Pimping Firefox: The Basics (Matt Mullenweg, Garrett Camp, and More)


Don’t pimp real foxes. That’s just mean. (Photo: wildphotons)

38.16% of the people who visit this site are still using Internet Explorer (IE). It’s like buying a hybrid car for the gas mileage and then driving with flat tires and the doors open.

This post will serve two purposes: first, to introduce beginners to features of Firefox (FF) that make it worthwhile; second, to introduce more experienced users to the favorite add-ons of Matt Mullenweg (lead developer of WordPress) and Garrett Camp (co-founder of StumbleUpon). Perhaps you’ll like one or two of mine…

If you aren’t using Firefox, here are a few short reasons to start:

* Built in spell-check
* Lightweight and fast
* Intuitive shortcuts
* Continually being improved
* Better than a college degree (some think)
* Extensions (also called “add-ons” or “plug-ins”)

Extensions lead us to this post. Kid in a candy store time.

After you’ve made the leap and switched to Firefox (download it here), here’s are the extensions you can use to take it to the next level:

Google Toolbar

Installing the Google Toolbar is the key to Firefox efficiency. It is the starting point.

It gives you one-stop access to Google RSS, Google Docs, Google News and Google Blogsearch. Google Docs lets you store and collaborate with word processing without being tied to local Microsoft applications. Google RSS lets you read news without surfing and Google News and Blogsearch are two of the best methods for bloggers to track trends and events. I use Google Highlighter to find terms on pages with tons of text.

The FF search bar in the top-right corner is one of the most helpful features of the browser. Instead of going to Google.com to do your searches, you can search Google and others sites from a drop-down window in the top-right of any window. Just hit Cmd + K to jump to the top-right search box, then Cmd + arrow up or arrow down to choose among searching on Amazon, Creative Commons, eBay, and more. If you get stuck without FF, you can do the same in the Google search field on any browser with “parkour site:youtube.com” to find parkour videos on YouTube, for example.

Alexa Sparky Toolbar

Try and use simple tech tools to separate professionals from amateurs whenever possible.

The Alexa toolbar – a small plug-in – lets you do that in a ruthlessly numerical way. As you surf, it gives you each site’s traffic rank (and historical chart of traffic, like a stock chart), based on several metrics, in the bottom right-hand corner. I often use the web for meme research, media filtering, and competitive analysis instead of web dev, and this tool is my first line of defense.

Some estimate that a million-plus rank is just a few dozen people a day. In the mid-six digits (Ex: 200,000), you’re looking at people with sizeable audiences, and once you crack 100,000, you’ll begin to find professionals, some with readerships larger than most newsstand magazines.

General Rule: Alexa is a valuable first-look tool to keep you from giving too much credence to a professional design, or — alternatively — being scared off by site that doesn’t care much for first impressions.

Alexa is not a complete rank, however, and is flawed in many respects. It’s the first step for me when evaluating media opportunities or baseless traffic claims, but I supplement Alexa with the following analytic tool: SEO for Firefox.

SEO for Firefox

The SEO for Firefox add-on is used for search engine optimization. I don’t use it for tweaking this site. I use it for media and competitive research, as it allows you to see in normal Google results — once turning the add-on “on” — the resulting sites’ pagerank, links on Yahoo!, Alexa traffic rank, Compete traffic rank, Bloglines rank, Technorati rank, and much more. To supplement this, if serious about competitive research, I suggest viewing Quantcast when possible.

Important: turn off this add-on when not in use.

I’ve used clunky dictionary extensions for Firefox before and — in all cases — I’ve found simple to be better. Definr is a company that takes clean interface to a new level – the homepage has four links and one of them is the search button. It caches the most commonly searched words so it doesn’t waste your time.

Using Delicious, every article I’ve ever felt was worth saving is available to me anywhere in the world from any computer. This is something we’ve discussed here before.

