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Customizing Firefox

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Straight out of the box, Firefox is a great tool. But A.Lizard recommends customizing some of the features in order to make Firefox far more useful for your personal and business activities.
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Most of us know the virtues of Firefox as a web browser. It works. It's secure. And because websites that work only on Microsoft Internet Explorer are increasingly rare, you can go almost anywhere with Firefox.

However, if you've left Firefox in the default factory configuration, you've missed opportunities to make your copy of Firefox truly your own—making Firefox a custom tool that serves your needs, not that of a hypothetical "average"' user.

This article explains how to turn Firefox into a custom tool. I'll show you the simple point-and-click methods to install any of hundreds of custom features for your Firefox installation. In the process, you'll learn what add-ons, extensions, and plug-ins are and how to get them.

Browsing the Browser

What can Firefox do for you that it's not doing right now? Well, just as a couple of examples:

  • You can modify the search window on the toolbar to offer a bunch of search engines, so you choose the one you want on each occasion simply by clicking the down arrow and making a selection.
  • You can have Firefox continuously display local weather and a three-day forecast on the toolbar or status bar.

Firefox can be extended via add-ons and plug-ins simply and easily to do far more than just browse, and all you have to do is point-and-click to get a fast, reliable automatic installation.

Figure 1 shows my heavily customized Firefox browser window. Each number in Figure 1 corresponds to a feature I added to Firefox. (Not all the features will necessarily appear in conjunction with any given web page.) These features are described in Table 1.

Figure 1

Figure 1 Customized Firefox browser window.

Item

Feature

Description

1

Weatherbug

Mounts on the toolbar or status bar, supplying at-a-glance weather information.

2

Download Helper

Video download for Flash and some other video file types. Works far better than anything else I've tried. When the icon changes from gray to color and an arrow appears, downloadable content is available (see Figure 2). Click the arrow to display the available content choices.

3

Customized search window

I have over a dozen search engines available via pull-down menu in my Firefox browser.

4

refspoof

Like to surprise a webmaster? This feature lets you alter the referer field. (Yes, the spelling is correct in HTML context.) This field provides the log entry that tells the sysadmin where a user came from, and you can change it to display anything that amuses you.

5

Noscript

Prevents JavaScript from executing scripts on your browser without user permission—an important security measure. When you go to a new site and see the circle-S icon with a circle/slash next to it and a beige bar above the status bar saying scripts are partially allowed, click the Options button to access the menu and specify the setting you want (see Figure 3).

6

Scrapbook

A useful tool for saving and organizing web pages.

7

Torbutton

Turns Tor connection via privoxy on/off. Basically, it puts the browser into stealth mode, using the Tor network and onion routing to anonymize your IP address as seen in log entries by any website you enter. You can just grab the button off the Firefox site, or get complete Tor/privoxy information for Linux/OS X/Windows.

8

Zotero

A tool for managing collected research information, including citations, information storage, and indexing.

9

EMAIL THIS

A multi-browser tool that makes it possible to email a URL and brief message from web pages that don't support emailing page information. Works in Firefox, Opera, and Internet Explorer.

Figure 2

Figure 2 Download Helper is active.

Figure 3

Figure 3 Noscript menu.

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