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Wouldn’t it be great if you could manage all your digital work from a single dashboard without having to jump from one app to another?

Managing your email program, messenger, browser, Twitter client, to-do list, writing app, etc. can get annoying when you have to keep switching from one to another constantly. Standalone applications are great and come with plenty of handy features. But if you don’t have extensive uses for them, they can end up interfering with your work rather than making it simpler.

Thankfully, by optimizing one of your favorite platforms, the Web browser, and bundling all your apps into it, you can turn it into a centralized workspace from where you can get most, if not all, of your regular tasks done with reduced effort.

While this can be accomplished with any browser, it’s much easier to do so with leading ones like Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, because these can be customized down to the tiniest detail. For the purpose of this post, we’ll stick to Firefox (on Windows), with a few Chrome alternatives thrown in.

Install the right add-ons

You’re probably no stranger to Firefox extensions. They come with such nifty features that you’re often tempted to install several of them. Here we list some common tasks you normally perform on your computers and hand-held devices, and the extensions that can help you take care of them directly from your browser.

firefox-addons

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Getting Email Updates

X-Notifier (or WebMail Notifier) is a popular add-on that helps keep tabs on your webmail accounts. It appears as a tiny icon in the toolbar and discreetly shows the number of unread emails in your inbox. You can use it to configure various accounts including Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, etc. Clicking on the mail icon takes you directly to your inbox.

If you’re a Gmail user, you’ll love the Gmail Panel extension. It presents a replica of your Gmail inbox in a panel that overlays the browser window, without covering it completely. You can open or close it with a single click and perform all the operations you perform in the tabbed version of Gmail.

For Chrome users: X-notifier, Gmail Offline

Writing & Editing

MarkDown Editor presents a clean and easy-to-use plain-text writing environment with Markdown support. You can display the Markdown content and the corresponding HTML output in adjacent vertical or horizontal panes. The plugin also has features to hide the HTML panel, apply external CSS, and export content to HTML.

For Chrome users: Write Space, Writer

markdown-editor

If you need something more substantial for your writing, you might find something useful in Aaron’s post on web-based tools for writers 5 Web-Based Tools For Any Browser That Every Writer Should Use 5 Web-Based Tools For Any Browser That Every Writer Should Use As writers, there are a lot of tools at our disposal. And since I’m also interested in technology, I’m constantly finding applications and techniques that are helpful. I wanted to keep it simple by providing... Read More .

Code Editing & Debugging

Firefox’s Firebug extension is considered a must-have for developers. Install it to make use of its different tools for handling HTML, CSS, and Javascript elements on any Web page.

For Chrome users: ShiftEdit, Codenvy IDE

Chatting

Get the Cryptocat Firefox extension for encrypted chat sessions. If you want to use Google+ hangouts, you can do so from the Gmail Panel extension mentioned above. Tidy Facebook Chat is a popular extension to replace the native Facebook messenger. Chatzilla and Freenode IRC Client are excellent choices if you use IRC for communication.

For Chrome users: Cryptocat, imo messenger, CIRC

Social Media Sharing

With Shareaholic, you can post updates to various social networks and websites. Choose from several options including Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and Hacker News. The extension icon appears in the address bar itself, which makes it easy to share any Web page at the click of a button.

For Chrome users: Buffer, Cortex

shareaholic

Reading Feeds

Bamboo Feed Reader and NewsFox are a couple of good extensions for reading and subscribing to RSS feeds. If you’re a Feedly user, you can install Feedly’s Firefox extension instead. There is also a Chrome extension for Feedly.

Did you know you could create a feed reader right within Google Spreadsheet Create an RSS Feed Reader Using Google Spreadsheet Create an RSS Feed Reader Using Google Spreadsheet Looking for a more practical, everyday use for my growing collection of Google spreadsheets, I decided to see if I could use one function I haven't covered here at MUO yet called "ImportFeed", to try... Read More ?

For Chrome users: Read Saikat’s post on excellent RSS extensions for Chrome Local Reader - 6 Excellent RSS Extensions For Chrome Local Reader - 6 Excellent RSS Extensions For Chrome The RSS game is wide open. RSS aggregators are back in the feeding frenzy. But then, the tribe of feed readers was already there…we mostly had time for the king. Google Reader will be dead... Read More

FTP Transfers

Use FireFTP to upload files easily to your FTP/SFTP server. Learn more about its features FireFTP is a Powerful Firefox FTP Client You Can Use in Your Browser FireFTP is a Powerful Firefox FTP Client You Can Use in Your Browser If you've ever done any sort of web management, then you've probably used FTP at some point or another. Most web hosts will have a primitive file uploader than you can use straight from your... Read More .

For Chrome users: Unfortunately, there aren’t any FTP client extensions worth mentioning. But you can still upload files to your server from within Chrome by using net2ftp, a web-based FTP client.

