Love those Firefox Extensions!

The Thinker by Rodin

Some time ago I wrote about my preferred browser: Mozilla Firefox. It was obvious to me months ago that those who tried it would probably feel the same way about giving up Firefox as the gun nuts would about giving up their firearms: when you pry our cold, dead hands off our keyboards. In a word Firefox rocks! It is now up to version 0.9 and only keeps improving.

As if the lovely standard features like tabbed browsing, easy in page search, Google search box and easily customizable toolbars weren’t enough, perhaps the best thing is how extensible Firefox is. That alone is reason to prefer it to Internet Explorer. Can you imagine Microsoft opening up its IE source code and allowing the user community to improve it? Actually it might happen one of these days since there is little money for Microsoft to make in the browser business and they are inept (at best) at patching its many security holes. Since Microsoft gives IE away it may make some sense to let others develop the code for free. Shareholders might appreciate it. For now its value is dubious and exists largely to market products by Microsoft and its affiliates.

But Firefox is wrapped around open source components like the Gecko rendering engine and the XUL framework. As a result very clever developers who don’t mind giving away their work for free are having a field day extending the usefulness of the browser. One fun thing you can do is simply download and install the many readily available themes. If you get bored you can just toggle from theme to theme. Suddenly the same old boring web pages aren’t as boring because the frame is jazzed up!

To me the coolest thing about Firefox is its tabbed browsing feature. Granted it inherited it from the Mozilla 1.0 framework, although most people first encountered it in Netscape 6 (which of course is Mozilla 1.0 under the hood). Once you get the hang of browsing with tabs you can’t let it go. Well earlier this week I discovered the Tabbrowser Extension for Firefox. Now I am not just in love with my browser but I am in ecstasy.

When I am online I live in my browser. I perfer having all my favorite pages open at once. Tabs give me an intuitive and easy way switch from page to page. Out of the box Firefox has cool features like the ability to open a whole folder of bookmarks with each page in a tab. But with the Tabbrowser extension I can finally have links behave the way I want them.

For example when I am in my email client and click on a link I don’t want it to open up a new browser instance. I want the page to appear in a new tab in the existing browser instance. Now I can do this with the Tabbrowser extension, after first adding a line to my prefs.js file and tweaking the Tabbrowser controls a bit. The Tabbrowser extension itself downloaded and installed in less than a minute. I had to close and reopen my browser. I discovered an extremely feature rich set of things I can do with tabs, thanks to the clever programmer Shimoda Hiroshi, who authored the Tabbrowser extension.

It took a lot of experimentation to get things the way I want. I will still tweak it from time to time. But most of the time I want any link on a page to open in another tab. But if the link belongs to the same site I don’t want it to open in another tab, I want it to overwrite the content in the current tab. It took quite a bit of experimenting but I finally figured out a way to get the extension to do just this.

And I’ve just scratched the surface. There are lots of things you can do with tabs with this extension. These include making bookmarks or items on your toolbars open in tabs. But I found most of the time I don’t want to enable this feature. Other neat features include displaying tabs in groups and anchoring tabs to the top, bottom, left or right sides of the browser window.

There are hundreds of extensions that can make Firefox behave the way that fits your mental model, not someone else’s. Admittedly some are more useful and professional than others. But all of them are fun for those of us who like to tinker. But even if you are not the tinkerer type for most people plain old Firefox out of the box will be just fine and a huge improvement over Internet Explorer’s many annoyances.

Firefox is not up to a production release version 1.0 yet but it shouldn’t be too much longer. It seems very stable to me. One tweak I would make to the out of the box Firefox interface would be to add the Print icon to the toolbar. It seems odd that you have to go to File>Print to print something out by default. Most novice users won’t bother to play with the customized toolbars.

At last: the browser done right! And it’s all free and cross platform. Do yourself a favor if you haven’t tried Firefox and download it now.

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