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A user script is code written in a programming language that allows you to control a piece of software. Think for example, macro’s in Microsoft Office that help improve your work flow. Well did you know that you can do the exact same thing with your browsing experience, and the websites you view? Well you can, and it’s amazing. Greasemonkey first came around in 2004/05, and its the tool that really threw user scripts in the browser out there. Greasemonkey is a Firefox extension that allows you to write scripts that alter the web pages that you view. It allows you to make web pages more usable, more viewable, fix bugs for yourself; the possibilities are endless.
Lets look at an example of a fantastic user script that solves some problems for the user. Twitter is a fantastic tool, that many of us web designers, and developers use to collaborate, share knowledge, and make new connections, as well as letting current, and prospective clients keep up with our work. However, if we are all honest, there are things about twitter that annoy, and limit us. Mentioning someone can be a difficult task, especially when you can’t remember their exact twitter name. Working out which people you follow are following you back is a monumental task. Navigating in the dark with URL shorteners can be potentially dangerous (NSFW). The new re-tweet button doesn’t let you add your own thoughts to a tweet without copy pasting. That’s just naming a few, but that can all be fixed, with a user script!
This user script, Making twitter better!, solves all these issues that we have. It auto-completes twitter names as you type for you, it shows an icon next to people who are following you back, it unshortens url’s for you so you can feel safe clicking links, and it add’s a new button; comment. This really shows the power that these user scripts have.
You’ll be happy to know, that since Greasemonkey’s release in 2004/05, user scripts are no longer just limited to Firefox. You are able to user userscripts in Internet Explorer, Opera, Chrome, Safari, and of course Firefox, with support for other browsers being limited, but sometimes available. (I cannot vouch for each of the following options as I only use Chrome as my browser)
For internet explorer, your main option for similar functionality appears to be IE7Pro. This is an add-on for IE6, 7 and 8 and adds features such as tab enhancement, ad blocker, flash blocker, mouse gestures, inline search, privacy enhancements, online bookmark service, Greasemonkey-like user script support, and plug-in support.
Google Chrome, you’ll be interested to hear, comes with built-in support for user scripts as of February 2010, so no add ons are necessary! Basically, Chrome turns user scripts into extensions and runs them as such. However, support for some user script specific functions are lacking, so be prepared to find the odd script that wont work for you.
Safari, unlike Chrome, doesn’t come with built-in support. For users of Safari 5, there is an extension called NinjaKit which allows you to obviously run user scripts. For users of older versions of Safari, there is an alternative called Greasekit which is a SIMBL plugin.
Firefox obviously harness’ the power of user script through the Greasemonkey script. No surprise there since it has done since 2005!
Opera, like Chrome, is capable of running user scripts itself. Similarly to Chrome, you may run in to trouble with some scripts, but the majority will run fine.
Of course, what use would these browser implementations be without some scripts to use? Here are 20 fantastic scripts to get you started!
Scans the YouTube page for all download formats, from iPod compatible MP4s to high-definition 1080p.
Disable the animation from Google’s new homepage.
Removes garbage from some image hosting sites and displays the image only.
Adds FLV, MP4, 3GP, and 720p download links to YouTube.
Inserts Google Reader’s MP3 Flash player next to any linked MP3 file you stumble onto while browsing
Detect the RSS-Feed on Pages and show a little “SearchClone”-dialog
Twitter is becoming more and more cluttered with useless features and other junk. This strips it back to the basics.
Helvetical turns the mayhem of the Google interface of Google Calendar into something that doesn’t offend.
Helvetireader aims to make the interface of Google Reader a clean, minimal experience where you’re not assaulted by an array of colours, social features and buttons.
Adds favicons to each link offered by Google search results.
Quickly look something up in Wikipedia, a dictionary or whatever you like (its easy to add custom sites!). The result is displayed directly on the page.
This script will allow you to max out your screen real estate in Google Calendar by allowing a full screen option via pressing F12.
Give your Gmail the beautiful, minimal experience it deserves with this Helvetica styled script.
Allows you to jump quickly between search results on different engines.
Adds nested replies to every Twitter conversation thread.
Adds a sidebar with search results from Dictionary.com, Wikipedia, Flickr, and YouTube. Please report any bugs.
Decodes shortened URLs to their original URLs. Supports a lot of url shorteners.
Fluff Busting Purity is a script that alters your Facebook homepage to only show the most relevant information to you.
Nested Replies, Custom Search Tabs, Autocomplete, Pagination, RT button, Media Embed, URL Expansion, Hash Tag Search Links, Social Links
Enhancements for Facebook: bigger profile pictures and photos, easier viewing of albums, links to download videos, showing people’s age and sign, google calendar integration, bookmarks, keyboard shortcuts & more. Fully customizable!
Well there you have an introduction to user scripts. They’ve been around for a while, but are as powerful as always, and are becoming more popular in modern browsers. If you have more scripts to share, or want to ask any questions, do so in the comments!
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Matt is an 18 year old web designer from Scotland, UK. He loves creating beautiful websites across different platforms. High on his things to learn fully are Jquery and php. He is extremely excited by css3 and html5 and can't wait to see them rolled out fully. To learn more about Matt, follow him @QwibbleDesigns, or check out his portfolio.