Ah, the Web is a wonderful place. It's so full of interesting distractions that claim to streamline the life of a busy person that it's sometimes difficult to get any real work done. Browsers seem optimized for entertainment, with so many fun add-ins that give us games to play and tunes to hear and video to watch. But there are, indeed, business tools that can help us do our jobs.
Authors of add-ins for Firefox (and increasingly, Internet Explorer) have come up with a myriad of ways to enhance the browser. Here's a peek at a baker's dozen, mainly for Firefox, that are at home in the office as well as on our personal computers.
TinyURL Creator: Anyone who sends Web links to others via e-mail needs TinyURL Creator. This cunning bit of code takes that monster multiline address you need to paste into an e-mail to the boss (and that you know perfectly well will not work properly when he clicks it), and turns it into an easily clickable one-liner. For example, should the president summon, the full URL for a map to the White House is:
The TinyURL for that monstrosity is
Which would you rather send?
TinyURL Creator is available as an add-in for Firefox, or as a toolbar button for virtually any other browser by adding the following to the Links toolbar:
FoxClocks: Today's increasingly multinational corporate world means that you may be in Los Angeles, but your colleagues are in New York or Paris or Rome. Without a ticking lineup on your desk, it can be a struggle to figure out what time the meeting called for 3 p.m. London, England time will be for you in L.A.
FoxClocks lets you create a watchlist of locations and displays the time at each, either in the status bar at the bottom of the screen, in a tooltip, or in a toolbar. As its name suggests, it's a Firefox add-in.
Oh, and that 3 p.m., London time, meeting? I hope you're an early bird—it's at 7 a.m. in Los Angeles!
Change: Continuing the multinational theme, are you left wondering when your London cohort quotes prices in British pounds, or Sergio in Rome talks euros? You might want to add Change to your add-in collection.
Change pulls in currency conversions daily from the Central European Bank. It displays a toolbar for manual entries, and also activates if you double-click on an amount on a webpage, converting it to your currency of choice.
Advanced Travel: When those conference calls aren't enough, and a face-to-face meeting is necessary, getting there may (or, more often, may not) be half the fun. The Advanced Travel add-in lets you search multiple travel sites for flights, hotels and rental cars from handy icons lurking on the status bar.
The Basic search uses TravelGrove affiliates, but if you click the appropriate button on the website, Advanced Travel also passes your criteria to Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz or Priceline for flights, adding hotels.com for accommodation and even more options for the car search. Once on any site, you can filter by airline and time of day for flights, and of course book online if you so choose.
Dictionary Tooltip: Baffled by a word in an online document? With the Dictionary Tooltip add-in, all you have to do is highlight it, right-click and choose View Definition. A dialog box opens, showing the definition from your choice of 19 sources. If that definition puzzles you, just select another dictionary.
FoxLingo: If the confusing word is not in English, FoxLingo may help. It describes itself as The Ultimate Language Tool, offering translations of words, selections or complete webpages. It also offers learning tools for would-be linguists.
Multilingual I'm not, but my French is good enough to show me that FoxLingo's translations can be, shall we say, a tad unusual. But you can usually get the gist of the meaning of a translated page, although you may have to stretch your imagination somewhat.
Adblock: OK, so it's not tremendously politically correct to advocate an ad blocker when writing for a site that is supported by advertising, but you must admit that some sites take intrusive advertising to absurd levels. Especially on a slow connection, that can mean wasted time and bandwidth.
For those sites, Adblock is invaluable. All you do is right-click the Adblock tab on an ad to block it and, if you so choose, others from the same purveyor on a specific site. The right-click menu also allows you to remove sites from your block list.
Flashblock: Sometimes the author of a website gets a wee bit carried away, with all sorts of funky Flash and Shockwave animations that add little to the utility and a lot to the loading time. Flashblock stops them dead, displaying instead a clickable button that will run the animation if you really want to see it. It's amazing how much faster you can get to the meat of a site if the glitz is removed!
Get Company Info: Select a company name or ticker symbol, right-click and choose Get Company Info, and a separate tab opens, showing a financial summary page from Google. There you'll find current stock prices, a price history chart and links to pertinent news stories.
If the company name isn't unique or can't be found, you'll see a list of possibilities from which to choose.
Google Notebook: After finding all of that useful information, perhaps about the competition, you need somewhere to stash and catalog it before composing that insightful memo to the board. Google Notebook not only provides you with a place to easily store selected data, images and links (just click the "Note This" button in the browser's status bar, or manually create a note and paste it in), it also lets you share the notes, and even publish them to a webpage. You can add your own comments and allow colleagues to annotate them as well. You need a Google account (which also lets you use other Google services such as Gmail).
Domain Details: Sometimes you really need to know who actually owns a website. You could check with the domain registrar manually. Or you could install the Domain Details extension, right-click on the page and choose an option from the Domain Info menu. It shows you registration information from WhoIs, detailed information about the page, including its estimated value, information about its network address, and a Google map showing where the server lives.
IE View: If specific webpages don't render properly in Firefox, installing the IE View extension can save your bacon. It allows you to force the offending pages to open in Internet Explorer, even though you initiated them from Firefox. You have the choice of opening the page in IE just once—if, for example, you're testing a newly authored site—or of always opening the page in IE.
Firefox Extension Backup Extension: Finally, once you have all of these wonderful extensions installed, you'll want a way to back them up in case your computer has to be reimaged, or to reproduce your extension configuration on another system.
The Firefox Extension Backup Extension not only backs up your extensions, but it also preserves bookmarks, preferences, passwords, cookies—even your entire profile—either on demand or automatically on a schedule.