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Firefox Internet Browser

Firefox is the web browser causing the biggest stir at the moment. Whether you are a fan of Firefox or don't see what the fuss is about I hope to make this article an interesting read.

Internet Browsers

Many people like Internet Explorer because it comes with Windows and does its job very well. It's pretty much your typical Microsoft application in that respect, very tidy. Several other browsers have tried to break into the Web Browser market but usually fail because they are not a good all round browser. For example, they introduce some new features but clutter the interface which limits the take up of the browser, or maybe they make a good interface but don't really bring anything new to the table. Netscape pushed the boundaries more than MS but never really got the interface quite right. Early versions of Netscape did well but as the Windows interface changed Netscape didn't and it made it look very dated with updates being few and far between.

I have used IE a few times in my web browser history as it were, but always tested the other options as I found myself wanting more than IE offered. It also was becoming more apparent how many exploits and security problems were arising with IE. The early versions of Mozilla caught my eye but the first browser that really impressed me was Opera. I'm not sure what early version I tried but so far as its design and features made it quite an innovative browser. As Mozilla developed I found myself jumping between Mozilla and Opera as each version made steps to improve. I think my main problem with Mozilla was the performance and that most of the themes were poor. As for Opera, again the themes weren't great but it was more the interface and layout that just seemed too large and cluttered. It just seemed like themes were an excuse to give your browser a really drastic look rather than going for a clean, stylish, good-looking approach. Even right now I still can only think of half a dozen tidy themes that could be taken by the community on mass and wouldn't be dumped after five minutes when they realise how their novelty interface is in practice quite unappealing.

Quick Article Links
  • Internet Browsers
  • Pros and Cons
  • Firefox Themes
  • Firefox Extensions
  • Resources
  • Related Reading
  • For Opera, version 7 and the more recent step to 7.5 have been very positive. They are still pushing the boundaries with 7.5, and the prior 7.x versions did well on the interface front. I can't help thinking with 7.5 they have taken two steps forwards, one step back. The interface is quite complicated, and while it's not bad, it's not so nice to use as previous versions. The M2 email client is quite unique in the way it works, but while I did use it for quite a while I ended up going for a separate email client because I liked to have my web browser and email client more focused on their job. I also found both IE and Mozilla faster browser despite Operas claims of speed. Whether this is related to my system I don't know, I can only talk about my experiences.

    Breaking down the Pros and Cons.

    Breaking down the key positive assets for Firefox and then the inevitable downsides.

    User Interface
    The interface is nice and clean and according to the Firefox team has marginally more space for web pages than its competitors.

    Tabbed Browsing
    I think this is something you don't realise is so useful until you use it. I've spoken to several long time IE users and they just frown at the thought of tabbed browsing. They just say they can open new windows and that's fine for them. Tabbed browsing allows you to open separate webpages in 'tabs', which you can easily switch between. This not only makes your desktop less cluttered, but makes managing the windows you have open a great deal easier. It also opens up features like 'Open in tabs' which is available on the Bookmarks menu. This opens all web pages in a particular bookmarks folder all at the same time. To quote Mozilla.org:

    Tab-Browsing can be likened to a TiVo DVR with two tuners - record two programs while you watch another - but in the case of Tab-Browsing you can download many pages in the background while you read the first. TiVo has changed the way people watch TV, and likewise Tab-Browsing is a revolutionary change to the way you browse the internet. Firefox brings you the simplest, most intuitive version of Tab-Browsing you will find.

    Popup Blocker
    For most browsers this has been a standard feature for sometime. IE eventually gets it on WinXP Service Pack 2. Firefox takes this one step further by optionally blocking other annoyances, for example when scripts on web pages move or resize your browser.

    Internet Explorer is becoming well known for its security problems. It seems by giving web developers more power via ActiveX, they also opened IE to many spyware exploits. It is also quite common to see IE security fixes being released. I couldn't tell you if Mozilla and other browsers are totally safe but without doubt IE is more vulnerable.