Delicious lets you batch your daily read (I tag things with “to_read”) into one single task instead of an unending barrage of distractions or tangents. It also makes it possible to quickly and conveniently track down things resources you’ve used in the past, so you don’t waste time in fruitless searches.

Make sure you install the Classic Delicious extension — it’s cleaner, easier to use, and less prone to feature abuse.

Matt Mullenweg and Garrett Camp’s Favorites

Matt Mullenweg‘s favorites, which he explained on a ferry en route from Santorini to Milos island in Greece, include:

Foxmarks – syncs bookmarks across multiple computers

Google Browser Sync – syncs cookies and passwords (see these newer substitutes)

PWDHash – auto-generated customized passwords for various sites

Firebug – according to Matt, “one of most significant web dev tools of the last 3-4 years.” It’s a “net profiler” that indicates how long each element on a page takes to load.

Google Gears – faster and improved browser performance (local caching, etc.)

Garrett Camp‘s must-haves include:

TabCatalog – shows contents of all of tabs as a thumbnail-style list (using F8 or other hotkey you designate). Great for not having to flip through tabs to see what is open or find what you’re looking for.

Stylish – Customize the look of your browser or mail client. Stylish is to CSS what Greasemonkey is to JavaScript.

StumbleUpon (please slap yourself if you’re surprised) – Learn how to stumble across things you like, kill memes dead, or spread idea viruses. Here’s the description of how it works.

Experiment, extend, and go nuts. Have any of your own favorites to share? Better alternatives to the above? Please share in the comments.

Posted on: July 10, 2008.

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Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

99 comments on “Pimping Firefox: The Basics (Matt Mullenweg, Garrett Camp, and More)

  1. Plugins I can’t live without:

    Add to Search Bar – you mentioned the FF search bar. Many people don’t know you can stick any search into it whether it’s Wikipedia or the search box here in the upper right hand corner.

    All-in-one-gestures – use waves of the mouse to make FF do anything, easier on the wrist than without.

    Drag de Go – assign different actions depending on which direction you drag *anything*

    Flashblock – keeps your eyes from getting tired by blocking all the blinking Flash ads behind one click of your mouse.

    IE Tab – for when a site STILL doesn’t work properly in FF and needs Internet Explorer.

    Screen grab! – for taking screenshots of what’s in the browser window

    Split browser – lets you split the browser window into multiple windows, perfect for blogging on the top half of the screen while checking information on the bottom.

    Tab Mix Plus – take control of FF tabs.


  2. Tim – Firefox 3.0 is much improved, especially with the extensions…..I personally use the following Firefox extensions I found very useful:

    IETab – renders pages through IE to get around the requirement of some sites to view the site in IE. Also, some pages still dont render correctly for firefox so this usually fixes it.

    DownloadThemAll – Allows you to easily download multiple files/links from a page. Saves a ton of time in frequent downloading

    InstaClick – Opens links in a new tab when you right click on them



  3. I love the blog Tim but I disagree that Firefox is necessarily better. I’ve noticed Firefox being slower, and more of a memory hog than I.E. many times. Neither one is particulary good with web standards.

    I like Firefox for the extensions. Some great tools to aid development. However, the majority of people use I.E. (http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_stats.asp) so if it comes down to it that’s what I develop for.

    It’s definitely popular to hop on the Firefox bandwagon but for myths about Firefox check out: http://home.comcast.net/~SupportCD/FirefoxMyths.htm

    It’s a bit old but it’s been updated casually and most of it is still true today.

    Luke Krogh


  4. Firebug is much more than a “net profiler.” It’s a javascript debugger, real-time css/html editor, and all around indispensable tool for front-end web development.

    Just thought I’d mention it…


  5. I’m somewhat annoyed with Firefox at present because the back/forward button disappears every time I relaunch.

    However, 1password, myVidoop, and passpack are all additional password utilities worth a look.

    For design work, I find myself using a couple of basic tools – ColorZilla, which lets me lift the hex color code off any part of a page, and MeasureIt, which measures whatever I drag around.

