Creating Website Apps with Firefox

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if your favorite web services turned into an application? Rather than accessing them within your Firefox browser every time, they could now instead behave as if they were a stand-alone application on your desktop? With a addon from Mozilla themselves called Prism, that idea seems to be possible, at least it brings it one step closer to reality. I’ll have to warn you before you continue reading though that you can either think of Prism as one of the most stupid thing you have ever seen or you could think of it as absolutely brilliant. I’m not kidding. When you access websites and other online services inside your Firefox browser, what do you usually see? Well, obviously, the Firefox browser itself! You have the usual back and forward buttons, the menu toolbar, the address bar, and the myriad of icons from other third party addon’s you’ve installed. When you usually run stand alone applications, it’s much more different due to how it doesn’t actually resemble a website! With Prism, it eliminates or ‘cleans up’ the interface of a website so that it looks much more like a stand alone application. It does so by removing all of the menu icons and buttons I’ve mentioned earlier when you are in Firefox. The website is very much the same except that it seems as if you’re not actually inside a browser. Now you might ask yourself, why in the world would someone need this? Well, this is the part where you get to decide whether Prism is just a gimmick or something more.

Why Use Prism?

To be honest, I haven’t found many uses for Prism. You folks however, might have a more adventurous mind then me. One of the most often asked question is why even use Prism in the first place? The website turned application functions more or less the same. So why? Well, I myself see one or two benefits of using Prism. The very first reason is due to control. Let’s say you are a very heavy Internet browsing individual. You have dozens and dozens of tabs opened every browsing session. Therefore, keeping track sometimes can be a little difficult. By turning that service or website into its own application, it will subsequently then get its own taskbar icon. Therefore, rather than searching for a particular tab in Firefox, you can quickly find the ‘application’ in your taskbar and if you are using Windows 7, it gets even more better as you can pin that icon to a certain location along that taskbar.
The second reason is just my personal opinion but I feel that sometimes, a certain website or service just doesn’t feel right being accessed in a browser. If you’ve read my previous article talking about the awesome online music service called Grooveshark, I’m sure you’ll know exactly what I mean. But the same still holds true. There really isn’t anything different when accessing Grooveshark in a Prism converted application than when I’m controlling it inside an actual Firefox browser. But to me, Grooveshark is just begging to be released from Firefox’s grips. As a stand alone app, the service feels much more like a music jukebox/player, similar to Windows Media Player.

If you have read up to this point, then I’m confident that you’re at least a bit curious as to how Prism works or at the very least, willing to try it out to see how your favorite website would sort of look like as a application. They keyboard here is ‘sort-of’.

Using Prism

I’ve provided an update on how to create Prism apps without any advertisements. If you can see yourself using Prism, it would be beneficial to see how you can do so without having to look at advertisements! You can learn how by reading this article.

All Prism requires is that you install the addon from Mozilla’s official addon page here.

Once done so, you now have the ability to convert any website of your choosing to an application. Simply head over to said website, click on the Tools menu bar and select the Convert Website to Application option.

Website to Application

Now you’ll be presented with a dialog box that allows you to select a couple of options. In my example here, I will be converting Grooveshark’s website. As you can see, there’s not much to configure here. You’ll usually want to leave the URL alone but you can change the name of the app if you want to. One of the most important option you can make is whether or not you want to enable the navigation bar and navigational keys. Remember what I said earlier. As a application, you don’t want to see the all-to-familiar browser navigation bar. To do away with the URL address bar, you’ll want to at least turn on the navigational button option to navigate your way through your Prism app. Next you can choose a destination to place your app icon. I usually choose the Desktop. The other important option you can make is choosing an icon for your newly created app. Prism will try its best to offer a default icon but usually, you’ll want to use a nicer looking icon and if you spend a little time Google’ing, you’ll find that many people have created icons for your website of choice that you can freely use. Once all of these options are configured, hit OK and that’s it! You’re finished!

Here is a before and after of how Grooveshark looks like:

Before:

Before

After (notice how I now have my own Grooveshark icon on my taskbar):

After

Don’t however, be fooled by mere appearances. Grooveshark didn’t just actually ‘became’ an application. Behind the curtains, Firefox is still up and running to support it. It just doesn’t look like it’s inside a browser, that’s all. If you close out Firefox (the actual browser) and start up your app, in Task Manager, you’ll still see the Firefox.exe process pop up.

