All major browsers — Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer — support installing browser extensions. These extensions do exactly what they say: extend the functionality of your browser with new features. With extensions, you can color-code tabs, annotate web pages, and store your passwords — and do many other things. If used appropriately, extensions can turn your vanilla browser into a powerful productivity machine.
Plugins vs. Extensions
Contrary to popular belief, plugins are not the same as extensions. Plugins operate in the background of your browser and are only activated when a web page calls on them (such as when you watch a Youtube video). A plugin does not change how your browser looks or feels.
Extensions, on the other hand, are given the freedom to manipulate how your browser looks and operates, and they can work with other services you use every day. For example, you can attach emails to matters and create tasks with the Clio for Gmail extension for Chrome.
In short, plugins are only activated when a website you’re visiting needs them. Extensions are similar to apps on your phone, and you can use them when you want to.
Client-sensitive information, as well as your own sensitive information, is running through your browser all day long — especially if you’re running a paperless office. So, just like any other piece of software you install, you should be diligent about what extensions you choose to use and where you get them from.
To install extensions in each of the four most popular web browsers, follow these steps.
Chrome makes it very easy to install extensions. Additionally, Chrome will sync extensions and their settings across multiple devices, assuming you have a Google account.
To start, open a new tab in Chrome and click Apps.
On the Apps page, click on the Web Store icon. Click extensions to to filter out the Apps, Games, and Themes you can also download through the Chrome Web Store.
You can either search for your preferred extension or surf through the categories on the main page. Find the extension you want and click the blue Add to Chrome button.
Before installation will complete, Chrome tells you what the extension will have permissions to access. Read these with care. If you are ok with the level of access that an extension is requesting, click Add Extension.
Managing Chrome Extensions
To manage Chrome extensions, click the hamburger menu in the upper-right hand corner of your browser and select Settings.
In settings, click Extensions in the left sidebar. You can now enable, disable, or remove any of your extensions. You can also enable specific extensions to operate incognito. And if you really want to get efficient, Chrome supports custom keyboard shortcuts for extensions.
Firefox was one of the first browsers to popularize the concept of extensions, known in Firefox as Add-Ons.
To install Add-ons, click on Tools in the menu bar and select Add-ons. This will open the Add-ons Manager page.
Much like the Chrome Web Store, you can search for your extensions or delve into categories. Once you’ve found an extension you want, click the green Add to Firefox button. You will be prompted to approve the extension being installed. If you trust the author of the extension, click Install.
Managing Firefox Extensions
To manage Firefox extensions, click Extensions in the left sidebar of the Add-ons Manager page. From this page, you can adjust the preferences of your extension. Firefox also gives you the option to disable an extension temporarily or remove it completely.
While it is not obvious, Safari does support extensions. To get to your extensions, click Safari in your toolbar and select Safari Extensions.
You will be brought to the Safari Extensions page.
To install an extension, click or search for your preferred extension. Once you’ve found your extension, simply click Install Now.
Once the extension is installed, a new tab will open confirming the installation of your extension.
Managing Safari Extensions
Click Safari in your toolbar and select Preferences (you can also press the keyboard shortcut ?, to access preferences). Once in preferences, click Extensions.
Once you are in the Extensions menu, you can uninstall, disable, or adjust the settings of your installed extensions. If Automatically update extensions from the Safari Extensions Gallery is not already selected, select it now.
While Internet Explorer does support extensions, its extensions library is not nearly as robust as Chrome, Firefox, or even Safari. Additionally, running extensions in Internet Explorer comes with more security risks. Internet Explorer will not alert you when your extension is outdated. Instead, it is on you to make sure your IE extensions are up to date.1
If you are content with the additional manual upkeep, open Internet Explorer and click Tools and select Manage Add-ons.
A pop-up window will open that will show all your currently installed extensions. To install more extensions, click Find more toolbars and extensions… to the left of the close button.
This will bring you to the sparsely-filled Internet Explorer extension gallery.2 Find the extension you want to install, and click Add to Internet Explorer.
No further permissions are required to install extensions in Internet Explorer.
Managing Internet Explorer Extensions
Since Internet Explorer does not automatically update extensions, it is imperative you check your extensions. Out-dated extensions can lead to security issues and poor browser performance.
Click on Tools in the menu bar and select Manage Add-ons. Then you will need to click on the extension you want to update and go to its publisher page. Re-add the extension to install any necessary updates.
Use extensions wisely. It is easy to bloat your browsers with them. But if you use extensions correctly, you will wonder how you’ve gone so long without them.