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Configuration and Extensions for Firefox and Thunderbird

Once you've figured out why you should be using Firefox and Thunderbird, you might want to see what else they can offer you besides being better tools for interacting with the internet.

This page is here to show you how I get the most out of each program. Please use whatever you like from this page to customize your software to best fit your style and needs.


Firefox Configuration:

Firefox has a special command called about:config that you can type into the location bar (clicking the link won't work because Firefox considers it a security risk to allow a link to take you to about:config, so you have to manually type it into the location bar). From here, you can tweak all of the advanced internal Firefox settings that are hidden from the normal preferences section.

about:config has a "filter" bar where you can type in parts of setting names to narrow down your list of choices. If you don't see one of the options listed below, you can right-click to get a menu with the option of creating a new setting (boolean is true/false, integer is a number, and anything else would be a string). Please keep in mind that settings are case-sensitive.

  • browser.urlbar.autoFill = true
    Urlbar auto-fill is one of my favorite settings. This causes Firefox to automatically fill in addresses that it knows when you start typing into the location bar. It saves a great deal of time when you're typing in the address of a site that you've visited recently.
  • browser.urlbar.matchOnlyTyped = true
    Personally, I only like the auto-fill to match websites that I've already type into the location bar (as opposed to sites that I've visited by clicking links, etc). Set this to true, and you'll only see addresses that you've manually typed into the location bar.
  • middlemouse.contentLoadURL = true
    By default, the middle-click button (what happens when you press down on the scroll wheel on your mouse) enables a "drag" scroll function, where the page scrolls when you move the mouse up and down. Since the scroll wheel already does this for me, I like the middle-click button to instead load whatever web page I currently have copied to the clipboard. It saves me the time of pasting it into the location bar and hitting enter.
  • layout.word_select.stop_at_punctuation = true
    Being a power user, I learn things like the fact that holding down the control key while pressing delete or backspace tends to delete words rather than letters. By default, Firefox deletes everything up to the next whitespace. Setting this to true tells it to stop deleting at punctuation marks (like the / in a URL).
  • nglayout.initialpaint.delay = 0 (you'll probably have to create this one)
    content.notify.interval = 750000
    content.max.tokenizing.time = 750000
    content.switch.threshold = 10000
    content.notify.ontimer = true
    content.interrupt.parsing = true
    network.http.pipelining = true
    network.http.proxy.pipelining = true
    network.http.pipelining.maxrequests = 16
    network.http.max-connections = 32
    network.http.max-connections-per-server = 16
    network.http.max-persistent-connections-per-server = 6
    network.http.max-persistent-connections-per-proxy = 6
    network.http.request.max-start-delay = 0
    I've taken this hack straight from forevergeek.com and this article, so you can go there if you want detailed instructions. Basically, this enables a few settings that make it appear that Firefox is rendering pages faster by doing some things for you behind the scenes.
  • browser.cache.memory.capacity = 131072 (this is 128 megabytes)
    This should reduce the maximum memory footprint of Firefox so that it doesn't eat up all available RAM (which it tends to do if you leave it open for extended periods of time).
  • mousewheel.withshiftkey.action = 0
    mousewheel.withaltkey.action = 2
    In most applications I use, holding down the shift key while scrolling speeds up the scrolling. In Firefox, on the other hand, it "scrolls" through your browsing history. Personally, I find this annoying, and these settings will set the alt-key to scroll the history, and the shift key to enable the faster scroll.
  • keyword.enabled = false
    By default, when you type random text into the firefox location bar, firefox takes you to the first Google hit for that string (aka. Google's I'm feeling lucky"). If you want the more traditional behavior of having the browser merely fill in the www prefix and com suffix (eg. "google" becomes "www.google.com"), set this to false.

Firefox Extensions:

Firefox extensions are easy to install. Usually, you just find the link to the .xpi file and click on it. If it is from an unknown/untrusted server, you'll get a warning at the top of the window that you have to click on to add the server to the "trusted" list, and then click the .xpi link again. Once you've installed the extension, just quit and reopen Firefox, and you should see it in your extensions list (under the "Tools" menu).

