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Mozilla Firefox is the new, lightweight Mozilla web browser. It was originally known as the Phoenix browser, but trademark issues prevented it from continuing under that name; Phoenix Technologies produces a firmware-based web browser. The name was first changed to Mozilla Firebird and then to Firefox after confusion with the Firebird SQL database. Unlike other lightweight Mozilla-based browsers, such as Galeon and Chimera, which are platform-specific and are based off native widgets, Firefox is designed with the same cross-platform goals as the original Mozilla SeaMonkey suite. It is based off the same XUL technology as Mozilla SeaMonkey, but it builds a new, streamlined toolkit with it to replace the original XPFE code, which has been proven to be overcomplicated and overgeneralised.

Development on Phoenix, as it was then called, began in the fall of 2002. Initial development proceeded rapidly The first three milestones came out in less than a month, and the next two took little more time. By this point, in early 2003, Phoenix already strongly resembled its final form, with all the basic groundwork completed. The frequency of releases slowed through 2003 and 2004, cleaning up the interface and fixing numerous bugs. The first full release, Firefox 1.0, was released on November 9, 2004, preceded by a number of release candidates, and heralded by a full-page advertisement in the New York Times.

Despite being less than half of the size of Mozilla SeaMonkey, Firefox is quite featureful. Tab browsing is included by default, as is pop-up blocking and image blocking. The toolbars are fully customisable from the browser UI, unlike Mozilla which requires XUL hacking to achieve the same thing. Form autocompletion and password retention are integrated, in a much more lightweight form than Mozilla's Password Manager. The Mozilla sidebar has been streamlined, with sidebars available for bookmarks and history. The sidebar is capable of drag and drop. There is also a new, streamlined download manager to replace the Mozilla Download Manager. The Preferences dialog has been greatly simplified, covering only the truly essential options, and the URL about:config provides an interface to the more esoteric tunables. Firefox can subscribe to RSS feeds, which appear as dynamic bookmark folders. Finally, a search box has been added to the toolbar beside the URL box, which can be configured to work with your choice of search engine.

One of the main reasons for Mozilla Firefox's small size is its extension mechanism. Unlike the main Mozilla suite, Firefox has comprehensive support for plugins, or 'extensions', that extend the UI and capabililties of the browser. Recent versions include an 'Extension Manager' that encapsulates installation and configuration of extensions in a single tool. The Extension Manager also supports automatic update of extensions. Some examples of available extensions are the Adblock extension that removes ads from web pages based on specified URL patterns, the Linkification extension that changes text URLs to links, and the aformentioned mouse gestures extension. The Linkification and Jump Link extensions come in especially useful on E2 where outside links must be presented as text or a pipelink. A list of available extensions can be found at http://update.mozilla.org/ .

There was considerable controversy about the name of this project. As mentioned above, the original name, Phoenix, fell afoul of trademark law. After a long period of deliberation and checks by AOL's legal department, Firebird was announced as the new name of the Phoenix browser. This invited considerable vitriol and flamage from the developers of the Firebird SQL database software (http://firebird.sourceforge.net) who claimed that mozilla.org was attempting to steal the Firebird name. After a lengthy flamewar, mozilla.org released a document that 'clarified' their position on naming. Two parts of this document dealt with the name conflict. The first was a call for the browser to always be referred to as 'Mozilla Firebird' and not as 'Firebird'. The second was a statement that 'Firebird' was only an interim codename to be used before the main Mozilla product was switched from SeaMonkey. After the transition, it was officially to be called 'Mozilla Browser'. Finally, eight months later, the browser was renamed again to 'Mozilla Firefox'. This time, the developers ensured that there would not be another program with a confusingly similar name.

In general, Mozilla Firefox appears to be a promising successor to the current Mozilla application suite, and a good example of the advantages of Free Software development. Firefox is the core of the revised Mozilla roadmap, which originally called for SeaMonkey to be abandoned after the Mozilla 1.4 release in May 2003. The components of the application suite will either be separated into their own applications or made into extensions for Firefox. The process is in full swing with full-featured betas of Mozilla Thunderbird, a standalone version of the mail/news component of the Mozilla application suite, as well as prereleases of Nvu, a standalone Composer, and standalone Calendar (called Mozilla Sunbird). Despite this, it appears that there is considerable will to continue with both SeaMonkey and the new standalone applications for the foreseeable future.

The current version of Mozilla Firefox is 1.0.6, and it can be found at http://www.mozilla.org/projects/firefox/ . Recent versions of Firefox include an automatic update feature that can also be used to get the latest version.


