I have spent a very long time trying to find the perfect browser. I’ve hated Internet Explorer for a few years now, and switched to Firefox on my old PC. After that crashed and I got my MacBook, I used Safari for a long time. I loved the way Safari looked, and how well it fit within the Mac environment, but I wished I had the ability to extend its functionality the way I could in Firefox. After Firefox 3 was released, I gave it a try again. I still liked it, but always went back to Safari. Then the semester started.
I started using Google Mail a while ago as my primary email account. I have an account through the university, but after I passed up my halfway point in college it occurred to me that I might not want to make something temporary my main source of communication. I have Google Mail fetching mail from my university account, so it’s all the in same place. Once I started getting into Gmail, Google Reader, and Google Calendar constantly, I found that I wanted to be able to use some of the extensions for these different applications that Lifehacker has put together. Eventually I decided to get back into Firefox, and customize it as much as possible.
If it looks like Safari…
To make Firefox look as much like Safari as possible (and thus blend in to the Mac environment better), I use the “GrApple Yummy (blue)” theme. I’m mostly impressed – this theme even got the little close buttons to go on the left side of the tabs. It’s the little things in life.
Stopping the Annoyingness
Once it looked nice, I started adding extensions for function. Adblock Plus and Flashblock were the first I brought on board. I can finally check my MySpace account (once a year or so) without being irritated to death by the blinking, flashing annoyingness that is that website. Adblock can be a lifesaver for those websites that display a painful lack of fashion sense. Right now I actually have Flashblock disabled (I needed to see the Flash content on a site) but it still gives me the option to disable Flash applications should I choose. It just doesn’t do it automatically.
Lots of Google
Next on the list are the Lifehacker extensions I mentioned: Better GCal, Better Gmail 2, and Better GReader. Each of these extensions adds little tweaks to the respective parts of the Google suite, using Greasemonkey scripts. The Remember the Milk for Gmail extension puts my task list in the sidebar of my inbox when I check my email. Since my email is also my home page, I can easily kill two birds with one stone. Pardon the overused cliché.
I also use Google Gears, which allows participating websites to offer their services offline. Some sites using Gears are all the Google products, Remember the Milk, and Buxfer, which is a money management web app. Google Notebook allows me to clip sections of web pages and save them, but is an extension that I haven’t played around with much. Google Preview is the extension that shows thumbnail images of the web pages in Google and Yahoo search results. Knowing what the web page looks like can help me decide if I want to click on it, in some circumstances.
The Student Part – Research
While Google Notebook could help with research, I have decided to go with the combination of Zotero and Wired-Marker. Zotero keeps track of web pages viewed, as well as the dates I viewed them, and other things that would go in a bibliography. Wired-Marker is like a virtual highlighter. It highlights sections of web pages in different colors, and keeps the marked pages in a folder in my menu bar, for easy access.
The Other Student Part – Social Networking
What browser would be complete without tools to make wasting time that much easier? I have the StumbleUpon toolbar installed, with a button to hide or show the toolbar. I don’t like a lot of toolbars, so this is perfect. It’s there when I want it, and it’s not there when I need the screen real estate.
The other necessary extension for the social-network-er is Shareaholic. This one puts a button in the toolbar that opens up a drop-down menu when clicked. The menu contains a user-sepcified list of social networks, and takes all the copy-paste work out of sharing things on twenty different networks. This includes Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Digg, and many other popular sites that I’ve heard of but don’t use.
One final add-on that I have installed is FoxyTunes. It puts a set of buttons in the bottom of Firefox, which control a wide variety of media players.
My Perfect Browser
So far, this setup has been working really well for me. “Perfect” is probably an overstatement, but it gets the job done.