Tasks & Reminders

With ReminderFox, you can set reminders and create to-do lists quickly. Just pick a date in the calendar placed in the sidebar of the main window of the plugin, click on Add Event, type in a description for your list item, and hit OK. Switch between the reminder list and the to-do list using the drop-down menu placed at the top.

Some web apps like Todoist come with browser extensions of their own, so you can install them if you use those particular apps.

For Chrome users: Any.do, Todoist or see how you can set reminders with the omnibox 11 Quick Tricks To Become A Chrome Omnibox Power User 11 Quick Tricks To Become A Chrome Omnibox Power User Do you want to become an Omnibox power user and save plenty of time and keystrokes? All you need are a few good extensions and a little knowledge of how to tweak the search settings.... Read More .

reminder-fox

Image Search

The FlickrBlogger extension scours Flickr to bring you free images for commercial use with the condition of attribution. If you want Creative Commons images or other media from sources other than Flickr, the CC Search plugin can help you find them.

For Chrome users: CC Search

Add a few other tweaks

Use MakeUseOf’s regularly updated list of the best Firefox add-ons to get more extensions to suit your needs.  Get even more control over Firefox by installing one or more Greasemonkey scripts.

For Chrome users: The Best Chrome Extensions

In case you don’t find suitable extensions for certain tasks, use web-based apps instead. If you use Gmail, our power user guide to Gmail can help you get the most out of Gmail’s built-in features to make your work easier.

Be cautious while installing add-ons. As far as possible, choose only the ones that are absolutely necessary, because having too many of them can end up slowing down Firefox. Disabling those extensions that you don’t use frequently is also a good way to stop them from consuming too many resources and introducing a lag. Do experiment with a few other techniques to keep Firefox from getting unbearably slow How To Keep Firefox From Getting Unbearably Slow How To Keep Firefox From Getting Unbearably Slow I don’t like Firefox. I think it is a monolithic, huge, heavy browser, and its XPI-based architecture feels slow and dated. Firefox is more flexible than other browsers like Chrome but it also gradually slows... Read More .

If you’re a Chrome user, learn how to stop Chrome from hogging all your RAM Is Chrome Hogging All Your RAM? Make It Behave With These 2 Extensions Is Chrome Hogging All Your RAM? Make It Behave With These 2 Extensions Chrome or Firefox? This might be the hottest question in today’s tech community, and one you’ll never find a straight answer for. Personally, I think both browsers are great, but have been using Firefox more... Read More . You can go a step further and learn how to become a Chrome power user How To Become A Chrome Power User, Part 1 - Master The Keyboard How To Become A Chrome Power User, Part 1 - Master The Keyboard Google Chrome for some time has been the browser of choice for many and although the majority of our web browsers can do some pretty impressive things, Chrome has continued to snatch up power users,... Read More .

Combine your new dashboard with the power of IFTTT and you might just have landed yourself a new virtual assistant.

Create more screen space

Once you have installed the right extensions, it is time to clean up the browser window by hiding unnecessary elements. Right-click the blank area beside the last tab and select the Customize option from the toolbar menu that appears.

In the dialog box that pops up, select the icon of each add-on that you know you’ll use frequently and drag it to the navigation toolbar i.e. the toolbar that holds the address bar. Then click the Add New Toolbar button, type in a name for the new toolbar, and drag the icons of the add-ons that you’re planning to use occasionally (feed reader, FTP, etc.) to this toolbar.

You can also add icons of native features like bookmarks, history, etc. to either of these toolbars. Once you’re happy with the arrangement of icons, click the Done button to exit the dialog box.

customize-toolbar

Now go back to the toolbar menu and hide all toolbars except the navigation toolbar, by unchecking the corresponding option. What you have now is the address bar, search bar, and a set of shortcuts to your favorite apps all neatly arranged in a single row. If you want to access features from the other toolbars, you can always display them temporarily.

navigation-toolbar

Take advantage of the Pinned Tabs feature to keep your regular web apps such as the text editor or image editor pinned to the browser and out of the way, ready to be accessed with a single click.

Learn keyboard shortcuts

Using keyboards shortcuts can speed up your workflow and reduce those repetitive mouse clicks, which are certainly bad for you ergonomically. Bookmark MakeUseOf’s cheatsheets for Firefox shortcuts on Windows and Firefox shortcuts on Mac. You can pair them up with ShortcutFoo, a web-based service that lets you create customized drills to learn shortcuts.

