One man's view of theology, sports, politics, and whatever else in life that happens to interest me. A little bit about me.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Mutineer's Tech Tips: Browser Extensions

I guess I’m what’s considered a dinosaur in this age of the mobile web: I’m still a web browser guy. Even on my phone I’d rather use a web browser for basic info and searches rather than an app. My next tech tip will have to do with a couple of my choices for browsers, but today I’m writing about browser extensions.

What are browser extensions? Most people don’t know what they are. Unfortunately the most common extensions are those awful “toolbars.” Those were (and are) a drag on your computer and a security risk. If you have them in your browser, take steps to get rid of them. Now. 

This may be extreme, but one toolbar is one too many in my book.
A browser extension is basically a mini-program that you add to your browser that offers a unique feature or service. It can be anything from a link to your e-mail to an app that lets you expand pictures or text in a Web page. Practically all of them are free, which is a bonus. Here are a couple of basic extensions that I won’t go without now that I’ve gotten used to them:

Ad Block
Ad Block Plus

These two basically do the same thing: in my experience, one is just about as good as the other. These programs block ads everywhere on the Internet. And not just box ads at the top and bottom of pages either. They block ads on Facebook, they shut down those annoying autoplaying videos and even block the ads at the beginning of YouTube videos. Either of these are great products, well worth your time.
One of the most important things these programs offer, ironically, is the option to not block ads on certain pages. If you have a particular web site you like to visit that you want to support by clicking on the ads on their page, you can do that. If somebody is offering you great content, you should take advantage of the opportunity to support them by clicking on their ads, especially if you are interested in the ad. Both of these extensions place a stop sign icon next to the address bar where you can change the settings.
Add This

Most of us are active with more than one platform that allows us to share information: Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Google+, Pocket (you really need to try Pocket), etc. Plus some of the old-timers among us still use e-mail to share stuff. It’s annoying to copy and paste a link, especially when the address is a really long and random combination of numbers and letters. Add This fixes that. It lets you customize the services you use to share web pages, videos, etc., and you can post them with just one click. Very handy. I use it a lot.
Will these work with my browser?
If you click on the links, there should be a download button. You can click further into the page to find if there are issues with your browser. Here is a rundown of the top four browsers and links to their extensions page:
Internet Explorer

IE doesn’t have a lot of extensions. Most of the extensions for IE are either from Microsoft itself or from other corporate entities. Or they are malware/adware/bloatware and will actually hurt your computer in the long run. Microsoft is very protective of its IE code. Unfortunately that mindset actually works against IE users in the long run. They discourage legitimate innovation while at the same time encouraging hackers, thieves and worse to try to exploit it because of its large market share.
I would encourage you to stop using IE altogether, but that’s another discussion for another time.


Both Chrome and Firefox have a wide variety of extensions. You can find extensions for things you never knew a web browser could do. It’s honestly fun to just go browsing through these pages and see what they offer. Both Chrome and Firefox encourage creativity among users, and their openness is rewarded by a flock of helpful apps. It’s still safest to stick to the official “app stores” for extensions, but if you find one from a service or Web site you trust, I would be less afraid to download one in either of these  than in IE.


I’ve used it some, but I don’t know as much about Safari as I do about Windows browsers. Apple used to offer a fine version of Safari for Windows, which I used a lot, but they dropped it a couple of years ago. It appears they have quite a few extensions as well. Worth checking out for sure, or you can download Chrome or Firefox for your Mac, as practically all of the extensions work on both Mac and Windows, and there are some Mac-specific extensions. Safari is certainly a much better browser than IE, but that doesn’t mean you have to stick with it exclusively.
One word of caution: too many extensions will bog down your browser’s performance. Chrome and Firefox have hundreds of extensions. My advice is to find a few that really do improve your web browsing and stick with those. The ones that turn your Facebook different colors or give your browser a cool skin might be fun for a kid, but if you’re like me you want to get things done online, not look at interesting gewgaws in your browser.

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