Firefox 3: One Browser to Rule Them All
I've been using Firefox since it was known as Phoenix back in the 0.1 days and have always been really pleased with the project overall. Using Firefox has always been a pleasure with good performance, stability and extensibility. It had gotten so good that I didn't think Firefox 3 could really be that much more awesome. After using it for several weeks, I can tell you that it far exceeded my high expectations and sets a new bar for what we should expect out of a browser.
I'm always leery of upgrading to a newer version because of the potential to lose important things like bookmarks. Not wanting to hose down my existing profile, I downloaded Firefox 3 Portable Edition so I could try it out in a self-contained environment before taking the plunge. I copied my old profile over and tried out a few of the sites I normally visit to get an idea of how well it perfomed.
Bookmarking is vastly improved in Firefox 3. Instead of trying to organize all of your clutter into folders, you can now assign tags to bookmarks the same as you would to a blog post or Flickr photo. You no longer need to rename every bookmark into something descriptive or create dozens of folders just to find that killer pear cobbler recipe (though you can if you want to).
I also became an instant fan of what Firefox advocates are calling "The Awesome Bar". Yes, it sounds very egotistical, but that's because you haven't used it. In old-school location bars, you start typing in the address of where you want to go and it tries to fill in the rest. The Awesome Bar goes much further by searching the entire address and page title of your history and your bookmarks to find relevant results. And remember those tags you're assigning to bookmarks? Yeah, it'll search those too. You can also add the Searchery extension to do searched on Google, Amazon and a host of other sites right from the Awesome Bar and have those results listed with your history and bookmarks.
About the only thing that had held me back from upgrading to Firefox 3 was Google's unexpected discontinuation of its excellent Browser Sync extension. In addition to keeping the same set of bookmarks in each copy of your browser, it also synced your saved passwords and cookies. With a work PC and two at home, I wasn't about to go without this functionality.
Fortunately, Mozilla stepped up to the plate and started the Weave extension and service to sync bookmarks, cookies, saved form data, history, passwords and even tabs across multiple systems. There are also plans to extend it to sync browser extensions, preferences, themes and microformats and allow you to selectively share content with other users. The bad news? They won't let you sign up for an account anymore since they filled up so quickly. If you don't want to wait for them to open it up again, Weave can be used with your own WebDAV server (hint: if you don't know what that is, you don't have one). That's also a good option for those who are just the least bit paranoid about letting a third party store their data.
I've also found a lot of other very useful extensions that help me out. Web designers should be totally ga-ga over Firebug, an extension that lets you find out what's taking so long for your page to load. It also lets you preview CSS changes in the browser without modifying any files. Need that perfect color? ColorZilla gives you an eyedropper tool to let you get the hexadecimal value of any color on your screen, perfect for ganking. You'll also want to make sure that your pages still look good at a variety of resolutions. Window Resizer lets you force Firefox windows to a specific size so you can test it out.
While web designers will appreciate it, regular Joes will like IE Tab at least as much. A lot of websites will, for whatever reason, refuse to work on Firefox. Instead of opening up Internet Explorer to get to the page, IE Tab gives you a little button at the bottom to flip between using IE or Firefox on the current page. You can also make it remember to use IE for specific pages that, for whatever reason, don't play nice with Firefox.
Here's some of the other extensions I'm using:
- Adblock Plus: Just as the name implies, it blocks ads from showing on web pages. In this age of sneaky pop-ups and annoying "punch the monkey" Flash, it's essential to send a message that it really cheeses you off. In addition to a pre-built blacklist, you can add items of your own that you want blocked.
- Better GCal: A handy set of small tweaks to Google Calendar. Also allows skinning.
- Better Gmail 2: Like Better GCal, but for Gmail.
- BugMeNot: Hate those free registrations so that you can view news articles? So do a lot of other people. This will attempt to put in a dummy login to let you see the page without registering.
- ErrorZilla Plus: This replaces Firefox's default "Address Not Found" message with new options to ping, tracert or proxy the webpage. It can also search Google's cache or the Internet Wayback Machine for old copies.
- FireFTP: Firefox does many things well. FTP handling is not one of them. FireFTP is a lightweight FTP client you can run directly from the browser.
- Geo: Many web pages are tagged with geographical coordinates (like ours). Geo lets you know when you're visiting a page with that data so you can view its location on a map or use the GeoURL website to find websites geographically near it.
- Google Notebook: Yes, yes. Another Google service. I'm a Google whore and I know it. Really, though, it's handy to take notes in your browser and access them from anywhere, even a mobile phone. I use it all the time to pass links to my Motorola Q9c.
All in all, Firefox 3 is a download worth making to replace IE or upgrade your older version of Firefox (which, I might add, too many of you are using). If you haven't already, run out and get it. Now.