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This writeup is copyright 2003-2004 D.G. Roberge and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike licence. Details can be found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/ .
One particularly nice feature of Mozilla Firefox is the way in which you can now search almost any search-enabled website by typing in the name and the search terms.

It works through specially crafted bookmarks. Let's take e2 as an example. It's common knowledge that a link like http://www.everything2.org/?node=banana will take you to a node named 'banana', if one should exist. What Firefox allows you to do is to take this bookmark, give it a keyword, like e2, swap out banana for %s - "%s" acts as a placeholder - and save it. In fact, go to %s and bookmark it right now!

Lets take you though the process one step at a time. Firstly, you need to get a URL with the search term in. Some sites might mung the address bar, and the original search string might not be present - or if present, might not have the desired effect if changed! Streetmap.co.uk does this, but looking at the HTML source of the page and working out what the name of the various form entries are, the URL can be reconstructed.

So you have a URL: http://bugzilla.redhat.com/bugzilla/show_bug.cgi?id=8392, for example; a Red Hat bug. Lets say you want "rhbug 999" to take you to bug #999. Copy the URL, and click Bookmarks, Manage Bookmarks....

Click on a bookmark within the category you want your quicksearch in, and click the "New Bookmark..." button. A dialog comes up with a few different options. Name is the name that'll appear on the Bookmark if selected from the menu; some early versions used to have a bug which meant that if this matched the keyword, the quick link would fail. Location is the modified URL, in our case, http://bugzilla.redhat.com/bugzilla/show_bug.cgi?id=%s. Keyword is the name of our keyword: rhbug. Everything else can go hang.

Voilá! By typing 'rhbug 191' you go to bug #191! By typing 'e2 e2 scratch pad' you can instantly got to the scratch pad! 'e2 Tom Dissonance' takes you to Tom Dissonance's homenode. 'e2 node heaven' takes you... you can guess where.

But it doesn't end there! Oh, no. Firefox comes equipped with two quick searches for Google (one normal, one I'm Feeling Lucky, under the name of 'goto'), Dictionary.com ('dict'), and stock quotes under 'quot'.

Customised searches can also be made; say you need to quickly search the University of Durham's website for references to badgers, but their internal search is slow? You could just type 'google site:dur.ac.uk badgers', or could easily make a custom search name 'durham' which has the site portion of the URL already contained.

And it isn't restricted to search based information: tying the keyword "rfc" to the URL http://www.faqs.org/rfcs/rfc%s.html would allow quick and easy access to RFCs via number.

Other potentially useful bookmarks:
http://www.imdb.com/find?q=%s IMDB search
http://search.yahoo.com/search?p=%s Yahoo search
http://images.google.co.uk/images?q=%s Google image search
http://thesaurus.reference.com/search?q=%s Thesaurus.com search
http://www.streetmap.co.uk/newsearch.srf?name=%s&type=PostCode: UK Postcode locator (via Streetmap.co.uk)
http://www.everything2.org/?node=%s E2 Search

One of Firefox's important features, as RPGeek notes, is its expandibilty through the use of modular extensions. The following is a big list of extensions that may or may not be useful to you. These mostly come recommended off the SA Forums and The Extensions Mirror.

Since these are mostly based on the interplatform XUL language, they will often work on your crazy hacker open-source GNU/Computer/Machine! Also, on your Mac.

Many of these are not available from any Mozilla Project site. I can't really vouch for the integrity of any of these extensions - you should remember that you are running "arbitrary code", and always use common sense in installing strange software. I don't know of any malicious extensions, but I'm sure we'll see porn dialers, helpful wallet applications, and similar garbage before long. If you suspect any malfeasance on the part of your new extension, remove it and apply virus- and spyware-defeating utilities.

A more benign problem is that not all are well-coded, and some tend to crash your whole Firefox or use way too many computrons. (This seems to have a synergistic effect with Firefox's predilection for memory leak.) Try disabling some extensions if you have performance issues.

Newish additions are highlighted in bold.

