I've recently come to the realization that even though 90% of people come into Firefox 100% unaware of some the most impressive features that are available, this trend does not have to continue forever. As a response to this realization I've decided to publish a small how to, that will run through a number of action that I consider interesting and important to do while setting up Firefox, as well as covering a number of features that are often left out but can be incredible.
Firefox is a free, open-source web browser for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X (and many other platforms) based on the Mozilla code base it is small, fast and easy to use. Firefox offers many advantages over Internet Explorer, such as tabbed windows, quick links, security and the ability to block ads.
The install process with Firefox is very easy regardless of what operating system you run and I've never run into any issues during installation.
The process of installation however, really depends on what Operating system
you use, Linux, windows, OS X, BSD, etc. I will try and compile a list of helpful
installation resources in the future. For now I'll provide windows users with
the following links.
Firefox Main Page with link to Download
After installing and you've run Firefox for the first time. You now have a full fledged browser with near limitless power and yet all that power is trapped in kind of remote places because if it was all in the open and easy to find most everyone (myself included) would get lost, confused and might scrap this apparently messy piece of junk. So, where do you begin?
An extension is a small application that uses the base Firefox code to run Examples range from tweaks to the Firefox user interface like ForcastFox (an extension that puts the weather forecast in the status bar), to RSS readers, and IRC chat clients, to games like Tetris.
It is the extension that gives Firefox a lot of it's flexibility as a browser. Even though the defaults might be perfect for me, my neighbor might want different tab behavior or might want Firefox to work as an FTP client, In which case we're in luck, cause my neighbors needs are satisfied in extensions.
Installing an extension follows a very similar path to installing themes. In order to better demonstrate I'll run you through installing the Adblock extension.
On some websites this process is disturbed in order to protect you from installing malicious code from sites on accident, or from people misusing extensions to install spyware..
as an example I'll point you towards the chrome edit extensions web page on mozdev. here. While ChromEdit is available on update.mozilla.org, this will help illustrate how to install extensions on non-whitelisted sites.
when you select the install link on this page, you will notice that a bar appears at the top next to your toolbars. It's telling you that a site that isn't on the white list (A list of known sites that are safe to install from), and gives you the option to circumvent this by adding the site to your whitelist.
This will open up a small dialog box asking you if you would like to add this site to the whitelist, in this case, since this is mozdev, and an extension we know, we'll trust them, and add them to the whitelist. To do this, click the "Allow" button in the bottom right.
Once you've added mozdev to your whitelist click the install link again, and you will be greeted by the extension installer as described above.
Always be sure that you trust the site that is asking you to install extensions. I've been to several sites that give instructions on adding the site to the whitelist, only to circumvent firefox's anti spyware measures.
Note: it is also recommended that you NOT install Tabbed Browsing Extension, this is a very very buggy extension as discussed on the Extensions Home Page.
there are many more, but this will give you a basis with which to understand why you might want extensions. You can experiment and find ones that you like.
A plugin is program that interacts with Firefox in order to provide certain specific function. Typical examples are plugins to display/play multimedia formats such as, Quicktime plugin, or Java plugin. A list of Firefox compatible plugins can be found at the following link here.
An important first step to enjoying any software is making it look pretty. So, the first thing I do is customize my tool bars, these are the bars at the top of the browser window that contain buttons, and URL bars, search bars and the like.
when you first start out your toolbars probably look something like this
For most people Firefox's default toolbar configuration will be just fine, many of us however prefer a smaller sleeker appearance, and have some weird ideas as to where buttons should go. Lucky for us, Firefox makes this easy:
Right click on an empty area, and select "Customize". (This will open up the customization window). This window will generally contain several icons that aren't on your toolbars, if you desire you can drag these icons onto any toolbar to have them displayed. Likewise it is possible to drag any icon on the toolbars to another position or off the toolbar into the customization window. Also available in the customization Window is a check-box for large (default) or small icons.