Now, as I just mentioned earlier, there will be times (actually, more so than not) when you must enable the navigation toolbar option. This is so because you actually need to backtrack to the previous page you were on! A good example of this is turning Youtube into an app. If you do so with none of the options enabled like what I did with Grooveshark, you’ll soon find yourself not being able to access the previous Youtube page! What you want to do is enable the navigational key option. You’ll then be able to use the Alt+Left arrow key to move back a previous page, Alt+Right arrow key to move forward a page and Alt+Home key to return to your webapp’s homepage. You can choose to enable the Navigation Bar but your webapp won’t look as nice as it should. The main selling point for Prism is to make webapps and services feel more like a stand-alone program installed on your computer and seeing the URL address bar doesn’t really help at all as seen below!

Prism Controls

When you no longer want your Prism app, simply delete the app’s icon and that’s it!

In the End…

Like I said in the beginning, you can either think of Prism as some of the most stupid things you’ve came across or something you see yourself using from time to time. I belong to the latter. Sure, it’s not hard to access are favorite websites considering that’s what bookmarks are for! In fact, some could argue that Prism is the same as simply placing a URL shortcut on your Desktop. While it’s almost the same, it’s also not quite. Sure, Firefox is still being used in the background but if you are a interface freak like me, than Prism might just be your thing as well. If any of you have excellent ideas for Prism apps, please let us know as well in the comments!

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Read It Later for Firefox

Internet bookmarks. We all use it to some extent whether in Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari or Opera. However, there are many of us who have the trigger happy mechanism: they constantly bookmark any site they come across as long as it provides even just a little interest. There are also many others (myself included) who bookmark a lot of sites thinking that one day, it will eventually be needed. No matter the case, we usually end up with one similar result: a cluttered bookmark library! Although it’s relatively easy to organize bookmarks by dropping them into different folders, we are still stuck with useless bookmarks that may never be looked at again. This solution can be solved with a Firefox addon called Read it Later. It  is a small Firefox addon that quickly adds a second bookmark library to your Firefox browser, sort of. Rather than dropping bookmarked items directly in your main bookmark library, sites you bookmark with Read it Later gets dropped into a separate folder (which still resides in your main bookmark library). However, the advantage is that you can actually sort those bookmarks by date created. This helps you see which bookmarks have been marked the oldest. Therefore, if there is a bookmark that has been just sitting there for weeks and even months, you’ll know it’s time to revisit it and see if still need them. If not, un-bookmarking them is just another click away. However, Read it Later provides much more besides that basic feature.

Read it Later

1. You can download the Read it Later Firefox addon here.

2. Once installed, you’ll get a new Read it Later toolbar icon along with another one inside your Firefox address/URL bar (it’s a checkmark right next to the star). Also, there is the Click to Save mode icon at the bottom of Firefox’s status bar, which I’ll all go over in details further down the article.

RIL Icon

To begin using Read it Later, simply click on the checkmark icon in the address bar. It will turn red once done so. To remove a bookmark, simply click it again to deselect it. To browse over your sites, click on the reading list icon. You’ll then see a list of sites you have ‘book-marked’ to be read later.

Adding Bookmarks

3. As you can see, Read it Later makes it super easy to go back to a site you bookmarked earlier. You can think of Read it Later as a temporary bookmarking service. Once you have gone over a page you bookmarked, you can either delete it from your Read it Later list or store it in your main Firefox bookmark library. To do the latter, simply select the option ‘Add to Firefox Bookmarks’ in the checkbox dropdown menu. In this same menu, you can also send the bookmark to other bookmarking sites such as Digg, del.icio.us and a host of many others.

Additional Services

Other Features

To quickly get a glance and additional features, watch this video at the Idea Shower website. I’m taking this is where Read it Later’s official homepage is at.

