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Supercharging Firefox

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The Firefox browser comes pre-configured with lots of great search tools, but it's also highly customizable, allowing you to push your online experience to new and fun extremes.

I've written that Mozilla Firefox is the searcher's browser. Not only does it come preconfigured to easily search Google, Amazon and other important sites, it's easily extensible. You can snap-in plugins for literally hundreds of specialized search engines with just a few clicks, and just as easily remove them if you don't like what they do.

Adding new search tools to Firefox is just the tip of the iceberg of things you can do to extend and enhance the browser. A new book from O'Reilly, Firefox Hacks, shows you how to supercharge your browsing experience.

Just like Tara Calishain and Rael Dornfest's terrific Google Hacks, Firefox Hacks is loaded with dozens of tips and techniques that you can apply right away. Some require a certain degree of programming skill, but others are easy and straightforward to apply.

Some of my favorite Firefox hacks illustrated in the book:

Create your own search plug-in. It's relatively easy to create your own search plug-in for just about any site on the web, if you're willing to put in a bit of effort. You needn't be a programmer, but you will need to understand a bit of how forms work and information is exchanged between computers. It's worth the time to do this if you find yourself searching a lot of specialized databases on the web.

Use keyword bookmarks. Keyword bookmarks are especially cool—they let you bookmark a favorite site and then call up individual pages on a site using a keyword. For example, you could bookmark Amazon and call up information about any book in its catalog by typing the name of the bookmark and an ISBN number into the Firefox location bar, rather than a URL.

Spider the web with Firefox. Sometimes you want more than just a bookmark for a site—you might want multiple pages or even an entire site downloaded to your own computer. There are several plugins for Firefox that allow you to easily download and save multiple pages, including images, from a web site. Probably the easiest to use is Down them All.

Put Firefox on a USB stick. This is a very handy hack if you travel a lot. You can store a version of Firefox and all of your bookmarks on a portable memory stick, and then run it directly from the stick on any web-connected computer. If you've ever made a presentation in an organization that has strict security rules about downloading software, this hack is a godsend.

And no good book would be complete without:

Waste time with toys and games. Are you a fan of the text adventure Zork? Want to play Solitaire in your browser? There are Firefox plugins available for these and other games.

All of these hacks are easy and straightforward to implement. But the book also has lots of useful information for the serious web designer or programmer. Some of the hacks focus on designing and troubleshooting CSS or other web page elements with Firefox tools. Others allow you to implement web services that can perform a variety of interesting tasks.

If you're a Firefox user (and if you're not, you should be), Firefox Hacks is an excellent investment of both money and time. It'll help you get the most out of what is already the best browser available today.

Firefox Hacks
Tips and Tricks for Next-Generation Web Browsing
By Nigel McFarlane
ISBN: 0-596-00928-3
377 pages, $24.95 US, $34.95 CA

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