When I first set up Firefox I move all of my navigation icons to the top toolbar and move to small icon mode (as a note it is actually faster to use large buttons, but something about the saving of screen real estate, and the appearance of the small Icons I enjoy).
when I'm done my tool bars look like this
A theme is a small file that dictates how Firefox looks, buttons, scrollbars, etc, can all be altered fairly easily and many variations are available at any time. Much like the customization of the toolbars a theme can have a dramatic effect on how you interact with a Firefox and I strong suggest giving it a shot if you are dissatisfied with the way Firefox looks.
the site that Mozilla uses to catalog themes and extensions, this is a trusted site, and you can be confident that all themes or extensions that are on this site have gone through at least some testing in order to ensure their compatibility and safety.
Once at Update.mozilla.org one can relatively easily navigate through the list of Themes. However, because of a bug in the server software previews are not available for many of the themes at this time. I suggest visiting the theme homepage (listed in their update.mozilla.org entry) or just trying them out if they sound interesting.
Now you should have a browser that you like to look at, you'll find that as time goes on you might want to change things, move things around, you might decide that you have a better place to put something or that something you thought was important no longer is. regardless this is an important first step to owning your browser (and taking back the web).
Oft over looked navigation has come a long way since the Internet Explorer days. There are many features to take advantage of, and lots of times they are either taken for granted or forgotten. I've tried to compile some of the basics, and more advanced methods of navigation.
Tabs are probably the single most used navigation after the basics (forward, backward, url bar etc) one day they will be considered basic as well, but as it stands many new users don't have the foggiest about these little devils.
as an example of how to use tabs I tend to demonstrate the following (this takes a little imagination. bear with me.)
Lets say that you are writing a terribly important paper on Firefox, and as a result want to include some information about the Mozilla foundation. To do this you:
as a general reference the following are the ways in which one can make and manipulate tabs.
you'll find these commands to be useful when browsing, even if they don't feel natural at first I encourage you to practice every once in a while, I think you'll come to understand why they exist.
First lets notice that Firefox has a terrific pop-up blocker built in and already customized for your use, which is how all modern web browsers should come these days.
When you first block a popup in Firefox it will bring down a small bar bellow your toolbars like shown.
if you never want to see the bar again, left click it, and tell it "Don't show this message when popups are blocked." If you ever need to allow a pop-up it's as easy as clicking "the information button" at the bottom right hand section of the screen. and select "allow pop ups from"
Much like pop-up blocking Firefox has the amazing ability to actually block ads within web pages. There are two ways of doing this, through the use of the Adblock extension, or by editing a user file, I will be covering how both methods.
To begin I suggest installing the extension "Chrom-Edit". From there we'll head to the "Tips and Tricks" page at the help site for fire fox. Here you'll find a large list of little tweaks that can be done to make Firefox act in certain ways, everything from changing menu appearances to making Firefox block ads. We'll skip all these for now and head straight to the ad blocking page.
Once at the ad blocking page you'll find what is called a script; it runs a set of commands that can be passed to the browser, in this case it passes a list of things to ignore from web pages (namely... ads).
Other user file tweaks I suggest are are:
Blocking ads with Adblock is about as easy as it gets, so it's generally the method people use, and with a good set of filters it's very effective at blocking ads, and not blocking content that you want to see.
Now these filters aren't perfect, but they are good. If you run into ads that aren't being blocked you can add them to the filters through the right click context menu.
This can be refined if you are crafty by editing the image location and replacing what you see as a probable location for all the ads with *. This acts as a wild card. This way you can block hole folders of images.
This is one of those Firefox features that does seem very... well, jaw dropping, but is one that consistently has impressed people, and is one that I probably make this most extensive use of.
The basic idea is that using certain keywords (set by the user) you can use the URL bar to access some bookmarks. While this isn't particularly useful for just doing bookmarks, it is useful you creating what are called "quick searches". Firefox comes with a number of these already built in. So lets try a few out before we move on.
