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7/30/2008
10:39 AM
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Tame The Web With A Powerful Pair Of Firefox Extensions

Do you use Firefox? If so, allow me to introduce two other members of the Mozilla menagerie that can help you to get things done when you're working online.

Do you use Firefox? If so, allow me to introduce two other members of the Mozilla menagerie that can help you to get things done when you're working online.You may already have heard something about Greasemonkey; it's a fairly popular Firefox extension, especially among Web developers and power users. It gives Firefox users the ability to load scripts that change how a Web page looks or behaves, modifying the source code before the browser actually renders the page. As a result, Greasemonkey has almost limitless potential as a tool for modifying or enhancing Web sites to suit your individual needs.

Today, millions of Greasemonkey scripts are available online. The vast majority do unhelpful things to Web sites you don't visit. Fortunately, that leaves thousands of scripts that can make your online time more efficient and productive.

To get started, first install the Greasemonkey extension for Firefox (recently updated for FF 3). Before you go any further, keep in mind that a malicious mystery script can turn your PC into a virtual roach motel in a real hurry. Stick with scripts that come recommended by a trusted source, or get help from someone who can check a script for unpleasant surprises before you load it.

The Web is full of blog entries and publication articles listing popular Greasemonkey scripts. An especially good one, posted several weeks ago, is available here. If you use Gmail, then you may find scripts that add time-saving keyboard macros and make better use of limited screen space, among many others, aren't just useful; they are downright addictive.

You'll also learn more about two of my personal favorites: A script that backs up anything you type in a text box, saving your work in case of a browser or system crash; and one that displays the real URL behind one of those Tinyurl Web aliases.

Still, the very best Greasemonkey scripts -- and certainly the safest ones -- just might be those you create. That's a problem if, like the vast majority of Firefox users, you don't know the first thing about scripting (and probably want to keep it that way).

It's time to meet Greasemonkey's new pal: Platypus. This Firefox extension allows you to create your own Greasemonkey scripts using quick, easy drag-and-drop changes to any Web page. You can move objects around on the page, remove them entirely, change the style and formatting of a page, or (for more advanced users) insert your own HTML code. When you're done, Platypus converts your work into a Greasemonkey script, ensuring that your changes stick whenever you visit the page.

You need to install Greasemonkey first in order to use Platypus. Feel free to experiment; if you make a mess of things, one click will reload the original Web page. Also remember that your Platypus scripts, like all Greasemonkey scripts, may quit working if the target Web page is updated or changed in some way.

Still, if having the Web your way -- and I mean, exactly your way -- sounds appealing, Greasemonkey and Platypus definitely deserve a home on your Firefox desktop.

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The Business of Going Digital
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