Read it Later has other tricks up its sleeves, although they aren’t mind blowing or haven’t been done before. For example, you can quickly and easily turn your Read it Later list into a RSS feed. This way, you can publish or easily share your bookmarks with others. Another pretty cool feature is their Offline Reading mode. By utilizing this feature, Read it Later will cache a copy of sites in your list for offline viewing. This is a great idea when you know you’ll be disconnected from the Internet but still want to view websites in your Read it Later list. To do so, simply click on the appropriate option from the Reading List. You’ll then be presented with a dialog box if this is your first time utilizing this feature (you can turn it off as well). Once you hit OK, Read it Later will begin caching the sites to your local hard disk. To view them (while you are disconnected from the Internet), simply switch Firefox to Offline Mode (in the File menu) and your Read it Later sites will be displayed using the offline cache copy. Once again, this feature is not new to a web browser as you can save webpages manually as well for offline reading but Read it Later makes it much more easier.

Offline Feature
Queuing Downloads

One very useful feature is the Click to Save mode. Once this is turned on, links you click thereafter will all be saved to your Read it Later list. This is super handy when you want to mark multiple items from your favorite news site, for example. When you are about to head out with your laptop and you’ll know that you won’t be able to connect to the Internet for some time, you can quickly mark those links by using the Click to Save mode and then having Read it Later cache a local copy of it. That way, you’ll still be able to catch up on important news events while riding on the bus or taxi cab. To activate Click to Save mode, simply click on the red checkmark button (with a black arrow on it) on the bottom of Firefox. Once turned on, you can then click on links and each will be saved. To turn off Click to Save mode, press the button once more.

Click to Save Mode

Finally, what’s bookmarking service without syncing? Worry not as Read it Later got this covered as well. Similar to the well beloved Xmarks addon, Read it Later allows you to sync your reading list with other computers. By creating an account with Read it Later on their website, you can also manage your reading list from any computer with an Internet connection. Heck, there’s even an iPhone application for this!

To configure even more options for Read it Later, head into their Options menu.

RIL Options

In the End…

While Read it Later doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, it sure as heck makes things a lot simpler! I understand that many of you will immediately mark this addon as being useless as Firefox already has a built-in bookmarking system. However, Read it Later is a really nice addition and can do things Firefox can’t by default. Being able to quickly save webpages for offline viewing is a really nice and handy feature. Don’t be too quick to dismiss Read it Later. Give it try and see how it can help you manage your array of bookmarks!

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Dictionary Tooltip for Firefox

No matter how big of a geek you may claim to be, there are times when you will eventually stumble upon a word that you have no idea what its meaning is. If you’re an avid reader on the net like I am, than you’ll know how important it is to understand every word you come across. A surprisingly useful Firefox addon allows you to easily look up the definition of each and every word you come across so you’ll never have to scratch your head again when you come across a word such as ‘umquhile’ (if you already know the definition, than you can give yourself a pat on the back right about now). The problem with manually looking up definition for words we don’t understand is quite a hassle. Although the procedure usually requires you to just visit a dictionary site like Dictionary.com and plugin/paste the word in question into the input box, it can break the pace of your reading. Also, many of you are probably too lazy to even do just that. I really understand because I admit I’m one of those people. However, it is possible to change and break away from the habit of letting unknown words slip you by with the Dictionary Tooltip addon in Firefox.

1. You can download the Dictionary Tooltip for Firefox here. Restart your Firefox browser upon completion for the changes to take effect.

2. By default, Dictionary Tooltip activates everytime you double click on a word in Firefox. Once you do so, a small icon will appear beneath the word. To quickly view its definition, simply hover your mouse over the icon and a popup box will immediately pop up. Once you are done reading the definition, simply close the box or click somewhere else with your mouse.

Firefox Dictionary Tooltip

3. Because the popup definition box appears right under your mystery word, you no longer have to navigate away from your reading. This makes everything seem much more seamless. Dictionary Tooltip comes packed with many sources for you to choose from in terms of where you want to have your word looked up in. For example, the default choice is to look up the word in the Thefreedictionary.com website. In reality, you actually can switch that source to another. In the definition popup box, simply select the Show Dictionaries link on the bottom and select your website of choice in the drop-down menu. Immediately, Dictionary Tooltip will go to work and look your word up with the dictionary choice you have just chosen. Heck if you’re still not satisfied, you can even add in your own dictionary source of choice (provided its not in the list). In my opinion, the default dictionary works a wonder.

