I switched over to Firefox about a year ago, and I’m never going back. Sure, I keep Internet Explorer around because I need it for Windows Update and the occassional site which requires ActiveX controls, but that’s about it.
Microsoft recently backpeddled and announced that they would reopen development on IE 7. Previously, the plans were that you would only get the new version when the new version of Windows was released (currently codename Vista). Firefox has them scared. For the first time in years, another browser is cutting into Microsoft’s domination in the browser market. They squashed all the competition in the past, and the "other" browsers held such a small portion of the total browser market, Microsoft sat atop the heap gloating…. and not being forced to innovate or redefine.. because they didn’t have to.
There are several things that make Firefox a great browser, enhanced security and better adherance to standards not withstanding. If you read the main Firefox website, you will see a list of what makes it so great, including some reviews.
The two key things I use it for are 1) Tabbed Browsing and 2) Extensions.
Once you start working with tabs, you’ll never understand how you could have worked in a single window enviroment in the past. So much so, that it’s one of the key features in the upcoming IE 7. What makes them so great? I use mine in several different ways.
The first is that when I’m reading something on the web and there is a link I want to follow, I don’t want to always follow it right then. For example, in a technology article, there might be 6 or 7 links to other articles or company homepages, etc. Having to interrupt the flow of reading the first article each time I want to follow another link is cumbersome. If you follow the link, then when you are done, you need to go back in your browser and resume reading the rest of the article. Heaven forbid you follow a link in one of the secondary articles! Now you’re several pages in. Don’t accidentally close your browser window or you have to start the whole process over! Sure, IE gives you the ability to open a link in a new window. But it’s not the default, the window pops up over your existing window, and the increased number of windows can quickly clog up your status bar.
With tabs, I can click on a link (middle-click by default) and have it loaded into a seperate tab in the background. I do this for each link I want to eventually follow, but I’m not breaking my train of thought on the first article I’m reading. Then I can go to each of the other tabs and read those pages at my leisure and not when I’m forced to by the browser.
Firefox also gives you the ability to open your bookmarks (including entire folders) into tabs. What I’ve done is create a folder called ‘Daily Startup’, which includes all the news websites, tech sites, comics, etc that I read on a daily basis. When I start my day I load that entire folder into tabs. This is a great time saver as each of those sites is then loading in the background while I read the first one. As I switch to the next tab, I don’t have to wait for that page to load, as it’s already there and waiting for me.
The developers of Firefox realized that while they make a great product, someone else can always make it better. Extensions are add-ons to Firefox that enhance your browsing experience, add new items to your browser and give you tools to make surfing the web a joy.. Honestly.. they really are all that.. and there are hundreds of them, constantly under development to be new and improved.
I used to have only a few extensions that I considered critical, but here is the list of the current ones I use. I’ll list the ones I think everyone should have first. The version numbers I’m listing are as of this article. They might change in the future.. One of the nice thing about extensions is that since they are tracked through the main Firefox website, you are notifed when new versions come out.
Tab Clicking Options (v0.5.2)
Dev: Select actions for various clicking events on a tab or the tabbar
Me: I use this, for example, to make ctl-click on a tab ‘clone’ the tab. This allows me to be several links deep in an article and want to keep the current page open, while still being able to go back in my browser to a previous page. This makes an exact duplicate of the current page in a new tab. Just one of it’s uses.
Tabbrowser Preferences (v126.96.36.199)
Dev: This extension is an enhancement for the basic tab controls provided in Firefox 1.0. It replaces the existing user interface with a new, more visible user interface, and also includes UI for other hidden features that are part of the browser, as well as features provided explicitly by the extension.
Me: Absolutely essential to define how your tab browsing works. Do you want new pages loaded in the background or foreground, do you want to display a tab when there is only one page open, etc.
All-In-One Sidebar (v0.5.2)
Me: Great way to utilize a feature from another browser (e.g. Opera) and make it clearly Firefox. A great tool for keeping your interface clean, and integrates directly with many other extensions for a seamless approach to using your sidebar. This received the Editor’s choice award in August 2005.
Download Statusbar (v0.9.3.1)
Dev: This extension is for people who like to keep track of their downloads, but don’t want extra windows getting in the way of their web browsing. Your downloads are kept in a tidy statusbar at the bottom of your browser window. The statusbar auto-hides when it’s not in use, so there’s never any interruptions. Simple, clean, and efficient.
