Tweaking and Customizing the Firefox Browser

A while back we took a look at some of the ways that Google’s Chrome web browser could be tweaked by the user to make it more personal, by looking and doing exactly as you want. Now it is time to do the same with Mozilla’s Firefox. This browser is also infinitely customizable, both in looks and functions.

While Firefox has recently faced stiff competition from Chrome, the browser has remained a favorite among techies. Thanks to its themes, tabs and endless list of add-ons, there is really nothing you can not do here and this post could go on to fill a book. However, we don’t have that much space, but we can hit some of the highlights.

The Look

The easiest and most prominent way to make Firefox look the way you want it to is a feature called Personas. These are themes that are displayed across the top of the screen — becoming the background for your menu bar. Personas come in pretty much any form you want and can fit any mood, taste or occasion. There are Personas for holidays, sports, movies, games, cars, seasons, photography and as many other things as you can think of.

Mozilla has put together a gallery of thousands of these little things and users can browse it by category or search by a subject or name. Simply head over to the Get Personas web site to get started. You can even create your own Persona.

Not to be confused with Personas, there are also themes. These are a bit different. These can transform the entire look of your web browser. Mozilla boasts more than 300,000 of them in its gallery. In addition to adding a Persona-type image to the menu bar, these also transform other parts of the browser, such as the buttons. Again, they can be searched by subject or browsed by category.

Tools

The “Tools” option appears in the menu, but to get to the meat of this, you will need to click it and then choose “Options”. The pop-up screen has a number of tabs across the top, including General, Tabs, Content, Applications, Privacy, Security, Sync and Advanced.

Let us start with with Tabs — this is the first thing I do when I install Firefox. Make sure that “Open new windows in a new tab instead” is enabled. This should be enabled by default.

Moving to “General” you will find a dropdown menu. This is personal preference, but I always set it to “Show my windows and tabs from last time”. This way, if the browser crashes, then you should easily be able to recover what you were working on at the time of the failure.

“Privacy” has one very important option that is not enabled by default — “Tell web sites I do not want to be tracked”. Click the radio button to enable this feature, which Internet  Explorer 10 enables by default, despite advertisers’ cries of foul.

The “Sync” tab allows you to setup Firefox Sync, which will allow you to share history, bookmarks, tabs and passwords across multiple computers. Setting this up is fairly simple and it works much the same way as the Chrome version does.

Scripts

Much like in Chrome, Firefox can easily process user scripts which can do pretty much everything from customizing the way web sites, including popular ones like Facebook and YouTube, look and act. The extension allows you to easily browse and install scripts from Userscripts.org. You will need to restart Firefox whenever you install an add-on or extension.

The Userscripts web site contains thousands of scripts to choose from and many of them are frequently updated. The site provides a lively community and, if you have an idea for one, then you can head into the forms to discuss it and talk with developers who can help to point you in the right direction.

Add-ons, Extensions and Toolbars

This is where Firefox really shines. I just mentioned Greasemonkey, but it is only one of many add-ons and extensions that are available for the browser.

There are add-ons and extension that can do almost anything. To access them you can simply click the “Tools” menu and then “Add-ons”. From here you can browse what is available or search by name. You can find ways to easily download video and audio from YouTube, block cookies, find the aforementioned themes and a whole lot more.

I am not a fan of toolbars. Ask.com and AVG are famous for being bundled with many downloads of free programs. However Firefox, by default, does include a very nice Developer Toolbar which some of you will no doubt find handy. To enable this you can go to “Tools” then “Web Developer” and click the “Developer Toolbar” option.

This places a toolbar at the bottom of your screen and displays options for “Web console”, “Inspect”, “Debugger” and “More details”. This certainly is not for the casual user, but it is irreplaceable for web developers when trying to scale sites for compatibility with multiple web browsers. Google also provides a fairly useful version of its toolbar for Firefox, but I find that it is not really necessary.

Conclusion

Firefox, like its rival Google Chrome, is an infinitely customizable and tweakable web browser. Many of those who use it will probably never make any changes, but for the techie types who like to get into their hardware and software and make things look and work exactly the way they want it to, then the Mozilla web browser may be exactly what you are looking for and the user scripts are especially fun to explore and try out.


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