Choosing Dictionaries

4. To change the behavior of Dictionary Tooltip, simply visit the addon’s preferences. One of the changes I usually make is to change the double click default behavior. Although double clicking on a word does not immediately show the definition box, it still shows the little blue icon, which I detest. In the preferences, I can choose to remove that icon altogether which allows the definition box to appear immediately. That behavior still might not be desired by some users. Therefore, in the preferences, you can specify that the definition box only appear when you press a certain keyboard combination (Crtl+Shift+’letter of choice). Or you can set it so that only by holding the Ctrl key down while double clicking on a word wo;; the definition show up. Either way, it’s up to you how you configure Dictionary Tooltip to work in your favor but I just hope this gets all of you to start looking up definitions for unknown words from now on.

Tooltip Preferences

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Improving Google Reader with Plugin

I wrote an article about the benefit of RSS not too long ago. I’ve been a big fan of the FeedDemon desktop reader. For users who rely on FeedDemon’s online RSS reader, you should have received an email that they are ditching their own online RSS reader and instead migrating to Google Reader’s platform instead. This is a big move for them as Google is one of the biggest name right now when it comes to, well, just about anything online related! I’m currently using a Firefox add-on that makes reading RSS feeds in Gmail Reader a lot more comfortable. One lacking feature of Gmail Reader is that it doesn’t have an inline webpage preview function built-in. When you click on a news feed that interests you, you’re only treated to a snippet of the main article. While some RSS feeds have their entire article in the feed itself, many others only show you a preview. If you want to then decide to read up on the full article, you’re taken to the main webpage in a separate Firefox tab. This is the problem because many people hate this and I’m one of them! In fact one of the main reason I use the FeedDemon desktop reader is due to the fact that it has its own webpage preview in the application itself. Therefore, whenever I double click on a feed, instead of it opening up a new tab in Firefox, FeedDemon opens it in the reader itself to provide a more seamless reading experience.

Better GReader

Well, say no more to that problem! Introducing a very awesome Firefox addon called Better GReader. Basically, once installed, it allows me to read my feeds in a inline webpage viewer directly in Google Reader!

1. You can download the Firefox Better GReader addon here.

2. If you look at this picture and at the red highlighted area before GReader is installed, there is no option for me to ‘view’ the feed in the same window. When I click on the main title, I will be taken directly to the webpage in a new tab.

Default

However, once I install the Better GReader addon, I will now have a new preview button where the website will be displayed directly in Google Reader as seen here!

Preview Button

Website Loads

You can go into the Better GReader addon options menu for more customization, like automatically previewing all feeds when you open them if you prefer.

GReader Options

I’m probably going to make the switch to get rid of the FeedDemon desktop reader with this addon in place. With the FeedDemon desktop reader and the new Google Reader platform as their default online RSS reader, it’s really easy to sync feeds both ways. However, why would I want to now that I can read and do everything in Google Reader as well? Although the standalone reader might prove useful for many advance RSS readers, I really just need to be able to read my feeds in the same application. Now that I have Better GReader installed, I can ditch FeedDemon. That’s one less application installed on my computer.

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Prevent Advertising Neworks from Tracking your Activity

The Targeted Advertising Cookie Opt-Out (TACO) is a awesome Firefox add-on that when installed, will essentially prevent 84 different advertising networks from tracking your online activity in hopes of serving you targeted ads. These targeted ads actually have a better chance of being clicked on because the user sees it as something that interests them. However, not everyone likes the idea of having their online activity ‘tracked’ and so this is where the TACO add-on comes into play. Just as how not everyone likes the idea of having targeted ads being directed to them, not everyone also rejects the idea. Ads have been a big revenue with the rise of the Internet. With more and more people on the Internet, that means more and more ads being served and that in turn means more chances of those ads actually being clicked on. With targeted ads, the chances increase even more. For example, would you click on a ad advertising skateboards which you have no interest in or would you click on a ad that advertised basketball jerseys, which so happens that you’ve just purchased one not too long ago?

