Blog Archives

Top 10 Must-Have Browser Extensions [Video]

Your browser of choice may have changed a lot in the past year, but luckily the best extensions for making your browser better have kept up with all the most popular browsers. Here are our cross-platform, must-have favorites. More »







Chrome 4 Supports Greasemonkey Userscripts Without an Extension [Userscripts]

The Greasemonkey extension has long been one of our favorite tools for Firefox, allowing us to bend the web to our will with light and simple scripts written in JavaScript. Now most Greasemonkey scripts work in Chrome, no extension required.

In fact, when you install a userscript in Chrome, it actually installs as though it’s a regular old extension. That means, as the original Greasemonkey developer and Google employee Aaron Boodman points out on the official Chromium Blog, that Chrome users now have roughly 40,000 more extensions to add to the list.

Some scripts won’t work with Chrome just yet because of differences between Firefox and Chrome, but it looks like that number is somewhere around 15-20%. Not bad, Chrome. It’s getting more and more tempting to consider Chrome as a viable Firefox alternative every day.

The improved support for userscripts should work on any Chrome version over 4, which includes the stable version on Windows and both of the beta versions on OS X and Linux. If you'd like to try out a few good userscripts—for Chrome or Firefox—our list of the top 10 Greasemonkey user scripts is a good place to get started.

40,000 More Extensions! [Chromium Blog]






Automatically Open PDFs and PowerPoint Presentations with Google’s Doc Viewer [Downloads]

Most web browsers: Google’s Doc Viewer allows you to view any PDF, PPT, and TIFF directly in your browser without downloading the file and launching another heavy desktop application, and this user script streamlines that process.

After installing the script (which works with Greasemonkey for Firefox and should in theory work with the dev build of Chrome, Opera, Safari with GreaseKit, and IE with IE7Pro), it will convert any link pointing directly to a download of PDF, PPT, and TIFF files to a link to view those files in the Google Doc Viewer. If the idea sounds familiar, we highlighted a bookmarklet that could do the same thing on a case-by-case basis, but this user script will do the trick every time.






Helvetimail Gives a Minimal Facelift to Gmail [Gmail]

Firefox/Chrome/Opera/Safari/IE: Gmail’s already got several great themes, but if you’ve never been satisfied with Gmail’s clutter, the Helvetimail user script transforms Gmail into a Helvetica-based, stripped-down interface.

(Click the image above for a closer look.)

Helvetimail is a logical—if obvious—step in the latest craze of applying minimal designs using the Helvetica font to popular web applications (see previously mentioned Helvetical, Helvetireader, and Helvetwitter). To use the script, you’ll need to enable the Minimalist theme in Gmail’s themes settings. Then, depending on what browser you’re using, you’ll have to install the user script. (Firefox users, if you’ve installed Greasemonkey, just click the user script link on the Helvetimail page to install. For the rest of you, the script’s author has instructions for various browsers.)

Helvetimail is probably the least attractive of the Helveti-bunch of user scripts we’ve seen (I love the look of Helvetical), but if you’re a big fan of the user-contributed, minimal Helvetica designs, it’s worth a look.

Helvetimail [Josef Richter]






YouTube Auto Buffer Makes the Popular Video Site a Lot Better [Downloads]

Firefox with Greasemonkey: The YouTube Auto Buffer Greasemonkey script tweaks the popular video sharing site to fix some of its most common annoyances. Specifically, it stops videos from automatically playing, turns on HD/HQ playback for all videos, and hides in-video advertisements.

All three of the tweaks YouTube Auto Buffer makes can be toggled, so if you’d really like to get rid of in-video ads but don’t want to always watch videos in HD or prefer that videos play automatically, you can just disable the two unwanted features. Or at least they can be toggled in theory. I had trouble getting my preferences to stick, so your mileage may vary.

Either way, it’s a nice little script that aims to fix some users’ common YouTube annoyances. For some other YouTube-specific tweaks, check out our very own Better YouTube Firefox extension. (With any luck, maybe we can convince Gina to incorporate some of the YouTube Auto Buffer features into said add-on.)

YouTube Auto Buffer is a free download, works with Firefox and the Greasemonkey extension.






Helvetical Turns Google Calendar Into a Thing of Beauty [Downloads]

Firefox/Chrome/Opera/IE: I've never found Google Calendar to be particularly unattractive—until I compared it to the sleek, clean look of Google Calendar with the Helvetical user script, that is.

Helvetical has a very similar design aesthetic to previously mentioned Helvetireader, a Helvetica-themed Google Reader customization. It’s easy on the eyes and drops out a lot of the clutter of Google Calendar while keeping all of its functionality in tact.

