Web browsers are virtual furniture on today's electronic desktop, and we all know their basic functions. But modern browsers contain additional goodies that can make both consumers and business people smile: add-ons.
Browser add-ons provide additional functionality in a Web browser. For consumers, they do everything from linking to an Amazon wish list to downloading videos and posting to Twitter from the address bar. But add-ons not just playthings - some have practical uses for business.
Mozilla's Firefox is no longer the only browser to enjoy the benefits of add-ons. Internet Explorer 8's add-ons offer a ton of extra functionality. There aren't as many available as there are for Firefox (IE got a late start), but you will find a nice selection.
Best of all, add-ons are free.
Setting up meetings can be an adventure when the participants are in different time zones. An add-on to the Firefox Web browser, FoxClocks, displays the current time in any number of locations on the Firefox status bar.
Configure the add-on to display the time format of choice, then set each clock's colour to indicate whether it's a good time to phone that time zone. Or, if the clock collection is getting too large for the status bar, move it to a toolbar. And if Google Earth is installed, FoxClocks can even link to its database and zoom in to the selected location.
On Internet Explorer 8, look for Timeanddate.com-World Clock Search. It not only provides time and date of a remote site, it offers information on the weather, phases of the moon, telephone dialling codes and more. The add-on is installed as a search provider, and shows up on the list along with the default provider, Bing.
When those meetings lead to foreign currency exchanges, it's useful to quickly see what the amount represents in Canadian or U.S. dollars. That's where the Firefox add-on Change comes in. It adds a toolbar that instantly converts currencies based on European Central Bank rates.
On Internet Explorer 8, Currency Converter lets you highlight a currency on a Web page and convert it into other currencies. A Web service automatically keeps the rates up-to-date.
While communicating with customers, suppliers and colleagues, or researching subjects on the Web, sometimes English doesn't cut it. While you will find plenty of translation resources online, tracking them down can be a challenge. Firefox's Foxlingo gathers a collection of translation tools into a handy toolbar. Highlight a word or phrase on a Web page and it's automatically copied into the search box, ready for translation into the language of your choice.
The WebTrans button will translate an entire Web page, and the dictionary will define the selected word in any of 31 languages. The toolbar also offers links to dozens of language services, and the text-to-speech button will speak the selected text.
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We live in an acronym-crazed world, and IE's handy Acronym Finder claims to be the world's largest dictionary of acronyms, abbreviations and "initialisms." It certainly runs the gamut of sources, with separate results tabs for terms from technology, military and government, science and medicine, organizations, business and finance, and slang, chat and pop culture.
Notepads and reminders
QuickFox Notes is a multi-tabbed notepad that uses Firefox's integrated bookmark system to store its notes. It sounds odd, but there's a method to the author's madness: With a bookmark synchronization tool such as Xmarks installed, the notes will be synchronized to an Xmarks Web account and can be replicated to as many computers as necessary. It supports Firefox, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer and Safari (on MacOS only), so notes can be synchronized between browsers as well.
Synchronizing reminders is but one feature of ReminderFox, a Firefox add-on for to-do lists, reminders, notifications and lists. It provides sufficient nagging - er, reminders - and alarms for even the most dedicated procrastinator, plus a multi-tabbed interface for categorizing to-dos. Users can then synchronize those reminders to other computers, or to their own server, via iCalendar files.
Hunting down couriered packages can be an adventure when you have to go to a separate site for each company's tracking interface.
Packagetrackr is an all-in-one tool that sits in the IE8 Favorites Bar and receives status updates from various shipping providers. Users must first create an account on the Packagetrackr Web site and either enter the tracking numbers of packages or simply forward their shipping confirmation e-mails to a special e-mail address. Each time the courier updates the tracking status on its site, Packagetrackr receives the information and indicates it has received an update. There are also versions of the software for iPhone, Android, and other mobile devices.
This is but a small subset of available add-ons for Firefox and IE8. Here's how to find them, and even more:
In Firefox, select Add-ons on the Tools menu, click the Get Add-ons button and then the "Browse all add-ons" link.
In IE8, it's a little less straightforward: first choose Manage add-ons from the Tools menu, then pick the category of interest (or explore them all, one at a time) and click the "Find more" link at the bottom of the dialogue box.