Productivity Week: Firefox Tweak Guide

It’s Productivity Week here at CrunchGear, and you’ve already learned to drive better, organize your workspace, and use paper of all things. That’s all well and good, but I spend more time behind a keyboard than behind a wheel, and many of you are probably the same. And what application is always hanging out there in the background? Yes, it’s everyone’s favorite browser, Firefox.

And now’s a good time to get tweaking: you’ve got your Firefox 3 release candidate all downloaded, Things are a little different, you’re not sure what settings to adjust, and you don’t know which extensions are the definite must-haves. Don’t worry, child. Daddy will explain how to make your browser a fearsome beast.

Now, these tweaks apply to Firefox 3, RC1. If you haven’t upgraded yet, do so now. I’ll wait. They’re going to have another release candidate after this one, but most if not all of these tips should work in the final 3.0 release.

Under the hood
Okay, let’s get some basic stuff out of the way. There are a few settings you’ll want to change in the “hidden settings” everyone knows about. Put “about:config” in the address bar and go there. It might warn you off, but are you going to let some program tell you what to do? Once you’re there, make it look like mine by putting “network.http” in the filter box and changing the settings

I’ve set pipelining to true, increased max-connections to 45, persistent to 8, and pipelining requests to 8. These aren’t revolutionary or aggressive settings, but power users usually have a decent connection and will want to boost things a little bit by increasing the number and duration of simultaneous connections to a server. I don’t mess around with too many other settings because at this point I think Mozilla has got it mostly figured out. They just err on the side of caution with these values.

Sexy and compact, kind of like your mom

click for full size
Now, let’s look at the UI. First, take a look at how my browser looks. Beautiful, isn’t it? We’ll talk extensions and homepage later. Screen real estate is at a premium and I’ve eliminated all toolbars but the tabs. You can do this by simply dragging all your stuff up onto the menu bar in View > Toolbars > Customize. It’s optional, and really only a good idea if you have a nice, wide window, but who couldn’t use another 20 pixels of space in their browser? After all, you don’t need that extra junk. It’s your browser after all, throw away everything you don’t want!

Home, sweet home
Now, the home page. Some of you love the iGoogle, some stick with plain ol’ Google, or the default home page, or even a blank page (about:blank) — as I once did for a long time. Well, an extension came out for Firefox 2 which changed everything for me, and although My Portal is no longer compatible with Firefox, its legacy lives on. What it did was just take your bookmarks and put them in the form you see above. I saved the html file along with all the info and favicons, and have ported it over to my new FF3 digs. New bookmarks do NOT add into it now, so this is just my core links. I add stuff manually by editing the html.

I consider my start page indispensible now. If you want to have something like it, here’s what you do:

1. Install Firefox 2 and the My Portal extension
2. Import your bookmarks and restart Firefox
3. Save the My Portal page somewhere on your computer
4. Point to that file as your homepage
5. Party

Now you’ve got your homepage all set up. What about all those extensions? What works, what doesn’t? What’s awesome, what’s unnecessary? Well maybe if you quit asking questions for a second, I’d tell you! Hush now.

Go go gadget extensions
I actually don’t think it’s necessary to go down the list of what’s good, since you probably already know most of them by now. Getting most of the stuff from the Popular list at Mozilla will certainly set you up. Download Statusbar is excellent, and Better GMail is great if your primary address is a Google one, like me. Don’t forget Adblock, and be sure to tell it to replace flash objects with placeholders! Save yourself a lot of trouble.

Two things not there which you’ll need are GoogleBar Lite (to keep or until Google Toolbar is available for FF3) and FireGestures. The latter is totally integrated with my life now.

Much like Quicksilver and Launchy make amazing things possible with a few keystrokes, FireGestures (and All-in-One Gestures before it) lets a couple basic mouse movements translate into a range of actions. I have gestures set up for incrementing urls, closing and opening tabs, navigating pages, saving links and images, and more. I rarely have to use the context menu because all my most-done actions have a simple, intuitive, customizable gesture associated with them. Download it, try it for a few days, and it’ll change the way you surf.

Some other random things? Let me see. Don’t forget about finding text with /, then hitting F3 to go to the next instance. Going to the filetype handler lets you customize what to do with any kind of file, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally opening a pdf when you want to download it and that sort of thing. Ah, yes, and the panic button. Just finished downloading that donkey porn and the spouse busts in? Ctrl-Shift-Delete and hit enter. Browsing history, downloads, search history, all eliminated just like that. Smart, eh?

Final word
Remember: Customization is the name of the game now. Don’t feel you have to use the default skin, the default layout, the default homepage. Firefox is the swiss army knife of your computing environment, and you can choose whether you want this or this. There are more tweaks to be found, and if you have any settings, extensions, or general tips for Firefox, let us know below.