Enhanced History Manager (v0.5.7.00)
Me: This tool changes the appearance of your history window providing you with more detailed information on your history (last visted time, etc), as well as giving you the ability to search through your history and change the sort order of the items.
Dev: Google toolbar for Firefox, with many of the features of the IE version. Major new release.
Me: I consider this a critical extension, because I’m a Google fanboy. I used the google toolbar in IE and couldn’t live without it. Firefox comes *standard* with a search bar that’s hooked up to Google, but for the additional toolbar items such as searching groups, images and current pages, you need the more advanced version. Make sure when you install it you customize your toolbar windows and remove the old search tool. You don’t need both. You do this by dragging tools to and from the toolbar to the customize window.
IE View (v.1.2.4)
Dev: Adds "View page in Internet Explorer" links to the content and link context menu. Handy for previewing pages in IE, loading up IE-only pages when you run across them in Mozilla, etc.
Me: There are times when a page just won’t work in Firefox. Since Firefox prohibits ActiveX controls (because they are the cause of so many exploits, viruses, etc), you are sometimes forced to use Internet Explorer. Eventually pages will use newer technology than ActiveX, but for now you’re stuck. Recently for example, I used Sony’s Imagestation to create an online photo album of my new children. It’s a great place to host, and has a wonderful tool for uploading and managing new pictures in your album.. Unfortunately, you guessed it, it was an ActiveX control. The other tools just didn’t work quite right in Firefox. So I use IE to connect there, and I’m happy with the result. This saves you the time of having to copy/paste the URL from Firefox into IE, or even to launch IE in the first place. Right-click–>Open in IE.. and WHAM, you’re done.
Dev: Converts text links into geniune, clickable links
Me: There are a variety of options with this extension including (but not limited to) Double-click to open text links and Highlight linkified text. Problem is that there are alot of web pages (articles, etc) that have URLs in them, but the original author didn’t take the time to turn it into a clickable link (like I’ve done throughout this blog). Linkification takes any URL it sees, such as www.firefox.com and turns it into a link automatically for you.
Dev: (down)Load content through your browser using the Dijjer web caching system (http://www.dijjer.org).
Me: This is used for a P2P caching system to help alleviate the bandwidth of certain websites. I listen to TWiT, and this extension helps share out their Podcast so that their resources aren’t as burdened. Install this as needed.
Dev: Do you listen to Music while surfing the Web? Now you can control your favorite media player without ever leaving the browser and more…
Me: Critical for me because I’m always listening to music. If you don’t, then you don’t need this. Otherwise it’s nice to have.
Dev: If like me you often need to take snippets of information whilst browsing for later use in your work, QuickNote is here to help. It provides a means of copying and pasting passages of text from webpages and saving it on a post-it note-style window. There you are able to make additions as thoughts occur to you, all without having to leave Firefox
Dev: Sage is a lightweight RSS and Atom feed aggregator extension for Mozilla Firefox. It’s got a lot of what you need and not much of what you don’t.
Me: RSS is relatively new to me. Getting into it, I realized that I needed a decent aggregator. Now I can track the various feeds from plenty of news sites, tech blogs, and personal blogs (such as LiveJournal friends). There are other stand alone aggregators, and even other ones for Firefox. I’ve settled on this one for now, but I’m not entirely sold on it. Habari Xenu is another one, and has a nice option for automatic updating. However, I found several feeds that just didn’t work with it. It grabbed the titles, but then told it had no content.. Could have been me, or a bug.. who knows.. let’s see how development continues.
Dev: ScrapBook is a Firefox extension, which helps you to save Web pages and easily manage collections.
Me: Basically you can drag text, images, entire websites into a local collection for later offline browsing. Great for collecting tidbits to be used in blogs or for research purposes.
Well, that’s a really long blog isn’t it? To be honest, I had ulterior motives. Having all my extensions listed in place gave me the ability to refer back to the blog anytime I did a new install and wanted a consolidated list of the extensions I wanted to reinstall.
Bottom line.. switch to Firefox.. you really shouldn’t be disappointed..
[This item originally posted on livejournal.com]