Targeted ads are not a coincidence. Big advertising networks place cookies in your browser that tracks websites you visit so that it can get an general idea of the things you are interested in. The result are ads that cater to your interest. Depending on who and the type of person you ask, this can be either viewed as a invasion of privacy or as a awesome alternative when viewing ads. In my opinion, if you don’t like any type of ads in the first place, you’ll hate targeted advertising and vice-versa. Although I’m the former type, I do not necessarily despise advertisement. As mentioned earlier, they are a big money maker and they do help out smaller businesses that implement pay-per-click ad models. What I am against is them being able to track my web activity. I guess you can view ads as TV commercials. Sure, a lot of us hate viewing them but if the networks showed you commercials with only the content that you are interested in, it might not be so bad.

Installing TACO

1. In order to use the TACO Firefox add-on, you must of course, use the Firefox browser!

2. In order for TACO to work properly, your browser must also accept third-party cookies. In Firefox, hit the Tools menu at the top and choose Options. Hit the Privacy tab and select the option to accept third-party cookies if it isn’t already selected.

Third Party Cookies

3. Next, simply head over toTACO’s Firefox add-on page to install it in Firefox. Restart your browser for the changes to take effect. If you want to view all the advertising networks that TACO will block along with more information on how TACO works, you can head over to the author’s webpage.

4. Once TACO is installed, head into your Firefox’s cookies store by going back into the Privacy tab in the Options menu and hitting the Cookies button. Advertising networks, especially those that gather information, is required by law to give the users an option to ‘opt-out’ from their tracking. Essentially, this means that they are not allowed to track your web activity. The problem is that most users do not know about this opt-out option and so most likely do not have the opt-out cookie installed. TACO takes care of that by placing those opt-out cookies in your cookie store for 84 of the most notorious advertising networks. Another good news is that the cookies installed by TACO are permanent. Even if you choose to clear your cookies, these opt-out cookies will remain. So basically as long as you have TACO installed, those advertising networks will not be able to track your web activity. If for some reason in the future you want to get rid of the opt-out cookies as well, uninstall TACO first.

Cookies

As mentioned on their website, there are ‘other’ ways for these advertising companies to sneak some type of data into your browser for tracking. If you are really paranoid, one of the best counter-measures is to empty out your cookies store each time you exit Firefox. Cookies is another hate it or love it type of web technology. By erasing your cookies in your browser, websites can’t properly identify you until they place another cookie in your store and so those items in your Amazon cart will disappear (assuming you weren’t signed in to begin with). With TACO installed, you’ll have at least some control from being tracked by third party companies. To some people, as long as they don’t steal any of their personal information, they could care less about being ‘tracked’ around. It really depends on who you ask.

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How To Backup Entire Firefox Profile!

Label me a fool. I have been using Firefox since it debuted and all this time, I have never learned or took the time to find out how to backup my Firefox profile. I spend a lot of time rebuilding machines for testing and whatnot and each time I have to reinstall/reconfigure all of my Firefox extensions and settings. This might not be so bad if you are not a hardcore Firefox user but when you start harnessing all the third party plugins and extensions to customize your browser, you’ll quickly begin to understand what a hassle it could be to start again from scratch. In this article, I will go over a simple Firefox plugin that will help you quickly and easily backup as well as restore your Firefox settings on any computer. We all know how Firefox can be customized to your liking. From extensions that help you block obtrusive ads to one’s that can add much needed features to your favorite websites, it’s all there. However, I’m not going to rant about how awesome the browser is. Chances are if you are using Firefox now to read this post, you already know what it can do for you. The point of this post is to help you and others realize how easy it is to backup your Firefox settings whether it may be for backup or migration purposes. For example, if you use two or more computers, wouldn’t you want your Firefox experience to be the same across all of them? What about when your computer all of a sudden crashes and you haven’t made a recent system image? You certainly could do what I and many others have done in manually reinstalling each and every extension you have used (good luck remembering them all) and reconfiguring all your saved passwords and bookmarks. Or, you could simply reload your saved Firefox profile and be done with it.

You can download the FEBE extension here.

I now humbly present to you the FEBE (Firefox Environment Backup Extension) addon for Firefox. This extension takes out all the work of manually backing up your Firefox browser and presents to you a easy to use interface that just about anyone can use. The restore process is also as simple as can be. First of all, FEBE gives you the option of manually select ‘what’ you want to backup. You have a host of options from your cookies, themes, preferences, extensions, bookmarks, usernames and passwords etc. As mentioned previously, you also have the option to backup your entire Firefox profile. Think of this as creating a Firefox ‘image’. Once created, you can restore the profile on the computer it was made from or you can blast the profile to another computer with a bare-bones install of Firefox. Doing so will instantly install all of your extensions as well as all the other items so that your Firefox browsers will become identical on each computer.