Helvetical works with any browser that supports custom user scripts, which—in theory, at least—includes Firefox with Greasemonkey, Chrome with user scripts enabled, Opera, and IE with previously mentioned IE7Pro. (We’ve only tested it in Firefox.) If you give it a go, let’s hear how you like it in the comments.

Helvetical [I am Ad Taylor]






Import Facebook Phone Numbers into Your Google Contacts [Contacts]

Android users, iPhone users (anyone using Google Sync, in fact), and Google Contacts users in general with Facebook friends who list their phone number in their profiles will love this:

Brad Fitzpatrick offers a Greasemonkey script that exports those phone numbers to AddressBookr and offers to add/merge them into your Google Contacts. Even though this was posted last November, I just gave it a test run and it worked like a charm. Thanks, Nick!

Smarterware is Lifehacker editor emeritus Gina Trapani’s new home away from ‘hacker. To get all of the latest from Smarterware, be sure to subscribe to the Smarterware RSS feed. For more, check out Gina’s weekly Smarterware feature here on Lifehacker.






Top 10 Greasemonkey User Scripts, 2009 Edition [Lifehacker Top 10]

Two years ago, we compiled our 10 favorite Greasemonkey scripts, the site-fixing wonders you can load into Firefox’s Greasemonkey extension for a better browsing experience. We’ve updated our picks, and there’s a lot that’s new.

That’s not to say that the original 10 aren't worthy of your consideration. It's just that we've found a lot of cool new scripts in the following 2+ years, and some of the fixes and features those original scripts addressed have been implemented in Firefox 3, or changed by the sites themselves. This list is a bit Google-heavy, but that's to be expected—the search giant crafts all its web sites in the same kind of JavaScript that Greasemonkey works with, so geeks have the power to make Gmail, Google search, and other webapps much more useful and powerful.

All of these scripts run best on Firefox with Greasemonkey installed. (If you’re using Firefox and haven’t already installed Greasemonkey, you’ll need to do that before trying out the scripts below.) Some of them, however, can be loaded into other browsers, like Google Chrome’s dev channel version, Safari with Greasekit, natively with Opera’s user JavaScript tools, or apps like Trixie for Internet Explorer (which we haven’t tested with IE 8, so apologies for any confusion).

On with the user scripts!

10. Google Inline MP3 Player

Self-promotion alert! Adam wrote this one, but it’s not like it’s a big money-maker for him (there’s no money involved at all). All the Google Inline MP3 Player does is add a [Play] link next to any linked MP3 file you come across on the web, making it both easy to find them and super-easy to play them without having to wait for your browser plug-in, VLC, Windows Media Player, or whatever you’ve got on your system to load. It quickly inserts Google’s/Gmail’s player onto the page with the MP3 loaded for streaming, and you can hide the player again by clicking, well, [Hide Player]. Nice, simple, and works.

9. A Bit Better RTM

There are, to be sure, a whole lot of Greasemonkey scripts that tweak the AJAX-y interface of one of our favorite to-do managers, Remember the Milk. This one, though, is the most elegant and useful if you’re an RTM fan. It moves your lists to the left, where they’re more visible and accessible, and lets you hide lists you don’t normally examine (like, say, someday/maybe or shopping lists). It also adds more keyboard shortcuts that make RTM easy to get around, which is kind of a guaranteed fan-maker ’round these parts. All in all, a very helpful script.

8. Twitter Search Results

Apart from everything else you’ve heard about it, Twitter is a powerful, real-time search engine. With the Twitter Search Results user script installed, the top of your Google search results will also include the same results for that term you’d get from search.twitter.com, so you can see what’s being discussed before you take a look at what’s already been written.

7. Google Reader Absolutely Compact

If you’re a Google Reader user, chances are you value speed and reading space over fancy light-blue menus and drop-down widgets. This Greasemonkey script/Stylish style, crafted by VIP Lifehacker reader Dustin Luck, isn’t for everyone, but it does compact as much information onto the Reader page as is seemingly possible (before jumping over to terminal-style, text-only reading). Other Greasemonkey coders have mined a similar vein, releasing the eye-catching Helvetireader and the Google Reader for Wider Screens tweaks.

6. Google Docs Download

For whatever reason, you can’t just select a bunch of Google Docs files and download them in your chosen format. That makes a theoretically convenient web-based work space much less convenient. Google Docs Download steps into the void, adding a right-hand menu that, after searching out and/or selecting the files you need, offers a handy, Down-Them-All-friendly download link for all the formats Google Docs supports.

