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The Firefox Chronicles

Firefox! Everyone knows what it is, most people who know about it use it. It is threatening the monopoly held by Internet Explorer for many years and is now the second most widely used web browser in the world today and is gaining popularity exponentially.

Background

Technically, Firefox is a web standards compliant web browser that uses the Gecko layout engine to render web pages.

Firefox is developed and maintained by the non-profit Mozilla Foundation and the Mozilla Corporation.
It is free software and the source code for it is freely available.

The first version of Firefox was released in 2002, and was called Phoenix and not Firefox.

Get Firefox

Firefox can be downloaded for nearly all platforms on it’s website.

Linux
Most Linux distributions with GUIs these days have Firefox pre-installed on them.
However, due to licensing issues, Firefox may be sometimes referred to only by it’s codename, for example, “Bon Echo” for Firefox 2.0, “Gran Paradiso” for 3.0 and “Shiretoko” for 3.5.

If your distribution doesn’t have Firefox preinstalled (Arch, Gentoo, et all) you’d probably find it in the repositories. If you can’t, then you probably know how to get it working on your system. If you don’t, it’s time to get another distro!

Mac OSX

The dmg for OSX can be downloaded from here.

Firefox is generally slower and more bloated on OSX, I don’t know why. However, it’s other features will compensate for that!

Windows

Download the exe here.
There’s nothing particularly interesting about the Windows installation, you should be able to figure it out.

Invoking Firefox

Yea, it’s not a big deal. Just click the icon, you say.
What I’m going to stress on are the command line arguments. What you see below is an excerpt of the text that is displayed when you run “firefox –help” from the Linux terminal:

Usage: firefox [ options … ] [URL]
where options include:

Firefox options
-h or -help        Print this message.
-v or -version        Print Firefox version.
-P <profile>        Start with <profile>.
-migration        Start with migration wizard.
-ProfileManager        Start with ProfileManager.
-no-remote        Open new instance, not a new window in running instance.
-UILocale <locale>    Start with <locale> resources as UI Locale.
-safe-mode        Disables extensions and themes for this session.
-jsconsole           Open the Error console.

This is a list of options Firefox can use when it starts up.
To run Firefox with any of the options, for example Profile Manager,

  • Close Firefox, make sure there are no background instances
  • On Linux:
    For a stock install of Ubuntu, just press Alt+F2 and type firefox -ProfileManager.
    For any other Linux you can just open a terminal and type firefox -ProfileManager &.
  • On OSX, type /Applications/Firefox.app/Contents/MacOS/firefox -profilemanager in a Terminal.app window.
  • On Windows, press Win+R to bring up the Run dialog and type in firefox -profilemanager.

Useful options are -safe-mode (temporarily disable extensions), -profilemanager (to manage your profiles) and -no-remote (opens Firefox in a new process, ignoring the current process).

Operating Firefox effectively with it’s keyboard shortcuts

The basic operations of Firefox are as easy as any other browser, including the usual heap of shortcuts most don’t know about (or are too lazy to remember).

  • To highlight the location bar (the place you type the addresses in), just hit Ctrl+L.
  • To highlight the search bar (the one next to the location bar) hit Ctrl+K.
  • Automatically insert the “http://www.” and the “.com”:
    to visit http://www.google.com, just type “google” in the address bar and hit Ctrl+Enter.
    for .org it’s Ctrl+Shift+Enter and for .net it’s Shift+Enter.
  • Use the address bar for quick googling!
    To search Google for anything, just type the search term into the address bar and hit Enter. You’ll be taken to the most relevant page, and if there isn’t any, you’ll be taken to the usual search results page.
  • Ctrl+T opens a new tab; Ctrl+W closes the current tab.
  • Ctrl+TAB switches between tabs
  • Ctrl+D bookmarks the current page

The Awesome Bar

A very humble and modest name for the address bar of Firefox. What’s so awesome about it?
You type something into it, and it searches (in real time) for webpages you’ve visited whose titles and addresses match what you’re typing (with the site’s icon, of course).
A screenshot:
(courtesy wikipedia)
So basically it

  • Lets you search your history
  • Lets you search Google
  • Shows a feed icon next to sites that can be subscribed to (with the in-built feed reader).
  • Lets you bookmark sites

Cliking the feed icon subcribes to the current page and clicking the star opens the bookmark dialog for the page.

Tune your Firefox for speed

Tell your Firefox to take you to the config page by typing about:config into the location bar,

Here you can tweak your Firefox away to your heart’s content, but the problem can be knowing what to tweak in the first place :P
Here are a few. Remember that there are no set values for anything: you have to try some out and see what works best for you. Your mileage will vary with the speed of your internet connection and the speed of the computer.

  1. Set the value of nglayout.initialpaint.delay to something low; this is the number of milliseconds Firefox waits before it starts rendering pages.
  2. Increase network.http.max.connections, which controls the number of connections Firefox makes simultaneously at any given time.
  3. network.http.max-persistent-connections-per-server tells Firefox how many “persistent” connections to make to a particular server. More persistent connections would mean faster loading of successive pages on the same server. However, you shouldn’t raise the value of this too much, some sites would end up blocking you.
  4. Turn on “pipelining” by setting network.http.pipelining to “True”. This (generally) makes web pages load faster. Also be sure to have a look at network.http.pipelining.maxrequests, which changes the number of requests for pipelining Firefox will make. A higher value means more speed.
  5. Reducing browser.cache.memory.capacity reduces the amount of memory Firefox hogs up to cache images and other graphics of visited pages.

Beef up your Fox with addons!

So what are these addon things?
An addon is a small program that extends the functionality of Firefox by adding a new feature, or by modifying the way Firefox looks or behaves.

There exists a large library of addons for Firefox on the Mozilla website.

An addon is simply an archive file with a .xpi extension. Installing an addon is as simple as clicking a link to an xpi file.

Firefox will automatically prompt you to confirm it’s installation.

There are hundreds of really good addons that really make Firefox your browser. The one I simply cannot live without is Tab Mix Plus, which allows you to manage tabs like no other.
Here are 7 more:

  1. Adblock plus. This one lets you block irritating and bandwidth hogging advertisements from webpages. HIGHLY recommended.
  2. Locationbar 2; linkifies segments of the URL and emphasizes the domain name (to make it easier to notice a spoof website.
  3. Open in browser lets you open files directly in your browser through the file download box.
  4. Compress the menu bar into a single button with Tiny Menu.
  5. Customize Google lets you modify your Google search results page by increasing the number of results, adding extra information on the search page, letting you remove advertisements and other unwanted information. Very useful if you spend half your life searching Google on Firefox!
  6. Control your music player from Firefox with FoxyTunes! With Last.fm support.
  7. Scribefire lets you post content directly to your blog from a pane in Firefox. Supports nearly every popular blogging service.

Not only are there Addons to enhance Firefox’s behaviour, but you can install themes to make your Firefox look stunning. You can browse Firefox themes at the Mozilla addon directory.

Here’s my Firefox running with Tab Mix plus and the NASA night launch theme.

Conclusion

Firefox is clearly an extremely versatile and powerful browser for all platforms. It could take a few days to tailor Firefox to your exact needs, to choose the right combination of addons and settings. This is well worth it, because even though the stock Firefox is extremely good in itself, customizing it lends it personalization and power, and in the hands of an old timer, the only desktop application that is required is Firefox – it can do whatever native desktop applications do and it can do it just as well.

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