    As a web developer myself, I find IE very frustrating. It is quite simply the worst browser for keeping to internet standards. IE comes with Windows and meets most peoples needs so has been widely adopted which is the only reason Microsoft think they can get away with it. For people just visiting websites this is probably not a big issue. However as you run into sites that don't display correctly it is quite likely due to either your browser, or the browser the developer used did not conform to WC3 standards.

    The last topic I'd like to touch on is the possibility to customise Firefox through the use of themes and extensions. Themes alter the button images and colour scheme of your browser to your taste. Extensions are like plugins to your browser, they can add various features. The latter part of my article will expand on this but extensions can be anything from Google bar, to adding more features on the menus.

    The downsides

    There are some disadvantages in moving away from Internet Explorer, and the main one is just because IE is so dominant in market share that some smaller websites dont test their site on browsers other than IE. On the whole you wont have any problems using Firefox. Rendering differences are usually minor, it's usually only sites that have used IE-only HTML tags that. That said everyone with Windows is likely to have IE already, so you can always load IE as nessasary. IE is also required to use Windows Update.

    - Download Firefox
    - Download Mozilla
    - Opera Internet Browser

    Getting the most out of Firefox

    I'm going to start off the second part of this article by talking about themes and extensions and then some useful resources to help you get the most out of Firefox.


    Tip 1: To install themes that are just links to jar files simply download them to a temporary location and then in Firefox open the Themes manager then just drag/drop the jar file into it.
    The number of Mozilla and Firefox themes is growing, however most require updates or repackaging for new Mozilla or Firefox updates which can limit the availability of themes. However most of the popular ones get updated promptly. Themes are quite a personal thing and I found most skins to be poor. My preference is for clean designs that are quite minimal so if you like your themes bold and for want of another word, unique, you probably wont like my recommendations.

    Tip 2: I personally recommend using the small icons on the toolbar, to do this just right click on the toolbar and select customise. Then when the panel appears check the box labelled 'Use Small Icons'. You'll see the change straight away, click done if you prefer it. Now, on to the themes.
    QuteRetro - The Firefox 0.8 default theme, ported to 0.9.

    Orbit Series - Through Mozilla, Opera and now Firefox I've always liked the Orbit series of skins. Whether you prefer a neutral colour scheme, or something more colourful and bold, there is most likely a version to your taste.

    FirefoxModern - Taken from the original Mozilla 'Modern' theme, this is a tidy if dull theme.

    GrayModern - A conversion of the original Modern theme, ported from Mozilla.


    Extensions are plugins to the browser that allow new features. They can be minor things like handy menu options that save you some time, to whole new features. Below I have made a short list of extensions I've used and would recommend.

    Tip 1: Always download plugins from established sites that you trust. Once a plugin has downloaded you get a prompt before it will install anything, you should cancel the install if you were not expecting an extension to be installing at that time.
    Google Bar - This is basically a port of the IE google bar. Personally I think it's way too big and intrusive to have up all the time but one thing I do like is the option to have a google context menu which gives you the main feature hidden in a menu, allowing you to disable the toolbar.

    Undo Close Tab - This extension allows you to right click on the tabs and bring back tags you closed. I find this invaluable on those occasions when you close a tab by accident and groan at the thought of getting back to the page you were on.

    Tip 2: To install extensions that are just links to .xpi files simply download them to a temporary location and then in Firefox open the Extension manager then just drag/drop the jar file into it.
    Add Bookmark Here - Coming from Opera I missed this feature but using this you can bring it back. This extension gives an extra option on your bookmarks menu (and submenus) that allows you to save your current page to the current sub menu. I find it more convenient than the 'add bookmark' option then finding the folder you want to put it in.

    Tabbrowser Preferences - Various useful tab options that I mostly use to make links that would open a new window, open in a tab instead.

