Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Mozilla Firefox

Since the Mozilla Organization aimed its powerful weapon, the Firefox Web browser, at Microsoft, it has been gaining an ever-growing stake in the online market. Firefox's biggest gun is its customizability. Whether you are switching over for the first time, or are a seasoned user, here are some tips to enhance your browsing experience.

If you're changing browsers, or if you simply like having more than one on your system, there's an easy way to pull your other browsers' settings into Firefox. When you use the program's handy import tool, Firefox will grab the options, bookmarks, history, passwords, and other data from browsers like Internet Explorer, Netscape, and Opera. It's a real time-saver.

The Import function pops up during the initial installation of Firefox. Pick the browser you want to import your settings from, select what settings you want to import, and that's it. You're done. If you skipped this step when you first installed Firefox, just choose the Import function from the File menu.

But if you truly want to capture the fresh-from-scratch experience of switching browsers, you may want to uncheck the Cookies, Browsing History, Saved Form History, and Saved Passwords. Internet Options and Favorites are helpful to have when starting out, but this might be a good opportunity to do some spring cleaning of your stale old saved information.

Squint to Update

Firefox's diminutive update icon

Unlike IE, Firefox won't update itself automatically when security patches are available. But updating the browser is a snap—once you realize an update is ready and waiting. Unfortunately, the diminutive upgrade notification icon is located inconspicuously in the upper right corner of the Firefox window. If any critical updates are available, the button looks like a white arrow on top of a red circle (the notification for updates to your extensions is blue). Click it and Firefox will begin the upgrade process. If there aren't any upgrades for anything you're running, said button will be barely noticeably absent.

Clicking on the easy-to-miss gray circle next to the upgrade button will take you to the Firefox home page, or Firefox Central. From there, you can take the initiative and personally update your browser with all the latest plug-ins, extensions, and themes; you can also check via the Tools menu—it's under Options | Advanced | Software Update.

You can also update your extensions and themes from their respective management windows. Click the Tools menu, then Extensions or Themes. From there, you can see a list of all the extensions and themes you have installed and individually check each one for updates.

Open Multiple Home Pages

Set multiple home pages

You can take advantage of Firefox's tabbed interface right from the get-go, setting it to open multiple, tabbed pages on start-up—a handy tool for anyone who likes to sign on to a few favorite Web sites every day. Click on Tools | Options and the first thing you see should be the line for home page location.

Click in the text field, and type in the page you want Firefox to load first on the leftmost tab. After the address, insert a vertical bar (|) and type the next address. It's as easy as that. And there appears to be no limit to the number of pages you can designate to open; we got to 47 before our annoyance at the massive number of open tabs caused us to stop.

There's an even easier way to set up multiple home pages. When you're in Firefox, open all the tabbed pages you want to see on the browser's start-up. Go to Tools | Options again. Underneath the home page location bar is a button marked Use Current Pages. Click that and Firefox will automatically make all the currently open tabs your home pages.

Better Bookmarks

Bookmark a set of tabs

Whether you have three bookmarks or hundreds of them, Firefox has a few features that will ease your bookmarking experience. The newest version of the browser has simplified the processes for grouping bookmarks and opening multiple bookmarked pages. Now to open an entire folder's contents in tabs at once, just click on the Bookmarks menu, right-click on the desired folder, and select Open in Tabs.

Conversely, to save all of your open tabs at once, just click on the Bookmark menu and select Bookmark This Page. Though the window that pops up will prompt you for a name for the single bookmark, just pretend it's asking you for a folder name. Type that in, select the Bookmarks folder for a location, and make sure you click Bookmark all tabs in a folder. A new folder will appear in your Bookmarks menu containing all the tabs currently open in your browser. You can later go back and edit the properties of each bookmark, adding a short description to enhance your memory of just what each site was.

Use Keywords to Nickname Bookmarks


Another neat bookmark-related feature of Firefox is its ability to assign keywords to bookmarks. For example, you might assign the keyword ultrasweet to your bookmark.

It's a simple process. Click on the Bookmarks menu, right-click on a bookmark, and select Properties. In the Keyword field, enter the word of your choice. You can now use that word in place of the site's full URL in the address bar, and you'll be taken right to the page you saved.

Keywords II: but Wait, There's More

For certain search-based Web sites—Google, for example—you can actually use keywords to search straight from your address bar. For example, when you query Google normally, you're accessing the URL, where anything after the q= is the exact text you're searching for. Try adding that URL to your bookmarks folder, but modify it to read and assign it the keyword google. You can now type google x into your browser, where x is any search term you want to look up, like computers. You'll go directly to the results page, having saved a few steps in the process. This trick works for a lot of searchable Web sites; play around with it.

Be the Boss of Your Tabs

The uninitiated should know: Tabbed browsing quickly becomes a browsing requirement. It's just too convenient to give up. One common peeve of newbies, though, is that clicking on an external link, for example in an e-mail message, opens the link in the active tab, replacing the page you were on. Tabbed browsing was supposed to take care of that, right? It does. You just have to find the Tabbed Browsing options: Tools | Options | Advanced. You can elect to have external links open in a new window, in a new tab, or in the active tab. To open links from Web pages or bookmarks in new tabs, simply right-click on the links and select Open Link in New Tab.

Learn About About:Config

To peer into the brains of the Firefox browser, type about:config into the address bar and hit Enter. What follows is a large listing of the browser's internal configuration options, nearly all of which will make little sense to the average user. Luckily, Mozilla's all about online help, tutorials, and forums. We find particularly helpful—check the References links for more details than you can shake a stick at.

Speed It Up a Notch

One easy, cool preference you might want to tweak deals with speed. By default, Firefox runs fast enough—it's like driving at the speed limit. But if you want to push your browsing experience, modify a few settings in about:config. Note that these edits are for broadband connections only; if you're still dialing up, you're stuck with whatever speed you've got.

On the about:config screen, scroll down to the network.http.pipelining options. The name says it all: Firefox normally processes all HTTP requests sequentially. Once it sends one out, it waits for a response before sending the next request to a server. If you set network.http.pipelining and network.http .proxy.pipelining to true then you've basically just upgraded an antiquated browsing system with modern plumbing. Set the network.http.pipelining.maxrequests option to 30 and Firefox will now send up to 30 HTTP requests at once—theoretically, although not always, making your browsing that little bit faster.

Before you close the window, right-click anywhere on the about:config page and select New | Integer. Then type in nglayout.initialpaint.delay and enter 0 as its value. Firefox will now render pages immediately instead of waiting its default 250 ms, a slight but noticeable difference when you're surfing the Web.

Feed Me

RSS readers are quickly becoming the best tools for staying up to date with the latest postings on your favorite Web sites and blogs. (You can subscribe to PC Magazine's RSS feeds at .) Mozilla built a full RSS reader into its Thunderbird mail client, but Firefox can make use of RSS as well.

You may have noticed a button called Latest Headlines on Firefox's Bookmarks toolbar. When you click on the button, you're presented with a dynamically generated list of links to current news stories. This is what Firefox calls a Live Bookmark, and it's generated by an RSS feed. You can click through to any link on the list, or open every item all at once.

When you visit a site that has a feed, you'll see a little Live Bookmark icon in the lower right of the browser window. Click the icon and you'll see a list of all published feeds. Choose the feed you want and Firefox asks where it should store the Live Bookmark. Choose Bookmarks Toolbar Folder from the Create in drop-down menu and, voilĂ , a button for the feed appears on the toolbar. Now you can check for the latest news whenever you want.

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