Monday, June 19, 2006

Master Firefox's Hidden Configuration Tools

I often write that the Mozilla Foundation's Firefox browser does thus and such, or doesn't do this or that other thing. What I mean is that the program has no menu command or preferences dialog box to give users control over its cache, performance, and other settings. In truth, there are other handy but hard-to-discover ways of configuring Firefox to behave according to your wishes.

Firefox inherits a number of hidden configuration interfaces from its Netscape ancestors, namely its 'about:' URIs (Uniform Resource Identifiers). For instance, in last April's Internet Tips column (under "Clear the Cache"), I wrote that unlike Internet Explorer, Firefox doesn't allow you to view the contents of its cached Web pages and related files. While it is true that you won't find a menu command or setting in the program's interface for that task, reader Fran Snyder, who contacted me via e-mail, notes that all you have to do is type about:cache into Firefox's address field and press to view links to the contents of the browser's memory and disk caches.

So why would you ever want to peruse your Web browser's cache? The most obvious reason is that accessing the cache permits you to reopen the pages, images, and Flash animations you have viewed most recently, even when you aren't connected to the Internet. You can also save cached files to another spot on your hard disk or to removable storage.

Firefox's voluminous about:cache display doesn't make it easy, however--your best chance of finding a cached file is to press -F to open the Firefox search bar, type a portion of the Web site's domain name, the file name or extension, or some other part of the address into the find field, and press . For example, if you're looking for flash files, enter .swf. Or for images you saw on the New York Times' site, enter

About:cache is just one of Firefox's hidden resources (you can see a complete list of these 'about:' URIs). Type about:about or just about: to see detailed information on your version of Firefox. Enter about:credits to view the names of the scores of developers who dedicated their free hours to creating and improving the browser, and type about:plugins to list all of the plug-ins currently installed. If you're sure you'll forget all of the above, no problem--just install MR Tech's About:About Firefox extension, which adds the tools as links to the browser's Help menu (see FIGURE 1).

Config-uring It Out
The most useful--and dangerous--of the built-in URIs is about:config. Similar to Windows' Registry, the about:config page serves as an interface to the many boolean, integer, and string variables that control every aspect of Firefox's behavior. The biggest problem with about:config is that, like the Registry, it is mostly indecipherable to the average user. And again like the Registry, it lists only those settings that are currently set overtly--many other default settings don't appear simply because they don't need to.

Fortunately, an about:config FAQ page on the Mozilla Foundation's

Story Continued

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Best Firefox plug-ins for work

All Web 2.0 sites have one thing in common: they need a Web browser. I use Firefox, and not just because it's a more secure browser with better user interface features. I use Firefox because it has a fantastic plug-in architecture and a whole community of people who are writing plug-ins for it.

Now it's possible to go completely overboard with Firefox plug-ins, but realistically, most people will probably settle on just a few. I've picked out a few favourites that I use every day.

Pre-visualising links
Clicking links is so 2005. Browster is an add-on to Firefox (and Internet Explorer) that pops open a window to the Web site that's under each link on your page when you hover over the link. When you mouse back to the original page


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Google Develops Browser Sync Tool for Firefox

In another boost to Mozilla, Google has created a tool that lets users synchronize the settings of their Firefox browsers across multiple computers.

With Google Browser Sync, users will maintain the same bookmarks, website visits log, saved passwords and persistent cookies in all their copies of the Mozilla open-source browser.

To enable this continuous synchronization to happen, users have to install copies of the Google Browser Sync on every computer where they have Firefox, Google announced late Wednesday in its official blog.

This free tool also "remembers" the tabs and windows users had open the last time they used Firefox and gives users the option to open them. One downside is that the tool updates settings every time Firefox is launched, which will increase the time it takes a browser to open, Google warns.

Google Browser Sync works with Firefox 1.5 and newer versions. It doesn’t support Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Opera Software’s Opera or the Mozilla Suite, which includes the Mozilla Navigator browser.

It’s not surprising to see Google developing tools for Firefox that don’t work with IE. Google has a close relationship with Mozilla that involves technology collaborations and cross-promotion efforts. Meanwhile, the relationship between Microsoft and Google is at best adversarial and often acrimonious. They compete in search, online services and, increasingly, in desktop and hosted software.

Browsers in particular are a contentious area between Google and Microsoft because they are an entry point to Web search activity. Recently, Google has complained about the new IE, version 7, which is now in beta and contains an embedded search box with a drop-down menu set by default to use Microsoft’s search engine, but which includes other options.

However, some have criticized Google for being inconsistent on this point because its search engine is the default choice in the embedded Firefox search box. Firefox is a thorn in Microsoft’s side, because it is the most credible competitor to IE in years, holding now an estimated 10 percent market share.

In April, Google caused a stir when it promoted Firefox on its homepage, a rare move and one clearly intended to help Firefox grow its market share. Google also includes Firefox


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