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26 June, 2008

How to update Firefox (again)

Rather sooner than I'd intended, I've had to 'upgrade' Firefox on my work PC to v.3 – a rendering issue I encountered in Safari 2 was reported as having reappeared in Fx3, so I needed to see and hence resolve it.

I'm not complaining about having to install Fx3, just not yet. Four key extensions are still incompatible, as is my favoured theme, so I've lost functionality in a GUI I don't particularly like – hardly an 'upgrade', and I won't be inflicting it on my home machine for now.

There was also the issue of finding time for customisation, so I'll make a quick note of what I did, for my own future reference as much as for others' possible interest.

Initially, I repeated the same tasks as when I upgraded from Fx1.5:

  • Checked the 'Options' submenu. My selections had been carried over from Fx2.
  • Checked 'about:config' to verify the customisation I'd applied according to Lifehacker's instructions had been carried across:
    • Decrease the minimum tab width, to minimise scrolling. Fifty pixels (half the default) is enough for me.
    • Restore the Fx1.5 style of tab closing: one 'close' button at the right of the entire tab bar rather than one button per tab.
    • Prevent prefetching of unselected pages.
    • Remove the 'Go' button from the address bar.
    They had.
  • Similarly checked the built-in search facility:
    • Removed engines I don't use, via the dropdown menu.
    • Reconfigured the ones I kept, by manually editing the .xml files in /Program Files/Mozilla Firefox/searchplugins/.
      Specifically, I renamed '' and '' to 'Amazon' & 'eBay' (I'm in the UK, so I know they're sites)
    These amendments hadn't been carried across, so I had to reset them.
Repolishing the user interface ('chrome') was slightly different this time: instead of directly editing 'userChrome.css', I installed the 'Stylish' plugin and a few scripts recommended by Lifehacker, to:
  • Hide the search box magnifying glass and location bar 'Go' button.
  • Hide the 'Edit' (but not 'Help') menu, as I already know the standard Windows keyboard shortcuts.
  • Hide the 'Open all in tabs' item in bookmark folders.
  • Remove the 'throbber' (the 'page loading' indicator - there's one in each tab, so the one at the top right is irrelevant).
Many, many more scripts are available, and to be examined when I have more time.

Next, I double-checked my extensions.

  • I removed two I don't really need – including two of the incompatible ones.
  • I checked the remaining two via their developers' websites.
    • As last time, a compatible update of one (the indispensible 'Clone Window') was available, just not via the official Mozilla interface.
    • The other wasn't, but I found an alternative offering much the same functionality.
It may be worth mentioning a few extensions I use which have further effects on the user interface:
  • Adblock. Not 'Adblock Plus', the less compromising 'Adblock'.
  • Clone Window.
  • Menu Editor – refines context menus, so, for example, I can't accidentally 'Send Image...' when trying to 'Save Image As...'.
  • Undo Closed Tabs.


I find virtual machines invaluable for checking sites in alternative browsers. VirtualBox is good, free and open source.

Posted by danbee at June 26, 2008 07:20 PM

firefox 3 gives me the irrits. new chrome and new chassis is not a fix for the UI.

flock 0.7 and netscape 8 remain the standout best browser UIs.

Posted by Saltation at June 27, 2008 07:31 PM

I'm reserving judgement until the key extensions are available.

I'm not saying you are, Sal, (so the following is a digression) but I don't have much sympathy with those who say 'baseline' Firefox "isn't as good as Browser X" <coughoperacough>.
Who cares? Fx has extensions – comparing browsers 'out of the box' is irrelevant, and I've yet to encounter meaningful functionality in one browser that can't be at least replicated by Firefox with extensions.

The only problem occurs in transitional periods like this, when early upgraders take a drastic usability hit. So don't rush to 'upgrade'.

Firefox is far from perfect – we can definitely agree that the default UI is poor – and I'd be happy if something better arrived... but that hasn't happened yet, so far as I'm concerned.

Flock 0.7? Are you mad, sir? ;)
Okay, okay; maybe it's a lifestyle thing, but Web 2.0 integration isn't a selling point for me.

Posted by NRT at June 27, 2008 09:13 PM

yeah, thing is, my appetite for tweaking the nuts off stuff just so it works half-decently has faded to near-nought over the last 20 years. so firefox's decision to deliberately break its UI (e.g., ctrl/cmd-W's modal behaviour) just says "no" to me. CBA.

yeah, the 2.0 stuff is rubbish in flock. easily ignored. but it DID make a point of using mozilla's capabilities to present a good UI. bizarrely, they then started regressing to firefox's UI from 0.9 onwards. similar to the BBC's iplayer, where the 2nd last beta was several orders of magnitude more user-friendly than the braindead cartoon version they regressed to.

>are you mad, sir?


Posted by Saltation at June 30, 2008 08:55 PM
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