  • Adblock Plus
    This is the single most useful plugin available for Firefox. Install this, and whenever you see a banner ad or annoying shockwave flash advertisement, just right-click (or left-click the "Adblock" tab that will show up on flash files) and you'll never see it again.
  • Customize Google
    Do you like some of the more advanced features of Google like Google Suggest? This extension will let you use it on all Google pages, as well as provide you with all kinds of customizations for the various Google websites.
  • Google Preview
    Install this, and you'll get a thumbnail preview of all of your Google search results.
  • MiniT
    Though Tab Mix provides tab dragging features, I don't like how it handles positioning to drag tabs around (you have to be careful where the indicators are or it won't register your drag).
  • Objection
    Browser cookies were made to store helpful information like a shopping cart id tag. When advertisers started using cookies to track you, browsers started letting you view and delete cookies. Then someone discovered that they could do the same thing via shockwave flash files, and because browsers don't have any way to show this data, you'd never see what they're putting in there. Take a look at Objection if you'd like to be able to view this info to see who is watching you.
  • Open link in...
    Right-click a link and get all kinds of options for where to open it (new window, new tab, etc).
  • Reveal
    Bring up thumbnails of all open tabs, or your browsing history, and click on them to immediately show the real page. Like Exposé for firefox.
  • SessionSaver
    Fairly straightforward. When you exit Firefox, this remembers which pages you were viewing, and reopens them the next time you start Firefox.
  • SmoothWheel
    This makes the scrolling action look so much nicer. Please read the installation instructions because there are a few settings you'll need to tweak in order to get it working properly.
  • SubmitToTab
    I'm a huge fan of tabbed browsing, especially the ability to middle-click a link to open it in a new tab. Until this extension, there has never been a way to do that with a form submission button. Now, I just right-click on the submit button, and "submit to tab" (or to a new window).
  • TinyURL Creator
    If you share a lot of website links with friends over IM or email, you should learn about TinyURL, a site dedicated to giving you small uncomplicated URL's to whatever website you want to share. This extension adds a right-click menu option to automatically make a tiny URL out of the page you're currently viewing.
  • Table2Clipboard
    Gecko applications allow to select/copy rows and columns from a table by holding down the control key while clicking/dragging. However, they completely ignore rows, turning the copy into a single line of text. This extension fixes the problem, so you can easily copy/paste into the spreadsheet of your choice.
  • Tab Mix Plus
    If you're a fan of tabbed browsing, this is one of the best (and more stable) of those extensions that provide much more control over tab handling. If you use tabs at all, you should take a look at Tab Mix to see what you've been missing.
  • Text-Bcolor Fixer
    My default theme is light-colored text on a dark background. Many web page designers don't realize that people actually change the OS default color scheme, and create pages that assume people use black text on a light background. This extension automatically compensates for these bugs and low-contrast text in general (light text on a light background).
  • Dust-Me Selectors
    Useful tool for CSS designers to help find selectors that are not actually used (so you can remove them from your css).
  • SEO for Firefox
    Search Engine Optimization extension. A must-have if you want your site to be found more easily.

The following plugins are really only useful to web designers and advanced users, but I'm including them here if you want to check them out.

  • Web Developer
    This is by far the most useful plugin for web developers. You can turn on/off all kinds of settings, from CSS and javascript to animated images. It also has a great inline CSS editor, and about a hundred other useful tools.
  • User Agent Switcher
    Change your user-agent setting. Trick websites into thinking that you're using Internet Explorer or Opera.
  • Google Pagerank
    This adds a little "pagerank" box to the bottom of the window, just like the Google toolbar offers.

Thunderbird Extensions

Since Thunderbird isn't a web browser, you can't just click on an extension to install it. Instead, right-click on the .xpi link, and save it somewhere like your desktop. Then, from within Thunderbird's extension manager, you can select the downloaded .xpi file to install it.

  • Address Context
    Adds a bunch of options to the right-click menu when you click on an email address.
  • Buttons
    Adds a lot of buttons that you can add to the Thunderbird toolbar. In particular, I like the two for turning on/off HTML email and inline images.
  • Quote Colors
    Lets you configure message-reply quotes in messages you read to have different border/background colors, instead of the usual layer upon layer of > symbols.
  • Sender Verification
    Make sure that emails come from the mail service that the return address suggests they do (eg. if it says it's from aol.com, did it come from one of AOL's authorized mail servers?)
  • Smoothwheel
    See the description for this plugin in the Firefox section above
  • URL Link
    Has anyone ever sent you a link in an email that is broken up onto multiple lines because they didn't know about TinyURL? This extension does its best to join that link back together again so that it works properly.
Posted on May 30th 2007