Lately, I’ve been on a conversion spree—converting people I know to Firefox. So far, I’ve “converted” my wife, my pastor, and half my co-workers. (My parents were already using Firefox when I visited them last Christmas.) It’s been great getting people, especially my co-workers over to Firefox, because most of them don’t really seek out alternatives on their own; in fact, most of them didn’t even know there were alternatives. Usually, when I approach them and say something like, “I noticed you’ve been using Internet Explorer. Do you want to try something else?” the response I get back is, “There’s something else?”
Granted, it’s been easy to get people to explore alternatives for a few reasons. First of all, at work, our IT department is very supportive of Mozilla, and they’ve already got most of the staff using Thunderbird, the email client, so users are already comfortable with the idea of alternatives to Microsoft. Secondly, I often approach people who are having problems with their computers. One of my co-workers had her computer loaded with spyware. Another couldn’t get Internet Explorer to load any pages, and she’d already tried loading those same pages on other people’s computers that were sharing the same internet connection, so she knew there was something wrong with her browser. I loaded Firefox onto her computer, and all the sites loaded immediately.
There are some other selling points, as well.
First of all, people like the simple look of Firefox. It’s got a location bar, a search bar, a bookmarks bar, and the displayed webpage. Sure, you can get Internet Explorer to have a simple look, too, but when IE is simple, it won’t do much any more. Most people I know who use Internet Explorer need to use the Google Toolbar or some Yahoo! equivalent in order to get some good functionality out of the browser.
On a related note, another selling point has been the search bar. New converts love the fact that you can search using multiple engines from one bar and that you can add engines. I’ve added, as you can see here, the NIV Bible, Google Maps, and the Internet Movie Database.
Only one new convertee has been as thrilled with themes as I’ve been, but they’re there. If you don’t want to use them, that’s okay, too, but they are an option. Two of my favorites are Red Cats/Green Flavor and Saferfox Xpanded.
My wife and I are cat lovers, and Red Cats/Green Flavor doesn’t go too crazy with the cats—it has enough cats to appease the urge to worship felines while not obscuring the browser’s functions and displays. It’s also a fairly consistent theme in terms of appearance.
Saferfox Xpanded doesn’t have the consistency of Red Cats (for example, there is no visible button to close the find-as-you-type search bar), but it’s great for Windows users who love the Aqua appearance of Macs.
Internet Explorer users who read the news or like to click on multiple links off a site are always amazed that something like tabbed browsing exists on other browsers. They’re used to right-clicking a link, clicking on “open in new window,” then clicking back to the original page to find other links.
With Firefox, you can middle-click on any number of links (or right-click and click on “open in new tab”), and they will all load in “tabs” within the same browser window but in the background, so you can get to them when you’re done reading the page you’re on. This is great for when I look at Google News, see five or six stories I read. All I have to do is middle-click them all, and they’ll all be lined up to read later.
I have to confess—when I first started using Firefox, I hated the bookmarks toolbar, and I chose to hide it; I felt it just added an extra layer that pushed down the browser display window. After a few months, though, I tried actually using it (instead of clicking on “bookmarks” and dragging the mouse down to the appropriate site link) and I loved it. Here’s a place where you can put all your most frequently used bookmarks, and they will appear as easy-click buttons below the address bar. On a side note, there’s a great feature in bookmarks that allows you to open everything in a folder (say, a bunch of sites you visit every day) in tabs—all at once.
Extensions are the best part of Firefox, and it’s one of the few things that sets it apart from Safari, another great browser (for Macs only, though—Firefox, however, is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux). I used to be a big fan of Opera, before Firefox came out. In many ways, the three browsers (Safari, Opera, and Firefox) are similar. What makes the difference for me, though, is Safari and Firefox are out-of-the-“box” simple, pared-down browsers. Opera, although high in functionality, starts from a fresh install as a crazy all-over-the-place browser. Unlike Safari, though, Firefox starts off simple in its features but can get as complex as you want it to be through the use of “extensions.”
Here are some of my favorite extensions…
FoxyTunes: Ever been listening to your music (through iTunes or WinAmp) while surfing the internet? Suddenly a song comes on that sucks or is too loud, or suddenly the phone rings and you need to pause. Sure, it might take you only that extra few seconds to switch applications, press the appropriate button on your music player, then switch back, but wouldn’t it be nice to have all the controls on the status bar at the bottom of your browser?
Adblock: Sure, banner ads aren’t as annoying as pop-ups (which Firefox blocks by default and does a pretty good job of blocking), but they’re still annoying. Adblock lets you block individual ads or ads from a particular site. You’d be amazed how much cleaner some pages look after the ads have been taken out of them.
Bloglines: Most blogs (not all) are syndicated using something called an RSS feed, which lets RSS aggregators see exactly when a site has been updated and what the new content is. Bloglines allows you to collect together your favorite blogs, and it notifies you, via this extension in Firefox, any time a new blog you read has been updated. A little red dot appears on the “B,” and you can have immediate access to what’s been updated. Even comic strips and newspapers have RSS feeds.
ForecastFox: I used to visit the weather channel webpage, but now I have a three-day forecast that appears as little pictures on my status bar. If I hover over any picture with the mouse, I get details (temperature, clouds, wind, rain, etc.).
User Agent Switcher: When I first came across this extension, I had no idea what it was because of its cryptic name. One of the downsides to using Firefox is that it isn’t compatible with every website (or, rather, those websites aren’t compatible with W3C standards, instead catering to Internet Explorer’s non-standard HTML and use of ActiveX). Granted, Firefox is compatible with most websites, though. The only websites my wife and I have ever used that didn’t support Firefox were Cingular Wireless’s webpage and the FAFSA webpage. Once we installed User Agent Switcher, which essentially tricks websites into thinking Firefox is Internet Explorer, both sites worked fine with Firefox (interestingly enough, Opera supposedly has a similar function built into it—”identify as MSIE 6.0″—but Opera’s feature doesn’t really work).
I also recommend TabBrowser Preferences, FireFTP, and Download Manager Tweak.
A couple of other Firefox bonus features…
“Find as you type” starts finding words in the page as you’re typing the word, instead of popping up a search dialogue in which you have to type the word, then click “find next” to actually find the word.
Great Keyboard Shortcuts:
- Control-T opens a new tab (if you use TabBrowser preferences, you can make each new tab opened go to the homepage by default)
- Control-K goes up to the search bar
- Control-L goes up to the address bar
- Control-W closes the current tab
- Control-Tab moves to the next tab in the window
Built-in “feeling lucky” searches: People who like the “I’m feeling lucky” feature in Google will love this. For those not familiar with “I’m feeling lucky,” there are two buttons below the search bar in Google. One searches and displays a page of search results. The other button takes you straight to the first search result. If you type a search query in the address bar of Firefox, it will go straight to the most likely site.
I’ve tried many of the major browsers out there: Netscape, Camino, Safari, Opera, Internet Explorer, Deepnet Explorer; and I have to say Firefox has been the best I’ve seen so far. Use what works for you, of course, but at least try Firefox.
Below is a complete “list” (in image format) of my favorite Firefox extensions:
P.S. Someone suggested Luna as a theme worth trying out for those switching from Internet Explorer, as Luna is Windows XP’s default theme. There are also instructions on the Firefox site for how to switch from IE—it’s usually quite effortless, as the Firefox installer automatically imports Internet Explorer’s “favorites” into Firefox “bookmarks.”
Read more about Firefox in the news.
Why does anyone use Internet Explorer?