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Firefox Friday, the back to school edition: 10 add-ons to make education less dire

You may have noticed we've got our back to school jive on here at Download Squad. We figure it's worth interrupting your usual programming for a week or two -- after all, once the kids are back at school, we're all free to do whatever we like until Christmas! Woohoo!

Still, so that you don't feel completely abandoned, here's a paragraph dedicated to this week's Mozilla news: early builds of Firefox 4 beta 4 (and 5!) are bouncing around on Mozilla's nightly builds site; the Contacts Design Challenge has finished and the winners have been announced -- the concepts are beautiful and well worth checking out; Mozilla wants more people to submit bugs! If you're using a Beta or nightly build of Firefox 4, check this guide on how to use Bugzilla to help out.

Now, here's a list of Firefox add-ons that will look strikingly similar to Lee's list of back to school Chrome extensions.


Tab Candy/Tab Sets (only available in Firefox 4 Beta)

Perhaps the greatest ease-of-use interface invention ever, Tab Sets make academic multi-tasking (read: ADHD) much, much easier. Create a tab set for Facebook, Twitter and Gmail -- then create another for any academic portals that you belong to. Finally, have a tab set for Wikipedia and anything else you might be researching. Sweet!

It's very hard to describe tab sets, even with a screenshot, so I suggest you simply give them a go. Once you have Firefox 4 Beta installed, hit ctrl+alt+space (or ctrl+space) and EXPERIMENT!

After the Deadline

ATD is a tool that I wish more people used. I will never recoup those billions of brain cycles spent trying to decode haphazard typos and general illiteracy. After the Deadline isn't a complete panacea, but it's pretty darn bleedin' good. ATD has little or no competition in the browser-based world, but ATD can also help if you're writing an essay or report in Microsoft Word (or Open Office!)

Rather comically, you can see in the screenshot above that ATD doesn't even recognize its own name...


ReminderFox and Google Shortcuts

Part of me wants to love ReminderFox -- it's an incredibly popular and well-designed add-on! -- but why doesn't it integrate with Google Calendar, or indeed any other calendar?! Keeping reminders in the browser isn't the best idea -- what if you need to check your appointments from your mobile phone? Or if you move from home to a lab computer?

You should really be keeping your appointments and deadlines online. Google Shortcuts gives you quick access to Google Calendar. I'd like an add-on that lets you view your calendar in a little pop-up window, but it seems like there's nothing out there.

Wired-Marker

This might be the coolest (and most simple!) add-on that I've ever seen! Actually, that's a lie: Wired-Marker has a wealth of functionality, but in essence it's really simple: just select text, right click, and give it a color. Just like marking real paper with a pen!

But because it's digital -- because we live in a hypertextual world! -- you can then do very cool things, like viewing all blue fragments, or store them in different folders (one for each subject you're studying?)

QuickWiki

Sometimes you don't want to open a new tab, or move your tooltip to that fiddly little search box -- that's why you want QuickWiki! Shift+right click a word and the Wiktionary definition pops up -- Ctrl+right click and you get the Wikipedia entry! Even cooler, you can click links in that pop-up and you won't navigate away from your current page. Hitting Shift+Ctrl pops up a 'quick search' dialogue that pops up the Wiktionary definition -- again without navigating away from your current page.

The shortcut keys can be changed, but to a few predefined options. You can't (without other software) set functions to one of your mouse buttons, alas!

RescueTime and Read It Later

I was looking for an add-ons that can minimize distraction -- for when you're revising, or trying to write an important report -- but the rather neat StayFocusd is only available for Chrome. Still, I think a combination of RescueTime and Read It Later should work just as well. RescueTime is an add-on that sits in the background and continually tracks which website you're reading. You can then look at the stats (it produces very pretty graphs) and see how much time you're wasting on non-important stuff.

Read It Later lets you save any link via the right-click menu. Resist the devilish temptation of your friends' shared links! Work now; read it later!

(If anyone knows of a 'distraction free' add-on for Firefox, please let me know!)

Lazarus
Your browser has just crashed. Not only have you lost all 30 of your tabs (an experience worse than being curb stomped by a plumper), but you've also lost any and all form inputs. Blustering barnacles! Maybe it was half a blog post, or maybe you were filling in your credit card details to buy some books -- either way, it sucks the big one! Lazarus securely auto-saves while you type -- if your browser crashes, just go back to the form, right click, and voila!

The developer points out that Lazarus also works for server time-outs, or if you are logged out between starting the form and finishing it. Again, just hit the backspace button, right click, and let Lazarus save your ass.

FastestFox

Finally we have the all-round champion of add-ons; an add-on that will give your Firefox more oomph than the full brunt of Thor's mighty hammer. FastestFox improves your browsing experience in so many ways (check the feature list), but I'll focus on just a few.

It extends the Awesome Bar (address bar) -- if it wasn't awesome enough, Google search results now also appear!
Next, and almost as cool, FastestFox has a quick-launch menu accessed with Ctrl+Space (it has Download Squad on!) -- you can also use it to search Google, all without touching the mouse.

Finally, FastestFox has a feature that auto-loads the next page of (almost) any website. That way when you click 'next', or 'read more', the page loads almost instantly!

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If I missed a 'killer' back to school add-on, do leave a comment!

Tags: add-on, after the deadline, AfterTheDeadline, back to school, BackToSchool, extension, fastestfox, firefox, firefox friday five, FirefoxFridayFive, marker pen, MarkerPen, quickwiki, student, tab candy, tab set, TabCandy, TabSet, university, wikipedia

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