General:

  • Allow Right-Click (link) Lets you bypass the "protection" from right-click context menus on stupider websites.
  • Always Remember Password (link) Some sites tell Firefox not to automatically remember your password to login, citing such limp-wristed nonsense as "security". What do they know that you don't, huh?!?! Stifle that nanny attitude with this extension.
  • AutoFill (link) This is a more full-featured form filler than the one built into Firefox, which can behave pretty oddly at times. The author says he wants to replicate Google Toolbar's form filling.
  • Bandwidth Tester (link) Tests your downstream.
  • Bookmark Backup (link) Backs up the bookmarks file after every session.
  • chromEdit (link) This is a nicer interface for editing the profile files such as userContent.css to set preferences.
  • ColorZilla (link) This lets you grab the exact color value (RGB) off an element in the page and do some other color-related stuff for web developers.
  • Context Highlight (link) Highlights in yellow all instances of a word or phrase on a page.
  • Copy Plain Text (link) Gives you the option "Copy as Plain Text" so you lift only the content, not the formating.
  • Delicious Delicacies (link) Vital. Restores the cookie placeholder text to the way it was in earlier version of Firefox. DELICACIES 4EVAR
  • Ez Sidebar (link) Makes the Sidebar undockable and panel-addable.
  • FlashGot (link) This is a robust plugin that adapts Firefox for use with many external download managers.
  • ForecastFox (link) Pulls local weather conditions off The Weather Channel's feed; displays said conditions in the status bar. It allows you to say how many days in advance should be forecast and set other little things.
  • Greasemonkey (link) This is a cool idea - it runs custom DHTML scripts to dynamically alter the code of pages, meaning you can "easily control any aspect of a webpage's design or interaction". The scripts have to be written on a page by page basis, but there are a lot of great ideas popping up (for instance..)
  • IE View (link) In Windows, opens the current site in Internet Explorer, which is helpful for poorly coded sites that don't work in Firefox.
  • Image Zoom (link) Lets you zoom in on parts of images. This is useful when people post raw photos from digicams, but your pitiful monitor does not have 5 megapixels.
  • Google Send to Phone (link) txt msgs r rly 2 trs imo
  • Mozilla Archive Format (link) This gives the option of saving web pages, including all the stuff on the page, in a single file. IE already had this option, using the MHT format. The MAF extension is compatible with MHT, but is apparently better because it uses some XML thing.
  • Platypus (link) Experimental plugin that allows you to dynamically rearrange pages as you see fit, via visually rearranging or removing page elements, or running regexps on the HTML. Then the modifications are saved and applied with Greasemonkey. This kind of innovation is what makes extensible applications cool.
  • Session Saver (link) One of Opera's killer features. This extension saves the windows and tabs you have open, so when you restart Firefox (or recover from a crash!) you can restore the same configuration.
  • SpellBound (link) Spell chequer four forms awn web Paige's. Ported from Mozilla Male.
  • StockTicker (link) OH NO NASDAQ IS DOWN THERE GOES RETIREMENT
  • SyncMarks (link) Really cool if you're switching computers a lot. Lets you keep bookmarks up to date between browsers, machines, and platforms.
  • Translate Page (link) Transforms a page from unreadable gibberish to vaugely English-like babble using Google's page translator.
  • Undo Close Tab (link) Come back, closed tab! I didn't mean what I said!
  • Web Developer (link) Adds tools like CSS validation and code validation to the menu.

Privacy/Annoyances:

  • Adblock (link) Basic image blocker. Allows you to block certain images or embedded Flash movies. It has regexp matching - for instance, I use the string *doubleclick* to block all ads delivered by DoubleClick. There's a detailed writeup on Adblock already, by the way.
  • Filterset.G (link) Popular set of filter expressions for AdBlock. This set focuses on low overhead and no false positives, but I find it's pretty comprehensive. Updated weekly, too.
  • AniDisable (link) Gives you options for animated gifs - you can have them only play through once, or disable animation.
  • Cookie Button (link) Adds a widget to the toolbar allowing you to change cookie preferences for the active site.
  • FlashBlock (link) This prevents Flash movies from loading until you click on them. One reason for this is the prevalence of big, obnoxious animated ads - another is the fact that Firefox's popup blocker does not block pages spawned by embedded objects, so it's common to see a 1x1 .swf popup generator. (You can whitelist pages that you want to see the Flash on.)
  • SecurePassword Generator (link) Automatically builds secure passwords.
  • SwitchProxy (link) Quickly jump between proxy configurations (using Anonymizer, for instance.)