5. TinyURL Decoder

They make long URLs email friendly and save Twitter users from overflowing their 140-character limit, but shortened links from services like TinyURL, bit.ly, and many, many others can be a pain to click, wait, and then be disappointed by. This script lets you see what’s behind tinyurl.com/abc123, bit.ly/lifehacker, and all the others (those were, by the way, random typing, not links we created). We’ve covered Firefox extensions and bookmarklets that do the same, but they require clicks or mouse-overs to activate; TinyURL Decoder clarifies the entire web for you automatically.

4. Gmail Unread Message Count in Favicon

A great little script that works in a tiny little space. Gmail Unread Message Count in Favicon does, well, what you might presume it does, but does it really well: It adds a number to the standard Gmail Favicon that gets brighter as more unread messages pile up in Gmail. It maxes out at “99+”, turns orange when you have a chat message, and changes to blue for the Google Apps users out there. Gmail offers a title bar tweak that puts just the number of unread messages in the front of your Gmail tab/window, but this little icon is far more intuitive and powerful.

3. Invisibility Cloak

Self-Promotion Alert Pt. 2: We made this one as well. It doesn’t alter how web pages display and operate; instead it alters how you operate your web pages. If you’re prone to more-frequent-than-necessary trips over to Twitter, Facebook, Fark, or any other time-sucking sites, just load them into Invisibility Cloak, as Gina describes in her write-up on banning time-wasting web sites, and you'll never see them before you hit that magic oh-well-work's-almost-over-anyways time—3pm on weekdays, by default, but you can set any time that applies to your work flow.

2. Textarea Resize

Some web sites give you just one line of space to type out a lot of information, like an address, article comment, or other mini-post. Textarea Resize pushes on the downward edge of any typing area and makes it one line bigger whenever you hit Ctrl+Enter, and knocks it back down with a Ctrl+Shift+Enter. Take that, web sign-up forms! Want more control over your text area sizes? Try this grab-and pull bookmarklet.

1. Folders4Gmail

Move from traditional email clients to Gmail’s web interface, and the first thing you’ll likely ask is, “Where are the folders?” Folders4Gmail eases the transition and makes sense of Gmail’s clever, unique, but sometimes hard-to-grok labels. Create a folder called, for example, “Sports.” Next, create a folder named “SportsSoccer.” “Soccer” shows up nested under “Sports,” and you can get as multi-level as you’d like, assuming you’ve got this neat little script installed to show them all as drop-down, folder-like containers.


So ends another compilation of 10 tweaks we hope you’ll find useful in your day-to-day browsing. By all means, though, tell us the scripts you can’t believe we left off, and the better versions of the scripts we didn’t, in the comments.



Greasemonkey Multi-Script Compiler Released (Programmers Only)

Better Gmail 2 Options dialogThe code that generates my series of “Better” Firefox extensions–Better Gmail 2, Better GReader, Better Amazon, and the rest–is now publicly available.

The Greasemonkey Multi-Script Compiler (GMSC) is based heavily on Anthony Lieuallen’s Greasemonkey (single) script compiler. Unlike Lieuallen’s compiler, which is web-based, you’ve got to download GMSC, set up your user scripts by hand, and run the compiler from the command line. (It’s PHP and bash, so Windows users, you need something like Cygwin to use this.) I’ve posted a first draft of the user guide in the wiki, and intend to flesh it out as folks start trying it out and asking questions.

I’ve been building and using GMSC to generate and update the Better extensions for over two years now, but since it started out as a set of quick and dirty for-my-eyes-only scripts, it’s still very rough around the edges. I’m nervous about putting it out there for public consumption, but my hope is that better programmers than I am will start forking the GitHub repository and helping improve things. Eventually I’d like to release an easy-to-use webapp that lets anyone compile a custom extension with multiple user scripts and skins and a tabbed options dialog. We’ll see how it goes!

In the meantime, hardy PHP programmers with an interest in giving it a try can find it on GitHub: Greasemonkey Multi-Script Compiler.

Many thanks to all the Greasemonkey programmers and especially Anthony Lieuallen, not only for building the extension and the compiler, but for open-sourcing it. Without their work, schmoes like me would never be able to build Firefox extensions so easily.

Disable the New Tab Page in Google Chrome [Google Chrome]

Windows only: Google Chrome's new tab page gives you quick access to your most visited web pages—but if that's a privacy concern you can now disable it with a user script.

The Google Operating System blog highlights a very simple user script that hides all the content on the new tab page—to use it, you'll need to start by following our guide to enabling user scripts in Chrome, and then save the script into the new User Scripts directory. Once the setup is complete, you can simply open a new tab to see the change.

For more user scripting goodness, check out Better Gmail for Google Chrome.

Disable Google Chrome’s New Tab Page [Google Operating System]





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