10:59 Sat 19 Aug 2006
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My web browser of choice is Firefox, which I prize for its openness, flexibility, and extensibility. Since I do web (application) development for a living, do web (application) development as a hobby, and in addition get much of my news/information from the Web, it’s important to be happy with my browser.

The first thing I do when I install a new version of Firefox is grab my bookmarks. I store them in my Subversion repository, and keep them synchronized between the various machines I use. The most important thing about them for me is that they store my keywords.

Keywords are a feature that might have pushed me to use the browser even if it had nothing else going for it. The very simple idea is that you can assign keywords to bookmarks, at which point all you have to do is enter the keyword into the location bar and then the browse will go to that location of the bookmark. Sounds trivial, but given my keyboard-centric way of using a computer, this is very important to me. The first effect of this is that none of the websites I go to frequently require more than a few keystrokes.

Keywords can also be hooked up to JavaScript “bookmarklets” and to website queries. For example, my way of searching for something on Google is to type “g something” into the location bar, then hit enter. Firefox’s keyword function will transform that into “http://www.google.com/search?q=something”. I also use a ton of JavaScript, such as a keyword for exposing in dropdown menus what the value (not just the text) of each option is. The combination of bookmarklets and keywords is fantastically convenient and powerful for a web developer, but anyone who uses searches and/or short submissions (as with del.icio.us) frequently would find it useful. Contained in my bookmarks are all the bookmarklets from Squarefree, which I find extremely useful.

The next feature that I love is “Type Ahead Find”, which I have on by default (accessibility.typeaheadfind and accessibility.typeaheadfind.linksonly are both set to true in my about:config). If it’s not on by default, it can be enabled by hitting the ‘ key. This feature makes navigation extremely easy by taking keyboard input and searching for links that match that input. For example, if I’m on a site and want to go to the “Print” page, I just start typing “Print”, and it will highlight that link, at which point “Return” will follow the link. I love browsing this way, and this is another feature that might have convinced me all on its own.

Tabbed browsing is a great feature, and one which helped start me using it, but all the browsers seem to have it now, so it doesn’t really stand out anymore.

Naturally, I love the fact that Firefox is free software, and would be very resistant to it if it were not. And the fact that it’s free and open is responsible, I’m quite convinced, for a lot of the excellent features and extensions that I use.

I use a variety of extensions that I find extremely useful, including:

Greasemonkey, a plugin that lets you execute whatever JavaScript you like upon arrival at user-specified web pages (might not sound exciting, but it’s extremely good at fixing problems in websites that you are forced to use often but you don’t have any control over).

Stylish, a kind of “Greasemonkey for CSS”. Not quite as useful, but still great for some stuff, (like making sure that websites without defined colors don’t pick up on my desktop color scheme when looking for default colors).

PrefBar, which gives you easy access to a bunch of useful Firefox preferences, including cookie/image/Flash/JavaScript disabling/enabling and handy “resize browser” buttons.

Live HTTP Headers, which lets you see, in real time, the HTTP headers that your browser is sending to sites—fantastically useful for web development troubleshooting.

HTML Validator, which as promised by its title validates web pages. The great thing about this is that it quietly validates every page you go to, without submitting that page to some third-party site, and just flags it as validating (or not) in the lower-right. It also tells you, if you ask it, what’s wrong with that page. I have found that this is a great spur to making my pages validate.

Professor X and X-Ray, both commonsensical web development plugins that let you see either head or body tag information/structure without leaving the page.

Firebug, a combination JavaScript debugger/console/inspector. Essential for any involved JavaScript development.

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