January 27, 2011, 12:00 PM —
This is the fourth installment of our series of reviews of Firefox extensions. We've broken the vast array of extensions available for the open source browser into a number of categories, and picked the best extensions in each category based on a weighted formula that takes into account ratings, number of reviews, and total number of downloads as of December 29, 2010. In this installment, we'll consider the extensions that Mozilla puts in Photos, Music, & Videos and Games & Entertainment categories.
While we have found a rich assortment of extensions in the previous two parts of this multi-part review on Firefox add-ons, that wasn't really the case for the top extensions in the Multimedia group covered here in part three.
A significant preponderance of the best-rated extensions Photos, Music & Videos category in the Multimedia group are essentially tools designed to scrape multimedia content from the web and download the files to your local machine. In particular, YouTube videos are the biggest file type of choice, followed by image scrapers. It seems like overkill, but that's what's in demand right now, though it seems YouTube is not too thrilled about it.
What's decidedly not in demand are game extensions. The categories for Games and Entertainment are tied for the lowest populations, and what add-ons are in there are, well, on the weak side. It seems that there is a lot more interest in the browser visiting online games than playing games itself.
1-Click YouTube Video Download. Once installed, all you have to do is visit YouTube and, if you want a copy of the video on your computer, just click the link for the preferred format you would like, and the file will download. At least, that's the theory. At the time this was reviewed, the application did not work at all. According to the developer's comments, it seems YouTube made some changes recently and crippled the extension's functionality. Use this, and similar extensions, with that in mind.
Destroy the Web. Okay, this one was more fun than I expected. Which means I will likely be uninstalling it after this review, if I have any hope of ever getting work done again. The premise of this game is simple: start the game on any web page and you can shoot down every element on the page: images, text, links, forms. You name it, kablooey. Once time is up, you will get your score, which you can post online if you're that competitive. The sound effects are a little cheesy, but you can turn those off. This is a nice little diversion or a way to vent your frustrations out on a site you really don't like.
FlashGot. If you like to collect images and other media from the web, this is a nice add-on to try. Basically, it lets you download image, audio, and video files (either linked or displayed) on any given web page, either individually or in bulk. This is great for downloading a lot of files at the same time, since FlashGot will sweep the entire page if you tell it to. It will even grab multimedia files from every open tab in your browser, which will save a lot of time. The interface of cascading context menus is a little cumbersome, at least until you memorize the keyboard shortcuts, but this is a more than suitable extension for the tasks its designed to fill.
ImageHost Grabber. This extension is a simplified version of FlashGot, in that it doesn't download anything but all image files on a given page. But even with fewer options, I liked it better than FlashGot, because it did was it was supposed to do in a very easy-to-use manner. If you're going to work with image downloads only, I would use ImageHost Grabber over other extensions in this category.
Kid Mode - Firefox for Kids. This extension seems to be undergoing a name change. Kid Mode will soon be called Zoodles, if the extension's web site is any indication, so look for it under that name in the future. Once installed, clicking on the Zoodles icon takes you to a sign-up page where you register yourself and create a playground for your child, which steers your child towards age-appropriate educational material. You can specify a time limit for browsing, limit exposure to violence, and use other parental-type controls. The basic (and free) account just provides a selection of age-appropriate games and videos (the playground), but if you want to opt for the premium account, you can refine the material that is presented to your child. I tested this for my nine-year-old, and the games seemed on a par with the schoolwork she's doing now. If you are interested in regulating your younger child's Internet experience, this is a painless way of providing a walled garden for them to use.
Personas Plus. Personas Plus belongs more in the Appearance category than Multimedia, but honestly, I let it slide because I wanted to review something other than file-scrapers. And, given the sheer number of entertainment-related personas available for Firefox, I didn't think it that much of a stretch. I am not a big personas (Mozilla's fancy-schmancy term for "themes") user, preferring to just surf with an unadorned browser. Personas Plus makes it so easy to find personas, though, I might be bothered to try a new one out once in a while. Just click the Personas Plus control icon in the status bar and you have instant menu-driven access to all of the available personas for Firefox. Sure, it's not productive, but what the hey, have a little fun once in a while.
Pickemfirst Fantasy Sports. You know extensions are getting serious when you have a tutorial video and documentation available after installation. That's what shows up after installing Pickemfirst Fantasy Sports, and this is some time that's well spent. Pickemfirst is designed to work with the fantasy sports league web sites you are already using, and will report to you a player's status in your league (available, already yours, not available). If you're on a sports news site and activate Pickemfirst, icons will appear by each player name on the page to indicate this status. Click the icon to get more info and news about the player, or go directly to your fantasy team to sign the player up. I appreciated the inclusion of multiple sports, so it's not just pro football and baseball -- basketball, hockey, and college football are also included. A great add-on for fantasy sports buffs.
Puzzle. Another interesting diversion, for those of you who like jigsaw puzzles. Puzzle has one simple function: right-click on any image and you can turn it into a grid-based puzzle to reassemble. Since you can control the number of horizontal and vertical elements and the puzzle size, you can directly manage how challenging the puzzle will be. Not exactly my cup of tea, but if you groove on puzzles, you'll like this one a lot.
VideoSurf Videos at a Glance. At last, a video-related app not devoted to downloading media content. VideoSurf is a useful extension that enables you to see thumbnail summaries for any video links that might show up on a site that VideoSurf supports (currently Google, Twitter, and YouTube). This is great for my Twitter feed, and pretty useful on a given Google search results page. On YouTube, it adds a thumbnail/frame navigation tool under the main video that will take you to that point in the video. (The tool also appears on other video sites, but it's not always supported.) There will need to be more support added to this extension, but it's a strong start.
Xultris. It's Tetris. Not only that, it's Tetris in a separate window, so it's not even integrated into the browser. You can't say much more than that, so I won't.
There's not a lot of diversity in the Multimedia group of extensions, which is a pity. Given the sheer amount of multimedia content that exists on the web, hopefully new and creative ways to manage and view that content will be invented soon.
Up next: Get the news; and, the best of the best
Most tech-savvy folks keep up with information from the wider world online these days, and the next and final installment of this series will present the top Firefox extensions for finding news and information. We'll also give you our top picks for each category.