Don Marti

Tue 09 Dec 2008 03:43:26 PM PST

Browser tweaks

(updated 15 Mar 2011: OptimizeGoogle, Firebug)

(updated 2 Feb 2010: updated with link to Rick Moen article, rearranged extensions section.)

Just set up Iceweasel again. Here's my current list of stuff to tweak. This doesn't include any of the network.http.pipelining, DNS, and render delay black magick, since I don't notice any difference when changing that stuff, and it might break something. See the references at the end for more ideas.

Clean up the toolbars

First of all, you don't need separate text boxes for search and URL. You can actually make the URL box ("AwesomeBar") act like a more versatile search box.

Make a bookmark for "gg" that points to this URL:

Select Bookmarks->Organize Bookmarks and edit the bookmark. Click the "More" button to reveal the "keyword" field, and give it a keyword. I use "gg". Then you can search for muffins by just typing gg muffins in the URL bar. No mousing all the way over to a separate search box.

You can add all kinds of searches -- here's one for Bible verses that I have set up with keyword "kjv".

Now that the search box is gone, you can clean up the toolbars some more, unless you really like the Superbrowser effect. But who has desktop space to waste?

Instead of the stock menu bar, navigation, bookmarks, just pack everything into one, using View->Toolbars->Customize. If you don't need a long URL box you can even drag everything up into the menu bar, and have no toolbars at all. (I'm torn about this one because sometimes I like to see the parameters in a long query string. Update: I can live with it all packed into the menu bar.)

You can also delete the buttons whose shortcuts your fingers already know. I got rid of "Reload" and "Home" right away. Then drag the buttons you actually use up into the menu bar. Then go to View->Toolbars and turn off all the toolbars.

As you learn new keyboard shortcuts, you can toss the corresponding buttons. While you're there, try "Use Small Icons" and see if you like it.

Set a comfortable minimum font size

Under Edit->Preferences->Content, click "Advanced" to set a minimum size. (Yes, this will make some badly-tested pages look funny.)

(update, from James Andrewartha: you don't need to go to about:config to make the zoom controls affect only the text on a page. Set the checkbox for View->Zoom->Text only.)

Deal with Java, JavaScript, and Flash

Under Content, de-select "Enable Java" (If you have a "vintage" applet-based site that you have to use for work, set up a totally separate browser. That way when you have the inevitable problem with the Java applet, you can kill and restart that browser, and rule out your browser tweaks right away.)

Also under Content, follow Uwe Hermann's advice and check the "Advanced" preferences for JavaScript. Personally, I let JavaScript change the status bar text since I use it in my own scripts to let me know what's going on, but there's no way I'll let JavaScript move a browser window around.

There's no checkbox for Flash, but install FlashBlock even if you don't have the proprietary Adobe-brand Flash plugin. gnash is good enough to show most of the annoying Flash ads and doo-dads at this point.


This is where all the weird settings hang out. There is a whole subculture of people who argue on message boards about this stuff. (They are obviously nerds and should get a life and start caring about important stuff like wakeups/second in PowerTOP.)

browser.blink_allowed = false Turn off the blink tag.

browser.cache.disk.parent_directory = /tmp This puts the cache in /tmp, which should be tmpfs instead of a real on-disk filesystem. One more thing to make it less likely you'll spin up your disk.

browser.tabs.tabMinWidth = 40 A personal preference: I'd rather have tightly packed tiny tabs than scroll buttons in the tab bar.

browser.zoom.full = false Zoom just the size of the text, not other elements on a page. When designing a page, you can use this as a quick way to answer the question: will larger or smaller font settings break the layout? (For most web designs, the answer is "yes.")

Add extensions

Adblock Plus: I got into the habit of using this when I worked in the Media and didn't want to let myself be influenced by who was and wasn't advertising. Still in the habit.

Copy as HTML Link: A carpal-tunnel-saving tool to replace two cut/paste cycles with one. Just select some text on a page, right-click and select "Copy as HTML Link," and the clipboard now has a proper HTML "a" element pointing to the page you're on with the text you selected as anchor text.

OptimizeGoogle, successor to CustomizeGoogle: This is handy for its privacy-enhancing features such as turning off click tracking and randomizing your Google cookie. (CustomizeGoogle does not seem to be actively maintained any more.)

Flashblock: don't have actual Flash on my main browser, but still use this. See Rick Moen's "The Gentle Art of Firefox Tuning (and Taming)" for Flash cookie privacy considerations.)

Web Developer: see huge amounts of info about a page, change cookies and CSS on the fly, whatever. Not just for developers. (Also, Firebug, but you knew that.)

Ones I don't have installed right now

Greasemonkey: run your own scripts to fix other people's bad web design decisions. Will put this back if I have to spend much time on bad sites again.

Social Media for Firefox: spam all the link-sharing sites with one button, instead of clogging up your browser.


Configure Firefox/Iceweasel 3 to be more secure / usable / bearable by Uwe Hermann

Four Tweaks for Using Linux with Solid State Drives by Tom Dryer

The Gentle Art of Firefox Tuning (and Taming) by Rick Moen