If you don’t want to, you don’t have to learn them all. Even knowing the following few can come in very handy:

  • Cycle through tabs (Ctrl + Tab)
  • Create a bookmark (Ctrl + D)
  • Cut (Ctrl + X), Copy (Ctrl + C), Paste (Ctrl + V)
  • Zoom in (Ctrl + +), Zoom out (Ctrl + -)
  • Refresh the page (F5)
  • Go into full screen mode (F11)
  • Close tab (Ctrl + W)
  • Add .com to the address bar (Ctrl + Enter)
  • Enter private browsing mode (Ctrl +Shift + P)

For Chrome users: Google Chrome Shortcuts

keyboard

Conclusion

Whether you want to switch to Firefox or  just want to explore its features further, the user’s guide to Firefox can tell you what you need to know.

For Chrome users: The Easy Guide To Google Chrome

After you have tweaked your browser to your satisfaction, take a few days to embed it well into your workflow. There’s a good chance that pretty soon you’ll be ready to uninstall those native apps that you thought you couldn’t live without.

Which tricks and web apps make your workflow simpler? Let us know in the comments.

Image credit: The Art of Social Media by mkhmarketing

  1. Hamilton
    December 12, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    Great write Akshata! Loved it! Thanks

    • Akshata
      December 12, 2013 at 5:37 pm

      Thank you!

  2. Tinkicker
    December 12, 2013 at 3:20 am

    Okay, a step closer...I just checked out the new Google Sheets...wow! If Google can upgrade all the Docs components to perform like the new Sheets does, my whining about the internet lag and lack of offline capability that are the two biggest complaints I have about productivity through my browser will be gone.

    • Akshata
      December 12, 2013 at 4:10 am

      I haven't checked out the new Google Sheets yet. Maybe you can try Live Writer till they upgrade Docs :)

  3. Tinkicker
    December 12, 2013 at 1:46 am

    Yes I've used Kingsoft on my phone, and I like it, but it's not available yet for Chrome. We'll get by somehow, won't we? Ha!

  4. Tinkicker
    December 11, 2013 at 3:56 am

    Definitely! I LOVE the compact convenience of my C710 Acer, its only shortcoming being a 3.5 to 4 hour battery life, which the new Haswell C720 cures with around an 8 hour life. For about $200, give it a shot...Merry Christmas to self!
    That other 2% involves a fast, full-functioned office suite. I use LibreOffice since I like using open-source stuff when I can, but all the web-only office products I've used so far have fallen far short.
    The weak points are either excess latency over the web, lack of necessary features or both. I'm sure that one day all of that will be fixed by somebody somewhere....but that day ain't today lol.
    And that's my 2% worth :D

    • Akshata
      December 11, 2013 at 1:16 pm

      If you make full use of an office suite, a full-featured one like LibreOffice does make more sense. I use Kingsoft Writer occasionally, but I'm thinking of uninstalling that and sticking to SkyDrive since I require just the basic features.

  5. Tinkicker
    December 10, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    Akshata...you've described my Chromebook very well. I now use it (utilizing, of course, the Chrome browser in its ChromeOS incarnation), for 98% of my tasks. My 17" Windows 7 laptop sits next to me, waiting forlornly for me to lug it over for the other 2% :D.

    • Akshata
      December 11, 2013 at 3:10 am

      I have a Windows 7 laptop, but now that I'm using the browser for all my work, I'm considering a netbook myself. If you could find a hack to switch that 2% to the Chromebook or a less bulky option than the 17?, wouldn't that be great :D

    • Morbo
      December 21, 2013 at 8:30 pm

      Akshata: You can install Crouton and get Ubuntu. At that point, you can almost instantly switch between OSes. http://www.howtogeek.com/162120/how-to-install-ubuntu-linux-on-your-chromebook-with-crouton/

  6. Mihir Patkar
    December 10, 2013 at 7:31 am

    I love that header image!

    • Akshata
      December 10, 2013 at 1:42 pm

      All thanks to Compfight :)

  7. Richard
    December 10, 2013 at 6:29 am

    Really-helpful.-The-sort-of-article-that-busy-users-need-more-of.-Straightforward-tips.-Thanks-for-writing-it.

    • Akshata
      December 10, 2013 at 1:42 pm

      Thanks Richard! Glad to know your found it useful.

  8. Fahad Ahammed
    December 10, 2013 at 1:43 am

    Hello .

    Nice post. You have a nice writing technique. Keep it up. Will look forward to read more.

    Thank You.

    • Akshata
      December 10, 2013 at 3:52 am

      Thank you, Fahad :)

  9. Kashif
    December 9, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    Interesting tips. Saving in my Diigo for future reference :)

    • Akshata
      December 10, 2013 at 3:49 am

      Thanks!

    • Akshata
      December 10, 2013 at 3:50 am

      Thank you. Glad you liked it :)

  10. Akshata
    December 9, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    Thank you, Joel :) What I do is use Writer for first drafts and then switch to Markdown Editor for revisions.

  11. Joel L
    December 9, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    Tried looking for a WriteSpace alternative when I switched to Firefox a while ago but couldn't. Markdown Editor looks like it could work for me, though. Good tips. :)

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