A while back, I wrote about Camino, a Mozilla project that brings Gecko rendering goodness to a truly native Mac OS X interface. Since then, Camino has been my primary browser, and I know I’m not alone. I started reading a lot of articles around the Mac web singing Camino’s praises shortly after my piece ran.
While it would be nice to take credit for Camino gaining popularity, I know the true reason is because it’s a fantastic browser. It’s lean and mean, and while it lacks some bells and whistles, it does its primary function – browsing the Web – very well.
But as I mentioned in the article, Camino’s more popular cousin, Firefox, has some features that aren’t available elsewhere. The big one is extensions, which allow you to customize Firefox into your ultimate browser.
All the while I’m using Camino, I’m missing a lot of these extensions. So much so that Firefox always makes its way back into my regular browser rotation – especially since I stumbled upon the G4-optimized build (there’s also one optimized for the G5).*
This week I’d like to look at a few of the extensions that make Firefox so fantastic.
Web Developer Toolbar
This is the one I love the most of all. I don’t do a whole lot of web development work, but when I do, Firefox immediately becomes my default browser because of this wonderful extension. Even if web development is never going to happen for you, you get a whole lot of neat controls that no other browsing platform can offer.
If you’re so inclined, you can also edit a site’s HTML and CSS just to see what the changes do. For those who are learning either of those two standards, the visual feedback you get in making live changes is priceless.
Clearing private data (browser history, entered form data, etc.) and resizing Firefox’s window exactly to your liking are other things non-developers might find useful. For those who are actually using the toolbar for web development, there are a few dozen other options that are truly indispensable.
Tab Mix Plus
Tabbed browsing is one of the greatest inventions of the post-browser wars era – one of the true innovations in web browsing that actually adds convenience and productivity. Out of the box, Firefox is lacking some features and options that you find in other tabbed browsers (basically, every other browser except for Internet Explorer, although Microsoft will finally deliver this in version 7 for Windows).
With Tab Mix Plus, Firefox surges past all other browsers and then some in the tabs department.
The first thing you’ll notice after installing Tab Mix Plus is a “new tab” button in the tab bar, and each tab now has an “x” that closes the tab in addition to Firefox’s standard “x” that resides on the far right of the tab bar. Open up Tab Mix Plus’s Options panel, and you’re presented with myriad options for configuring tab behavior – and Firefox’s browsing behavior in general.
I have it set to open links that would open a new window in a new tab. In other browsers, this meant a right-click and “Open Link In New Tab”. You can also set links from other applications to open in new tabs, a feature in Camino and Safari that Firefox was sorely lacking.
One of the most innovative features of Tab Mix Plus is its mouse gestures. Simply hold your mouse over another tab for a specified amount of time and Firefox switches to that tab, no click required. I currently have the timer set to 500 msec (1/2 sec.), which makes the feature fast enough, but not so fast that tabs switch as I’m moving up to the menu bar.
Fasterfox is another power-user favorite, allowing you to tweak your http requests to decrease page load time. The default setting is Turbo Charged, which it claims offers maximum performance by increasing the load on web servers.
While that doesn’t sound very friendly, it merely means your browser opens up multiple requests to the server, and then Fasterfox aggregates the results. If a webmaster has a problem with you opening multiple connections at once, they likely have the server configured to only allow so many connections from a specific IP address.
There are also Optimized and Courteous settings, which don’t increase the load and offer smaller performance enhancements. You can also set it back to Firefox’s default and just use Fasterfox’s nifty timer, which lets you know how many seconds it took for a page to load.
Forecastfox places some weather forecast icons in the lower right of your Firefox window, giving you a look at current conditions and however many days into the future you’d like to forecast. The ability to set up multiple profiles is a real winner for the traveler, who can have the forecast for all their frequently visited cities a click away.
I’ve used Konfabulator (now the Yahoo! Widget Engine) and some menu bar items to keep up with the weather, but like most people, I spend a lot of time in the browser. Having the weather right there in my most frequently-used app makes it all the more convenient.
Forecastfox can also pop up an alert if you’ve got severe weather on the way, a feature you’d surely have to pay for with a standalone weather app.
I generally feel a little guilty about blocking ads on websites. Ads are the primary source of revenue for most websites, and having worked in the newspaper business for several years, I know the importance of ad revenue. That said, some sites take it to the extreme, and I surely don’t feel guilty depriving behemoths like CNN of a little revenue.
Adblock is an extremely easy to use, flexible ad blocker. It’s really amazing how much you can speed up page load times with this tool.
Of course, don’t forget to whitelist the sites you really want to support. For example, lowendmac.com is whitelisted in my Adblock setup.
Nuke Anything Enhanced
If Adblock isn’t enough for you, how about removing any object on a web page? Want to see that Google logo vanish? Or a sidebar full of links that don’t interest you? Nuke Anything Enhanced offers incredible flexibility for making things disappear right off of a web page.
There’s many, many more extensions for your Firefox setup. However you’d like to customize your browsing experience, it can likely be found at Mozilla’s extensions website.
- G4-optimized Firefox build
- Web Developer
- Tab Mix Plus
- Nuke Anything Enhanced
* Firefox 3.6 was the last version to support PowerPC Macs; version 4 was released in April 2007 as an Intel-only app. However, TenFourFox is available as a PPC port of the current version of Firefox – in separate versions for G3, G5, and two different types of G4 CPUs. Recommended as the best PPC browser for OS X 10.4 Tiger and one of the best for 10.5 Leopard.
Short link: http://goo.gl/FfZc9i