    Reload Every - From time to time I found this a handy extension. It simply allows you to make a page reload at set intervals. Whether you want to keep refreshing a news page or the footy scores it comes in useful.


    extensionsmirror.nl - List of Firebox 0.9 compatible extensions

    update.mozilla.org - The official theme site, not many themes yet but a few good ones. Charamel and FireboxModern isn't bad. The Orbit series are sorta my old favs as well, well worth checking out.

    update.mozilla.org - Quite a few extensions to look through here.

    mozthemes.tk - A couple of okay themes, Smoke is quite nice though I don't like the rounded ends on the url bar really.

    Related Reading

    mozilla.org - Firefox 1.0 Roadmap new

    arstechnica.com - Lengthy interview Scott Collins from Mozilla.org new
    Ars: You've been with Netscape since 1996, around version 3.0 of the product all the way up to the beginning of Mozilla and the birth of the independent Mozilla Foundation. Was there a low point where you just wanted to give up, where Mozilla just seemed doomed?

    Oh man. There was this long downward slope. We got the code out there, but slightly before then to around just past Netscape 6, every time someone saw me, found out that I worked at Netscape or was associated with Mozilla they would tell me how much the product sucked. Every time I saw someone it was about how much I sucked and how what I worked on didn't matter. That really sucked.

    One day that changed and somebody said "Man, Mozilla is okay!", and things started to get better.
    channels.lockergnome.com - Why You Should Dump Internet Explorer new
    What makes other browsers better than IE at protecting vs. spyware and other attacks? Well, it’s simple really - most other browsers don’t make it so easy to install malicious software on your system without you knowing about it. IE makes it relatively trivial through two features called ActiveX and Active Scripting. These technologies were designed specifically for the purpose of giving websites more control over a user’s computer. Unfortunately, as we have seen with exploit after exploit - that’s not always a good thing.
    neowin.net - 0.9 update tips and discussion
    If you currently have 0.8 (or no Firefox atall) then you have nothing to worry about. Firefox now has the ability to import your settings, bookmarks and history from your existing browser. However, if you downloaded nightly builds between 0.8 and 0.9 you might encounter a bit more trouble. Because of the numerous changes made since 0.8, you could run into difficulties.
    neowin.net - Interview with Ben Goodger from the Mozilla
    Q. Is the Mozilla team going to implement a new look and feel for Firefox, similar to what Opera have done for their latest release? On that note- have you seen the new Opera browser? What do you think of it? Do you feel that the appearance of applications play a major role when users make a decision of which product to use?

    We may make ongoing theme improvements and running UI changes as the need arises. We aren't planning any large scale changes before 1.0. The new Opera browser has a lot of improvements that I'm sure its users will enjoy. While I feel that there is a set of users who place a high importance on looks or "feature count", ultimately most people prefer a tool that lets them accomplish what they want to accomplish with minimal intrusion.
    madpenguin.org - A look at what's new in 0.9, more focused on Linux than Windows
    This is the last preview release before Firefox comes of age at milestone version 1.0, so what new features have been implemented? Well, at first glance all you will notice is the interface has been redesigned with an updated theme. At first I didn't quite know how to take it, but now that I've used it for a while it's grown on me.
    nidelven-it.no - A nice introduce to Firebird for new users (based on 0.7)
    Now, this is one of the best features of Mozilla Firefox. Almost all of my time online I need to have many browsers open at the same time, and honestly, it can get quite messy sometimes. Mozilla Firefox has however added a very helpful function to the browser, called tabbing.
    Open your Mozilla Firefox browser, then press "Ctrl-T" at the same time. Your browser will now open a new tab that can be used, in the same browser window.
    mozilla.org - Why you should try Firefox, from the horses mouth.
    The Firefox team has focused on the big picture - improving real world performance and increasing the value you get out of your time online. What are you doing online? How can we make that easier for you? Page layout speed is only one part of the equation. Firefox's tools will change the way you browse, they will make browsing more intuitive, more convenient, and at the same time orders of magnitude faster. In fact, we believe you'll at least double what you get out of the internet.

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