With the ability to drastically expand the browser’s functions using plug-in extensions and Greasemonkey scripts, many of Firefox 3’s built-in features are overlooked. Here are eight handy things you can do with Firefox, ranging from tiny tweaks to hugely powerful capabilities, all with nary an extension to install.
1. Minimize the toolbar.
Free up a little extra screen real estate by getting rid of the big, round “Back” button and replacing it with a more streamlined control. Right-click the toolbar, choose Customize, and select Use small icons. The new controls are perfectly functional but smaller, allowing the toolbar to shrink and leaving more room for viewing sites.
2. Use smart bookmarks.
Smart bookmarks are live bookmarks that don’t just refer to particular sites but actually generate live lists of sites according to parameters you define. For example, you might have a smart bookmark that lists the 10 sites you visit most often, or the last 20 sites you’ve visited with a particular keyword in their title.
To create a smart bookmark, select Organize Bookmarks from Firefox’s Bookmarks menu. In the window that opens, select Bookmarks Menu in the left-hand pane, then click Organize in the toolbar at the top and New Bookmark in the drop-down menu. Give your smart bookmark a descriptive name, such as “10 Most Recent Bookmarks.” In the Location field, you’re going to enter in a line of code telling the smart bookmark what to do. For the 10 sites you bookmarked most recently, you’d enter: place:queryType=1&sort=12&maxResults=10 . There are dozens of parameters you can use; Mozilla’s developer site includes a list of commands you can use in smart bookmarks. Here are a couple of the most useful:
- The 10 sites you’ve visited most recently (some installations of Firefox come with this smart bookmark already in place on the Bookmarks toolbar): place:queryType=0&sort=8&maxResults=10
- The 10 most visited sites with some search term in them: place:queryType=0&sort=8&maxResults=10&terms=keyword (replace “keyword” with your desired term) Continued…
3. Send e-mail via Yahoo! Mail or Gmail by default.
Normally, clicking on an e-mail address on a Web page will open up a new e-mail using your default e-mail program. If you’d rather use Yahoo! Mail, open up Options under Firefox’s Tools menu, select the Applications tab, and scroll down to the mailto: entry. Select Use Yahoo! Mail and click OK.
Gmail is not included as a built-in option in every installation of Firefox, but if yours doesn’t have it, you can add Gmail easily enough. Skip the Options dialogs for now and instead type about:config in Firefox’s address bar and hit Enter. In the Filter field, type gecko.handlerServiceAllowRegisterFromDifferentHost. Actually, you can simply type gecko and find the entry in the filtered list. Double-click the gecko.handlerServiceAllowRegisterFromDifferentHost entry to change it to True.
A message will appear at the top of the browser window asking if you want to add Gmail as an application. Now, repeat the process above for choosing Yahoo! Mail, but select the new Use Gmail option instead.
4. Duplicate tabs with drag-and-drop.
Duplicating tabs is a piece of cake: Simply hold the Ctrl key while dragging the tab you want to duplicate to an empty space on the tab bar. Continued…
5. Change or remove the Close tab buttons.
By default, Firefox 3 puts an X on each tab, similar to the X button that closes an application. You can remove this button, or see it only on the tab you’re currently viewing. Open about:config again and enter browser.tabs.closeButtons in the Filter field. Enter one of the following values depending on the behavior you prefer:
0(Zero) Close button only on the active tab.
1(Default) Close buttons on every tab.
2No close buttons.
3Single close button at the end of the tab bar, instead of on the tabs themselves.
6. Change the behavior of the Awesome Bar.
Mozilla has dubbed Firefox 3’s address bar the “Awesome Bar” because of the useful suggestions it makes as you type. By default, the Awesome Bar bases its recommendations on your recent history, pages you’ve tagged, and your bookmarks. You can change the way the Awesome Bar acts in the configuration page. Open about:config and change the following values, depending on the features you want:
- To disable the Awesome Bar entirely and revert to Firefox 2–like functionality, change the value of browser.urlbar.maxRichResults to
- To allow the Awesome Bar to recommend only sites whose address you’ve typed directly into the address bar, change browser.urlbar.matchonlytyped to
- To remove unvisited bookmarks from the pool of recommendations, change places.frecency.unvisitedBookmarkBonus to
- To remove all bookmarks from the Awesome Bar, change both places.frecency.unvisitedBookmarkBonus and places.frecency.bookmarkVisitBonus to
7. Search any site from the address bar with smart keywords.
The smart keyword function allows you to create searches for any site with a search engine, and trigger the search from the address bar using your choice of keyword. For example, you could create a smart keyword “me” to search the archives of your own site.
If you wanted to see if you’d ever written about cat juggling, you’d type me cat juggling into the address bar and Firefox would return the results from your own site’s search page. Visit the site you want to search and right-click its search box, selecting Add a keyword for this search. In the window that pops up, add a short description of the search and enter a short, memorable keyword that you’ll use to trigger it. For example, to create a smart keyword for PCMag.com, I visited the home page, right-clicked the search field, opened the smart keyword window, entitled my search PCMag.com and then entered the keyword pc as my search keyword. Now, if I want to search for something—say, laser printers—I just type pc laser printers and the search is run.
8. View your saved passwords for any page.
To view the passwords associated with any site, go to the log-in page and right-click anywhere on the page. Select View Page Info, and then the Security tab. Click View Saved Passwords. Another window will pop up showing the usernames associated with that site. Click Show Passwords to see the passwords for each username.
If you want to view all of your saved usernames and passwords, open Options under the Tools menu and select the Security tab. Click Saved Passwords to open a list of every site you’ve ever saved a password for. Again, click View Passwords and the list will display all of your passwords. You can’t print this list, but you can just as easily take screenshots if you want to print out your passwords for safekeeping.
Isn’t this a huge security hole?, you may ask. Why yes, it is. Knowing how easy it is for anyone with access to your PC to view all your passwords, maybe you’d like to password-protect your passwords.
In the Options | Security tab, click Use a master password and enter a password. Now this password will have to be entered any time you or anyone else tries to view saved passwords. You’ll be asked to enter your master password every time you open Firefox; without it, Firefox won’t automatically enter saved passwords for you. Make sure you don’t forget this one!