# Configuring FEBE
Once FEBE is installed, you can access it via the Tools menu. Select FEBE Options to configure it. From here, you can easily select what type of backup you want to create. If you select the Selective option, you can then select which items you want to be backed up. Selecting the Full Profile option will gray out the choices as it will obviously backup everything.

FEBE Menu

In the Directory tab, you can select the folder to hold your backups.

Backup Location

In the Schedule tab, you can configure FEBE to automatically make a backup at an interval of your choosing or whenever Firefox starts or shutdown.

Schedule

The 3 other tabs are not that important. You can choose to create a Box.net account to upload your backed up settings to their online servers. If you choose this course, you would set up the account on that tab.

# Backing up
Performing the actual backup couldn’t be any more easier. If you set up a backup schedule, you could wait for the automatic backup to start but if not, you simply go back into FEBE in the Tools menu and select Perform Backup. The files will then be stored in the folder you specified in the Directory tab.

Back Up
Data Files

If you chose to selectively back up items rather than a full profile backup, you’ll have more files in the folder.

# Restoring
Restoring is another simple process. Access the FEBE menu and select the Restore option. You will then see a list of items you can choose to restore. Select the one that fits your situation. If you are restoring extensions, you can easily restore all of them at once by making sure to highlight all of them in the dialog box. If you are restoring a full profile, it gets a little trickier. You need to create a new Firefox profile and then you will be able to restore it to that newly created profile.
The FEBE site has an excellent two part video showing you how to backup and restore a full profile. Please watch it in it’s entirety if you are lost.

Once you have restored your profile or extension, everything should be in place again. When I restored my full profile backup on another computer running a bare install of Firefox, I was quickly amazed. Everything was in place including my customized toolbar buttons, all of my extensions, and my preferences and passwords behaved exactly the same as if I was using Firefox on my original computer. You can see why I have labeled it similar to a computer system image.
I love FEBE in that it allows me to backup only what I need. Sometimes you don’t want to restore your entire profile but rather only the extensions that you use. With FEBE, this is certainly possible. No longer do I have to remember or write down the extensions I use. Hopefully, the author of FEBE will continue to update this awesome utility.

I want to conclude this post by listing some of my personal favorite Firefox extensions. There are literally thousands of extensions so feel free to browse through them.

Adblock Plus
One of the most popular and useful Firefox extension ever. It will help block out ads that you normally see when you visit websites. Try using this add-on for a month or two and try switching it off. You’ll be surprised at how different the Internet looks.

Xmarks
Another extension that will prove useful. It will help you synchronize your bookmarks so that you will never be left out in the dark when you use your other computers. Added a bookmark on one system? Simply synchronize on the second computer and everything will be there.

Dictionary Tooltip
A must need extension if you do a lot of reading in Firefox. Simply double click a unknown word and it will instantly popout a little toolbox that shows you the definition. This will save you a great deal of time!

Flashblock
Are you tired of visiting websites where there are a constant amount of flash embedded videos? Now you can prevent them from ever loading with this extension. Of course, you can choose to load them individually or you can simply exempt a site from being blocked, for example, the Youtube site.

IE Tab
Want the best of both worlds with Firefox and Internet Explorer but don’t want to open both of them up? Well, now you can! With this simple extension, you can now quickly switch a website that doesn’t load correctly in Firefox to use the Internet Explorer engine. Awesome!

Locationbar
Another must have security extension. Once installed, it will highlight the actual/real domain name of a website. This is to prevent spoofing attacks in which you think you are at a legitimate website but in reality, you’re not. This will help you quickly see the domain name the website is registered under. Internet Explorer 8 has domain highlighting by default.

FoxyTunes
Want to quickly control your media player while browsing the net but without having to actually open your music application? Now you can with FoxyTunes. This nifty plugin supports dozens of the most popular music player today so you can quickly pause or skip a track all without having to leave Firefox.

Foxy URL
This will help you shorten those really long URLs into a compact version you can use in forums and in your emails. When the person clicks on it, they will be redirected to the original site.

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