10 must-have free Firefox 4 add-ons

As appealing as Firefox 4 is, it could be better at searching and keeping information secure

The recently released Firefox 4 is a big improvement over previous versions of the popular Web browser, but you can still teach it plenty of tricks.

We've rounded up ten great downloads to help you get more out of Firefox 4. Not all older add-ons work with Firefox 4, but every one in this roundup does. Whether you want to enhance search, better manage the information you find online, keep yourself safe, or perform other Web tasks, we have what you need. And all of these picks are free.

(For links to these downloads in one convenient list, see our "10 Must-Have Free Firefox 4 Add-Ons" collection.)

Power Up Search

A good part of your browsing day consists of a single task: searching the Web. These three add-ons can help make searching in Firefox better, easier, and more productive.

Want to dig deeper and get more information about any word or phrase you encounter on a Web page? Try Apture Highlights. With this add-on, you can highlight a word or phrase and then click a 'Learn More' bubble to get information from Wikipedia, links to YouTube, search results on Google and Bing, and photos related to the words. If you've highlighted a location, you can see a map in Google Maps.

Conducting a comprehensive search often involves having to head to different locations around the Web. If you're tired of that routine, InstantFox solves the problem, allowing you to use Firefox's address bar to perform searches. For example, to search Google for Android, type g Android into the address bar. You can add other letters before a search term to search other sites, such as a for Amazon, yh for Yahoo, and y for YouTube.

Largely similar to Apture Highlights but with a few differences, KwiClick lets you highlight a word or phrase to obtain more information. In this case highlighting produces a cloverleaf icon with four leaves -- one for each search and information provider, set by default as Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, and Google Maps. Click any icon, and you'll see information from that site in another window. You can customize the icon with many other providers, as well.

Because Apture Highlights and KwiClick work the same way, they conflict with each other when both are installed. If you'd like to keep both, however, you can use a workaround. Apture Highlights takes precedence over KwiClick; when you highlight a word or phrase and hover your mouse over it, the Apture Highlights 'Learn More' bubble appears, while the KwiClick cloverleaf remains hidden and inaccessible in the background. But if you highlight a word or phrase and then right-click, you'll see a KwiClick option on the menu. Choose that item to bring up the KwiClick window.

Manage Online Information

Suffering from information overload? Who isn't? The following two Firefox add-ons make gathering information -- and keeping it organized once you've found it -- easier.

With Feedly, you can create your own personalized online newspaper by gathering stories and blog posts from news sources across the Web. It constantly self-updates, so whenever you check it, the latest news is always available. Feedly uses RSS technology and starts off with a prebuilt set of feeds, but you can easily customize them. It also integrates with Google Reader, so if you've already built up feeds there, it'll grab those for you as well.

If you're looking for an excellent way to save articles and pages on the Web so that you can refer to them in the future, Read It Later is for you. When you're on a page that you want to save, click the small icon to the right of the Firefox address bar. You can then go back and read the item whenever you want, via the Firefox add-on, from the Web itself, or on another computer or mobile device with a Read It Later add-on.

To read saved articles and pages, you click a Read It Later icon that's separate from the one you use to save the pages. There's a chance that the icon won't initially appear, however. To make it show up in Firefox 4, click the orange Firefox button at the upper-left corner of the screen, select Options, Toolbar layout, and then drag the Read It Later icon to the Firefox toolbar.

Protect Yourself Online

The Web can be dangerous, with malicious software and hackers targeting you and trying to steal your private information. But you can combat such threats with these two Firefox add-ons.

Many of the things that make the Web a great place to visit -- notably JavaScript, Flash, and other interactive technologies -- also make it a risky place to visit. In addition to delivering useful information and services, such technologies can be vulnerable to exploits. With NoScript, you can block them from running, permit them to run just once, or allow them to run every time you visit sites that you know and trust.

If you browse frequently, your hard disk is most likely filled with so-called supercookies, also known as Flash cookies or LSOs (Local Shared Objects), which gather information about your travels to multiple sites and are normally protected from being deleted. BetterPrivacy hunts them down and zaps them to erase your trail.

Miscellaneous Add-Ons

Check out these three handy tools to find out about the weather, block ads, and more effectively manage multiple Web pages.

Want to know which way the wind is blowing, or to learn about current conditions anywhere? ForecastFox Weather delivers weather reports straight to Firefox. After you install it and choose your area of interest, the appropriate weather information appears at the bottom right of your browser. Just hover your mouse over the display to see even more details.

If you're tired of annoying ads that spring up whenever you surf the Web, make them disappear with Adblock Plus. It gives you control over what to block and what to let through, so you can block ads on some sites and enable them on others. You can also fine-tune the add-on so that it only blocks ads and doesn't interfere with site functionality.

With the tab tamer FoxTab, you can control browser tabs through a 3D interface. In addition to being pretty, the interface gives you greater control and includes a Safari-like feature that shows your favorite sites every time you open a new tab.

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Preston Gralla

PC World (US online)
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