Set My Firefox

FirefoxIn spite of my continued enthusiasm for OmniWeb, I’ve found myself using the 1.0 Preview release of Firefox more and more often. I spend about half my day in each browser, and it makes me wish that I had a system-level utility that would intercept every link I click on to let me decide whether to send it to OmniWeb or Firefox. Surely, somebody has already whipped up something like that, and I’m missing it, right?

What I like about Firefox is it feels very much like working with a universally understood standard for the way a browser should behave across platforms. OmniWeb and Safari both have their tweaks, and while both browsers are superb, there’s a feeling of psychological reprieve when I open up Firefox. Knowing that, in a small way, I am theoretically a step closer to using something that the rest of the computing population at least has access to seems very… different. For a Macintosh devotee who has grown accustomed to using programs targeted only at our own niche market, that’s a nice change of pace.

The Two Tweaks

As an aside, here are two things that I did to make my Firefox experience even more enjoyable. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like using the browser so much without them.

First, I edited the arcane but powerful Mozilla preferences at the heart of the program to allow navigating through Web forms through use of the tab key. This is a native behavior to Windows, and the Mac unfortunately does not support it nearly as well, but if you make these changes, it qualifies as ‘good enough.’

In the Firefox address bar, just type “about:config” for a full list of the configurable preferences. Then in the Filter field that appears, type “tabfocus” to jump to the accessibility.tabfocus preference. Then change the value from 1 to 3, for tabbing to text controls and form elements only, or to 7, for tabbing to basically everything on the page (I use 3).

My second minor tweak is to download and install Kevin Gerich’s Pretty Widgets, which replaces a few key user interface elements to create a more Aqua-like and vastly more appealing look for every Web form. This visual hack is in lieu of forthcoming, truly Aqua-native widgets, but it makes a big difference to me in using Firefox today. It’s also a good representative of one of the things I really like about Mozilla browsers; there’s always someone doing something interesting for it.



  1. If you “Turn on full keyboard access” under system preferences -> keyboard & mouse -> keyboard shortcuts, this does the same thing as the edit you made in your Mozilla preferences.

  2. Khoi, only tangentially related, but there’s a wonderful piece of shareware called Bookit which will sync your bookmarks across browers (including firefox and OW5) and even across machines.

  3. I’m waiting for the ‘Mac Aquafication release’ to see how much they can improve its OS X feel. Hopefully by then, the extension developers will have had time to update their extensions to work with the latest version.

    The main one is single window mode. Its so annoying to not be able to load links from other apps into new tabs rather than windows.

  4. Narayan, I was using Bookit 3.2 for a while but forgot about it, not having realized that the recent beta versions offer support for recent browsers. I downloaded 3.5b2 this morning, ran it and updated all of my bookmarks — fantastic! Thanks for the tip.

  5. Khoi, IC-Switch (as in Internet Config Switch) is what you need, to control which browser is launched.

    It’s a Menu Extra that allows you to quickly set your mail, FTP, news/RSS and browser. I use it to switch between Camino, Safari, FireFox and OmniWeb, as the whim (or sometimes good reason!) hits. : )

    As for reactions to FireFox, I tend to agree with the subtle feeling of using ‘what everyone else is using’, tho for me that manifests mainly in the value of the larger community, and to benefit from factors other than Apple’s benevolence, the whim of big developers, or the *really* small guys trying to keep up (no offence to any of them!)

    I also agree with you, Jon, re the native widgets (and your recent contributions in that regard!) I’ve been a long time user of Camino (amongst the rest — I’ve never found a permanent home), and have valued this, but it doesn’t go far enough…

    I’m not sure if Gecko can be made to support the two biggest advantages of the WebKit; built-in spell check, and Services, which I use a lot online: Thesaurus/WordNet, Twiddle string, TextExtras, Add Contact/Event, various searches, blog posts, download via another client, insert text into various apps etc. etc. — they can make your browsing experience much more fluid, for me it’s a big deal.

    …but of course I miss out on the breadth of FireFox extensions (but Saft is great for Safari, was rather suprised by just how much Hao can alter, witness the History and Bookmark searches that fade-in over the current view, and offer live filtering!)

  6. Marc, after quickly downloading and installing IC-Switch, it seems pretty close to what I want, but not quite. Ideally I could maintain a default browser, but if I right/control-click on a link, a contextual menu would offer an item that says “Open Link In…” and a submenu would simply list my browsers, email clients etc. That sounds so simple and basic… is there anything like that out there right now?

  7. Khoi, I agree that IC-Switch is not quite the best way to go, since you’ve got to change the setting before clicking a link.

    What you describe would be good, but I’m not aware of anything that works specifically as you describe (I’d like that too!)

    One kinda close option is to use Services. I have ICeCoffEE installed, with the option to append the Services menu to contextual menus. When you have the TEXT of a URL (e.g. in a document, an email etc.) you can select the text and use the ‘Open URL’ service from browsers that offer one (Safari, OmniWeb, Camino, Opera…)

    Unfortunately this only works on the FULL TEXT of an URL/HREF, there’s no option to control/right-click a link in a browser and pass it to another browser.

    Again, it’s not what you’re looking for, but I just thought I’d mention it.

    BTW – Webstractor installs a contextual menu that DOES append to a browser’s contextual menu on HTML links (i.e. HREFs with a text label), so it’s possible.

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