Try typing "wp Mozilla" (without the parenthesis) in the URL bar.
You'll notice that this takes you to the Wikipedia article on Mozilla, isn't that neat!
The same is true for typing "Dict -search term-" or "Google -search term-". (dictionary.com and google.com respectively)
Now, what's nice is that these searches are relatively easy to make yourself and can be used just about anyplace that has a search field, and thus become an easy way to quickly navigate the Internet.
To begin learning how to make your own, lets start by editing the Google quick search so that you can access it with a simple "g" command, which I find much less cumbersome than typing out google every time.
Simply select Bookmarks from the menu bar => manage bookmarks.
From here you will see a nicely ordered version of your bookmarks. open up the Quick Search folder, inside will be "Google" quick search, a "Dictionary" quick search and an "I'm feeling lucky" quick search.
This same process can be followed in the Dictionary.com quick search changing "dict" for "d".for making your own quick searches:
This is the Firefox "put x here" command. That is, those two symbols together tell Firefox that it should replace them with user input.
For most search sites (not all, and some are tricky like imdb.com but I won't go into that here) the URL contains the search parameter in a specific spot every time, by adding the %s you've given Firefox the power to add anything you put into the URL bar into it's place, and thus "quick search".
RSS (really simple syndication) makes it easy to keep up on news and blogs. If you read the news, or visit a friends blog chances are that you've bumped into RSS and haven't even known it. You'll notice that in the latest versions of Firefox (1.0PR and higher) that when you visit a site that has an RSS feed
To add an RSS feed simply click that icon, select one of the "subscription" options. (usually I choose the RSS, and 2.0 if available). Add the bookmark to one of your folders (bookmarks by default). now if you go look at the bookmarks menu item, you'll see that there is folder that corresponds to the RSS feed you just added. This folder will be automatically updated when you open Firefox, and will have within it all the different "articles" that the site is sending out.
This is the much request feature that has spawned a plethora of extensions from Tabbed Browser Preferences to Tabbed Browsing Extension. Many times it's Opera users that are seeks a method of tab management more similar to their native browser, other times it's just people that like tabs.
So, what does it do? Single Window Mode routes all links that would open new windows to new tabs, keeping all browsing (without holding the control key or middle clicking) in a single window.
By default this preferences are hidden because the feature had some bugs and wasn't tested very well before 1.0. However I haven't ever had or heard of any issues with it, and it's nice to have that functionality native to the browser.
In order to activate single window mode in Firefox:
Note: the preferences found in about:config can be used for a number of other very useful settings, I encourage you to explore.
The profile is a directory on your machine that Firefox uses to store useful user specific information. Everything from extensions and themes, to your settings are stored in the profile. This directory is not found in the root Firefox director in order to make reinstalling, or upgrading easier, as the files in the profile aren't deleted when you do this. Unfortunately the profile system appears to be one of the more fragile aspects of Firefox and can become broken or corrupted. When this occurs many nasty things happen, including but not limited to Firefox not starting.
the location of the profile is Dependant on your operating system but the defaults for the big three are as follows.
When a profile becomes corrupt the best way to clean things up is to remove the profile that is giving you hell, and to let Firefox make a new fresh one (this happens automatically when Firefox starts if there is no profiles present). Unfortunately in this process some data will be lost, such as extensions or themes. However we can save your bookmarks and several other items from your profile, and we can end with a profile that we know is free of errors.
If all has gone well Firefox should now start with your original profile.
Are pop ups not being stopped, sites acting weird, pages not loading, tabs not acting properly ... things just not working? It could be for any of these reasons too!
I. Do you use Tabbed Browser Extension?: This extension is one of the buggiest of the Firefox extension, it overwrites core Firefox files, and is known to break many many many features in Firefox. To demonstrate that I'm being truthful and not just silly I will direct you to the Extensions Home Page.
