shopping Assistant, an add-on available through Chrome, Firefox, Opera or Safari. Whatever product you’re shopping for online, this toolbar will show you similar products at other online retailers, such as Amazon, eBay, or Walmart. It even gives you an Amazon price history so you can see if waiting to buy could save you a few bucks.
One note of warning: don’t go overboard. Installing too many add-ons can slow your browser’s performance. If your surfing gets sluggish, disable or uninstall a few.