15 must-have Firefox tricks

Preston Gralla reveals how to tweak, hack and bend Firefox to your will

What good is a browser unless you can tweak it, hack it and bend it to your will? No good at all. The more you can hack it, the better it is. And that means that Firefox must be a great browser. It's infinitely customizable, via editing a text file called userChrome.css, making changes via a command called about:config, and using free add-ons to extend the features of the browser.

In this article, with those techniques and others, I'll show you 15 great Firefox tricks, including how to build your own Firefox search engine, how to speed up your browsing, how to hack the interface and plenty more. So launch your favorite browser, and get ready for some great tricks.

Editor's note: If you use Internet Explorer 7 instead of Firefox, check out these 8 top tips for IE 7

1. Build your own Firefox search engine

Want to power up Firefox's search box? It's easy to create your own search engine, so that you can rifle through any site from right within Firefox. Adding a search engine that has already been written, of course, is easy. Click the down arrow to the left of the search box, select "Manage Search Engines," then click the "Get more search engines" link at the bottom of the screen. From the Web site that appears, click the search engine you want to install, and you're done.

There are plenty of sites that don't have prebuilt search engines, though. No problem: It's easy to build your own search engine. First install the OpenSearchFox add-on. Then, when you're on a search site, right-click the search box and choose the Add OpenSearch plug-in. From the screen that appears (shown below), type in the name that you want to be associated with the search engine, add a description of the search engine and click Next. Then click Finish, and the site will be added as a search engine that you can choose like any other -- by clicking the arrow to the left of the search box and selecting the engine.

Note that as of this writing, OpenSearchFox doesn't work properly with Firefox v. 2.0.0.10 or 2.0.0.11, although it may be fixed as you read this. When you use the add-on in v. 2.0.0.1 or 2.0.0.11, you'll get an error message after you click Finish, although in some instances, even if you get the error message, the search engine will still be added.

2. Use keywords to speed up your searching

Don't want to go to the trouble of adding your search engine -- or you can't get OpenSearchFox to work properly? Here's another way to do an instant search.

When you're at a site, right-click on its search box and select "Add a Keyword for this Search." Type in a name for it and an easy-to-remember shortcut (for example, hp for the Huffington Post blog site). Then click OK. Now, to search the site, go to the Address Bar, and type in your shortcut, followed by a search term, such as hp Clinton. You'll search the site, just as if you were there. Note that on occasion, the search won't work properly, but it will on most sites.

3. Speed up Firefox with pipelining

Here's a simple way to speed up Web browsing with Firefox -- turn on its hidden pipelining feature. When you turn on pipelining, you send several requests to a Web server at a time, rather than sending them one by one, so you can load multiple items on a page concurrently. By default, pipelining is turned off in Firefox, but it's easy to turn it on:

  1. Type about:config into your address bar and hit Enter.
  2. In the Filter text box, at the top of the page, type network.http. A list of settings appears, as you can see in the nearby figure.
  3. Double-click the "network.http.pipelining" setting, to change it to true.
  4. Double-click the "network.http.proxy.pipelining" setting, to change it to true.
  5. Double-click the "network.http.pipelining.maxrequests" setting, and in the text box that appears, type in 8 and click OK.

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Preston Gralla

Computerworld
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