Friday, June 6, 2003

Supercharge your browser - follow-up

A number of people (Sabrina Pacifici, Jerry Lawson, Larry Staton, to name a few) linked to my article in this month’s LPM about how to add functionality to your browser. Larry quite rightly pointed out that it’s focused on IE for Windows. As a result of Larry’s post, not to mention several e-mails I got, I decided a follow-up was in order.

First off, read Larry’s post for more detail about the state of the Mac browser market. By all rights, there is far more innovation in Mac browsers generally than there is in the Windows market. (Side note: why doesn’t a legal tech publication give Larry a column about Macs in the legal office?)

Concerning IE, however, a couple people wrote in to tell me that I missed some of their favorite browser add-ons. Here are a few more:

  • Courtesy of Gary is PowerCons, a “long undiscovered bookmarklet innovation”. I’ve not played with this at all – your mileage may vary.

  • Anna K�gedal from Huddinge, Sweden, saw a mention of the article on Malin’s blog, and writes in that I missed her favorite browser add-on, UltraBar. This one strikes me as quite useful, as it lets you not only search Google, but any other search engine – including ones you define. Very functional – especially if you find yourself searching the same databases over and over.

Now for my own critique of my article… for the first time in five years, I switched my default browser this week away from IE. I’m now using Mozilla Firebird, and wow is it good. Spurred by recent positive reviews from Jon Udell, Joel Spolsky and Matt Mower (all of which showed up in my news reader within a day or so of each other), I decided to give it a whirl.

In the past 48 hours, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how flexible, how fast, and how generally right Firebird feels. Matt Mower points out a few tips about extending Firebird’s functionality that are worth pursuing. Here are a few examples of what I like about Firebird:

  • Tabbed browsing. This doesn’t exist in an IE world, so anyone who hasn’t seen it (I hadn’t until switching to Firebird) won’t really know just how nice this is. In one window you can see all browser windows. It’s easier to navigate between browser windows, for one. And if you’re like me and often have a ton of browser windows open at any one time, you can now group those windows logically. For instance – you can have one Firebird window open that contains three tabs: your blog home page (for editing posts), your blog’s public page (for seeing the output) and your aggregator page. Another window could have your intranet – with separate tabs for different pages. And yet a third could be news you monitor – with separate tabs for MSNBC, CNN, a few newspapers, etc.

  • Speed. This browser flies. Noticeably faster than IE in loading pages.

  • Pop-up blocking. Built into the browser, as it should be. (Note – there’s a tip about enabling ad blocking in Firebird, though I’m less certain that’s a good idea. The whole reason these sites are free is because advertisers pay for the content. If you block the ads, the advertisers have less incentive to pay, which means the free content is less likely to remain.)

  • Presentation. You have complete control – over the browser appearance as well as over page appearances. The UI for this isn’t the greatest (it involves you editing the CSS files manually), but following the instructions provided at the support site are straightforward.

  • Find as you type. Think of this as ActiveWords for browsing. While on a page, when you see a link you want to follow, type the first few letters. Firebird will highlight the link for you, and you hit enter. Now you follow that link. Very cool.

  • Extensions. Check out the many extensions already available. A few I’ve used include the TabBrowser Extensions, which lets you control the behavior of tabs (which, along with this tip, let you control whether links from e-mail open in new windows or new tabs: very, very nice!) and NeedleSearch (which mimics much of the same functionality as UltraBar, the IE extension described above).

There’s more to the browser. I’m impressed with its compatibility – I’ve not stumbled across any major site that shows up impoperly. Things like the MSNBC navigation control (which uses DHTML) work just fine in Firebird. This browser is proof that open source can yield some terrific results. The hard core techies seem quite happy. (Definition of hard core? If this sentence from Jon Udell makes sense to you, consider yourself hard core. I’m not hard core, by the way: “The first [extension] I picked up was LiveHTTPHeaders which seems to instantly obselete Proxomitron for purposes of HTTP protocol sniffing and website reverse-engineering.” Riiiiiiiiiiiiight. Did I mention the cool tabs?!)

When you couple all of this with the recent news that Microsoft is not likely building any more stand-alone browsers, well, I think a move to Firebird makes a lot of sense. Go where the action is, as they say…


  1. Supertipsaren...

    ...Anna via Malin på Tins av Rick Klau. Tipset bestod av Ultrabar som är en jättebra toolbar eller verktygsfält på svenska....

  2. Wow - it's fast. I haven't messed around with it enough to know if it handles tabbing as well as Opera (my current browser). Netscape went to tabbing a while back and I messed with both but Opera still had better features so I went with it. Primarily, Opera can be configured so that it does not open a whole new copy of the browser with a new page but as a new tab and pop-ups could be turned off or made open up as tabs behind the main (an amazingly useful feature since things like this comment page pop-up). As far as I could figure out there was no way to do either of these in the Netscape browser; I am particularly perturbed by Netscape's tendency to open a whole new browser for a new page (it annoys me to no end). I hope Firebird has fixed this; I'll have to test it out further.

  3. Ken - Yes, it will do that. Check out this tip:

    And install TabBrowser Extensions. With the two, you'll be able to mimic the Opera functionality you describe.

  4. mitch@osaf switches

    Mitch Kapor, of the OSAF has bloggerd about his move from IE to Mozilla. He makes some good points about

  5. "The UI for this isn't the greatest (it involves you editing the CSS files manually)"

    There is a slightly better interface for this editing. Open a new tab, and type in about:config into the URL bar. This will give you an XUL listing of all preferences in the browser, with a simple interface to turn options on & off (true & false, respectively).

    The first thing I do is set "browser.tabs.autoHide" to false; I like my tab bar to stick around, even if only one tab is open.

  6. >

    Pop-ups are but one way to do advertising. Pop-up blockers are our way of providing feedback that we don't like that method of advertising.

  7. Take a look on Groowe Search Toolbar, popular choice also.