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Firefox Friday Five: news, add-ons and updates

Yet another week has strolled by. If you're in Mozilla's age-old stronghold of Europe, you're probably enjoying some delicious bright sunshine right now -- and if you're lucky there'll be some great sunsets caused by the erupting volcanoes in Iceland! Americans, I guess you might've had your flights to Europe cancelled -- but other than that, I trust your Spring is coming along nicely?

Mozilla has been active this week! The fruition of its unabated development has come to fruition with a few important releases this week -- but I've also got some neat add-ons to show you too. Here we go:

1. Firefox 3.7 alpha 4 (Gecko 1.9.3a4) released; faster, improved shutdown time

Other than a slew of rendering fixes/changes, Windows users won't see much of a change in the new alpha. Firefox on Mac OS X now supports an out-of-process Adobe Flash, however! There's also mention of a 'Core Animation rendering model' for Mac OS X plugins, apparently speeding things up.

In non-Gecko-related updates, a simple change to the way bookmarks and history are handled has resulted in a 97% increase in shutdown time! A faster browser remains the primary focus of Mozilla and the Firefox team, and it sure looks like 3.7, when it reaches release later this year, will be seriously fast.

2. Jetpack SDK 0.2 released: developers rejoice -- enthusiasts, why don't you write your first add-on?

You may have noticed that Lee and I are getting steadily more interested in add-ons and extensions. Every week Download Squad brings you the latest and greatest Chrome and Firefox mods -- but... how about writing one yourself? Believe it or not, writing an add-on is really easy -- I wrote my first one earlier this week! So how about it? Jetpack is the wave of the future, and while it might not polished enough for the eager end-user, you can definitely wade in and give it a go.

You need to install Python and the Jetpack SDK, but once that's done it's clean sailing! Just follow the guide -- and if you want to go further, check out the Jetpack SDK documentation.

3. 100 add-ons for home-schooling your children more effectively

This compilation, pointed out by the Firefox Extension Guru, is a real goldmine of excellent add-ons. Whether you're looking for a graphing calculator toolbar to help with math and science, or easy-access translation add-ons, this collection has just about everything you could ever want for teaching kids at home.

There's also a great section for Parental Controls and Computer Security with a lot of add-ons that we've previously covered on Download Squad!

4. Mozilla opens its doors for Labs Night; also reaches out for more collaboration with students, schools and universities

Open source, and by extension Mozilla and Firefox, has always been about collaboration. By sharing ideas and working together to create a better tool, the world as a whole gains. Mozilla, never one to shy away from engaging the community, has two great schemes in operation: first, Labs Nights, which is a bit like Google's Campfire One meets... only... foxier. If you're in the Mountain View region, why not go along and listen to some in-depth presentations of up-and-coming Mozilla projects?

On the next point -- student collaboration -- Firefox has always been an active exponent of 'laboratory' work in universities around the world. You've surely heard of Mozilla Labs' Design Challenges -- well, a lot of those are undertaken by universities all around the world. They want to step it up though, get more schools and colleges involved, increase the scope -- so, if you're a teacher, or a student, get in touch with Mozilla.

5. Finally, a way to measure just how productive you are on the Web: RescueTime, a Firefox Productivity Meter

Yes... we all do it. You write a sentence... and then you switch tabs. Sometimes it's just a few words before you reach for the mouse (or Wiimote). We know we shouldn't do it, but it's simply a sad fact of life: the Internet is without doubt the greatest procrastination device ever invented. If only there was something we could do about it...!!!

Of course there's something we can do about it! This is the Internet! The cause AND solution of all our problems! Now, I'm not going to highlight some kind of draconian add-on that stops you wasting time, but there IS a really neat, statistic-heavy add-on called RescueTime that might convince you -- via shock and awe -- to do more work.

Basically, via some kind of heuristic analysis of the browsing habits of a 'worldwide user base', RescueTime assigns a 'productivity score' to tens of millions of websites. When you Ctrl-Tab and spend time on a 'bad' site such as Facebook, the add-on records this as 'distracted browsing'. You can even see in real time if you're more or less distracted than other users of the add-on.

The best thing though -- other than its awesome, anonymous, no-login-required nature -- is the detailed, graphed analysis of your time-wasting. You've been warned: it's pretty scary.

Tags: add-ons, alpha, faster, firefox friday five, FirefoxFridayFive, gecko, productivity meter, ProductivityMeter, rescuetime, speed, time management, TimeManagement