This is an issue that I believe we'll see fixed in a fairly short period of time, and it has to do with where Firefox sources it's preferences for default browsers from... that is, the gnome configuration. This is particularly not helpful to those of us that choose to use Firefox, while NOT using gnome. Some of use use, KDE, others Fluxbox, or XFCE, or plethora of other desktop environments. Fortunately for us there is a method that is not so hard to side step this sad case of pigeon holing.
If all went well, Thunderbird should now be your default application to open up "mailto" links
Now if all has gone according to plan when you click on a link in Thunderbird it should open up firefox.
If you are spending any time using this browser chances are good that you will run into something that will force you to say "hmmmmm", scratch your head, or even shout "HEY YOWSERS". This could be a bug, a feature question, a misunderstanding, or a curiosity, it doesn't really matter because in the end there are two great places to get that fixed... namely the Mozillazine Forums, and IRC.
Note: PLEASE search the forums, both in the search feature, and through recent posts, before creating a new topic
One of the best places to find help with any issues you are having with Firefox is the Mozillazine forums. Here you can find a number of different repositories for ideas, questions, tips, tricks for any of the Mozilla products. Important to us are the Firefox support and the Firefox General forums, as these are the most generally useful. As a word to the wise, forums are only useful if used properly. Let me elaborate. Always ask your questions cleary and concisely, always include as much relevant information as you can, without overloading the reader. Examples include:
If this is your first time using a forum I can almost guarantee that you will make mistakes, that people will call you out on it, but persist, it doesn't take long to figure it all out, and most of the forum attendees are more than willing to help.
it's basically A REALLY fancy instant messenger, that allows many many people to connect to a single chat at one time, it could be considered a "chat room", but I'll refrain from calling it this due to connotations that befall chat rooms and because IRC is so much more.
In order to limit the amount of guiding I have to do I've decided to limit my topic to Chatzilla, as this will be available to anyone using Firefox. Although many of the steps I'm going to take are universal to all irc clients, I can't guarantee that they will work.
Thusly the first step will be to install Chatzilla you can find it at upate.mozilla.org or --> here. After you've installed the client you can find it in the menu bar under tools --> Chatzilla. SO open it up!
IRCmonkey is not an acceptable nickname, Make YOUR OWN! :P
You'll find yourself in a window that should look a little bit confusing, and perhaps a bit daunting, and if you've never used a command line interface you might get a little confused, don't worry I've made screen shots.
The first thing to do is join a server. Chatzilla comes with several preprogrammed in so joining on is fairly simple. For today we'll stick with irc.mozilla.org, since this is where we'll find all the Firefox channels (rooms)... in Chatzilla this is entered as moznet.
To join a server simply type /server and then the server name. So, to join moznet we'll type /server moznet .
Now you're on the moznet server. What you do now is join a channel. A channel is a place where all the chatting takes place (sometimes thought of as a "room").
Now you're in the Firefox channel, type anything in the text area, and everyone in that room will see it. Have a question? Don't be shy, ask. Don't ask to ask. your window should look something like this
If you want to join another channel it's easy, just type /join #[whatever channel you want].
For instance /join #mozillazine, will open a new tab at the bottom with the Mozillazine channel in it. you can either click these tabs or hit ctrl-tab to switch between them. Let it be noted for the record that there is a TON more to IRC than this, but this is enough knowledge to get you started, and to figure out how to ask questions etc. To find out more, try the /help command. Also ask someone in one of the channels.
As a word to the wise: much like the Mozillazine forums IRC is most useful when questions are clearly worded, calm, meaningful, and state all the relevant information. If no one responds to your question try again later, don't get upset, either no one knows the answer, or no one is around. As with before include:
The following are the most common User Files. That is, files that users can edit to change preferences with in Firefox. These files will be found in your user "profile"which will be found at the following locations depending on your operating system:
These files are all basic text files, with a different tag at the end. If one isn't present, you can make it (don't worry it's easy). Simply open your favorite text editor, add whatever you were after, to the file, and save it as "user.js" or "userChrome.css" etc.