Interface Optimizin':

  • Add Bookmark Here (link) Puts an "Add Bookmark Here" option in the subfolders of your Bookmarks menu.
  • All-in-One Gestures (link) This is a huge extension. It's a superset of the normal gesture extension, but also adds wheel/rocker gestures, autoscrolling, and more customization options than are strictly necessary. This means you can navigate really efficiently if you're willing to put the time in. Hours of fun!
  • AutoCopy (link) Select text, and it's automatically copied to the clipboard. This seems trivial, but copying from the web is a really common task.
  • Compact Menu (link) Lets you rearrange the menus on the top toolbar.
  • Disable Targets For Downloads (link) Gets rid of the blank window that often pops up in Firefox when you try to download something.
  • Download Manager Tweak (link) Adds some informative widgets to the Download Manager and lets you dock it.
  • Download Statusbar (link) Puts the progress of current downloads in a cute bar at the bottom of the screen.
  • Focus Last Selected Tab (link) A simple, intuitive tweak - when you close a the focused tab, focus will shift to the last tab you had open.
  • Googlebar (link) Unofficial port of the Google Toolbar for IE, with most of the functionality.
  • Google Toolbar (link) Official port of the Google Toolbar for IE. This one has spelling, translation, automatic form filling, et cetera.
  • Link Toolbar (link) This is a port of an old Mozilla feature. It lets you browse an associated series of pages quickly. Practically speaking, you can jump right from HotBabe12.jpg to HotBabe13.
  • Linkification (link) Converts plaintext URLs to clickable links.
  • miniT (link) One of many tab behavior-changing extensions. This one adds scrolling through them with the mouse wheel and lots of other little tweaks.
  • miniT(drag+indicator) (link) Drag-n-drop them tabs.
  • Mouse Gestures (link) This is the original mouse gesture branch (essentially a rewrite of the Opera feature), which is lighter-weight and less intimidating than the giant all-in-one thing.
  • OpenBook (link) Lets you screw with the "Add Bookmark..." dialog, should you find it unsatisfactory.
  • Productivity and Networking Information Component (link) This allows you to designate a maximally productive website. Should you feel at some moment that you are functioning below your maximal productivity, you can hit the "PaNIC" key to instantly close all open pages and jump to that highly productive area.
  • Scrollbar Anywhere (link) Lets you drag the page around, like with the "hand" in Adobe Acrobat.
  • SmoothWheel (link) Replicates the (slow) smooth scrolling in IE. Customize it to your heart's content.
  • Super Drag and Go (link) This lets you drag URLs (and other stuff like images) into a Firefox window.
  • Tabbrowser Extensions (link) Adds a ton of features, like drag-and-drop, to your tabs. You can, in turn, add modules to this extension for more functionality. (This extension more-or-less works, but is mostly a legacy component from the Mozilla Suite days, and today looks excessively bloated. There's a thread that breaks down its features and how to replicate them.
  • Tabbrowser Preferences (link) This is another tab browsing overhaul, which overhauls the UI for the tabs. It's pretty popular on Mozilla Update, so I guess it gets something write. Update: Reliable sources report that this one is really poorly written, leading to crap browser performance.
  • Tab Killer (link) Removes tab browsing from Firefox. Some people are into this, apparently.
  • Text Link (link) Lets you double-click plaintext URLs to open the associated site. Compare to Linkification, this has the advantage that it does not pass the referer onto the site you're going to, which is sometimes why people post plaintext URLs.

Applications:

These are mostly complete applications built on the Firefox framework. This is reminiscent of the old Mozilla Suite (a series of applications built on the XUL core) and is not really in keeping with the "small is beautiful" philosophy guiding Firefox development. Oh well.

  • ChatZilla (link) This is the basic IRC client formerly part of the Mozilla Suite.
  • FireFTP (link) A basic FTP client.
  • Magpie (link) Bulk downloader for ripping whole media galleries.
  • MozEdit (link) Lets you edit text if you want to.
  • QuickNote (link) Lets you make sticky notes... virtually.
  • RSS Editor (http://rsseditor.mozdev.org/|link) A simple RSS file editor. It's in alpha, but is still supposed to be pretty good.
  • Sage (link) RSS aggregator - alerts you when your favorite site updates.
  • Many more are available on mozdev.org, which is a semiofficial site providing hosting focusing on applications for Mozilla and Firefox.

Site/App-specific:

These provide a quick interface to the special functions on a certain website or program. A lot of communities have in-house extensions to make your life easier. For instance, if you are a socially awkward male, maybe you can download an extension to automatically buy things from camwhores' wishlists so they will take their tops off.

Meta-Extensions:

  • Extension Uninstaller (link) Attempts to remove unwanted extensions. Because of the lack of standardization, it's unclear if this will actually work for most extensions.
  • Ext2Abc (link) Alphabetic extension sorting.
  • ListZilla (link) Makes a pretty list of the extensions you are currently using. This is very, very geeky.

Obviously, there are a gazillion extensions available. If you let me know what you like, the list can be even better!

Twinxor's little helpers: TanisNikana, sam512, grabakskd, StarChaser_Tyger, you

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