    I’ll caution newbies that not all extensions are created equally. Load too many or indiscriminately choose, and don’t be surprised if Firefox chokes.

    And Tim, regardless of species, when did pimping go from “a little Howard Hughes” to mean?


  6. I bookmark these as I come across them…

    30+ Must-Have Updated Firefox 3 Extensions

    15 Coolest Firefox Tricks Ever

    15 must-have Firefox tricks

    11 Powerful Firefox 3 Add-ons That Can Replace Standalone Applications

    10 Best Firefox Extensions of 2007

    I really like Adblock Plus. It removes annoying ads and speeds up your surfing.


  7. For productivity – if you’re like me and have a tendency to wander away from the task at hand, you can’t beat LeechBlock. Which lets you restrict access to websites to certain times or limited amounts of time at your discretion.

    Additionally, the better gmail extension is *fantastic* – as is the better youtube one (for when you’re not using leechblock or are checking our Tim’s latest video perhaps)

    Adblock Plus does wonders for cleaning up horrid sites and even works a treat on things as ad loaded as myspace. Custom filter sets and all sorts of goodies are preloaded with it.

    Chris Pedrick’s web developer extension for FF also is a great tool for messing around with things, like removing CSS to see how a site shows up or disabling select elements of a site – It’s also nice if you’re a budding web developer ;-)

    Greasemonkey is great too – plenty of unique user scripts for different websites readily available and if you’re a dab hand at some javascript, you can write your own.

    That being said – I still use Opera… Though FF3 is tempting what with it’s actual proper rendering of web pages now.


  8. I have absolutely learned to love Firebug, I haven’t found a better tool for troubleshooting web code. I have never used stylish, but since I am weak with CSS and tend to be utterly lost most of the time, might have to give it a whirl!


  9. Oh also, need to add, I love the Delicious plug-in. I have actually used to it completely replace my bookmarks plugin, that way no matter what computer I am using (office, laptop, home, whatever). I have my bookmarks always available to me as long as I have access to the plugin.


  10. Tim – Thanks for introducing me to the Alexa Sparky plug-in! Great tool for site research. Haven’t gotten to test drive SEO yet but that looks promising, as well.
    Why don’t they make these for IE? I know FF is cooler but most customers still use it, so I mostly do, too.
    Looks like these extensions may finally push me over the wall…


  11. The Top 7 I can’t live without, which are great productivity boosters:

    – GTD Inbox: I cannot overemphasize how much time and control (i) a well-thought GTD process established through this add-on in your GMail; and (ii) GMail keyboard shortcuts (press ?) can make you gain. Incredible.

    – Google sharing: bookmarklet that enables you to very quickly share a webpage with friends through your GMail account. Excellent.

    – Copy All URLS: Wow! Imagine you have twenty open tabs for a subject you are researching and want to continue later. Easy: Use this add-on to quickly paste the URLs as single text in a .txt file. Then select all, go to linkbun.ch, transform all the links in a single link, and save it to process later (through del.icio.us or sharing button).

    – FEBE: Firefox Environment Backup Extension. The name says all: experiment with dozens fo extensions, configure your Firefox, and save it all automatically with this extension.

    – PicLens: enables extremely fast and awesome navigation through Flickr, Google Images and so on.

    – Del.icio.us (already mentioned)

    – Better GMail (already mentioned)


  12. I must say firefox has made a lot of improvements with version 3. It is now my default browser on the mac. On windows I always thought iRider was by far the best browser for serious web browsing. To this day no browser has matched all of the features of iRider, so if you use windows I would definitely recommend it over firefox. You can have 100 tabs open and manage them easily and it still flies.

    If you are using firefox there are several plugins which can give you most of the functionality of irider. You need colorfultabs, firegestures, multiple tab handler, and tree style tab addons. This gives the nice vertical tabs down the left side. I can drag across the close buttons to close a bunch of tabs. I can move to the tabs and use the scroll wheel to cycle through them. I can also click on the tabs while holding the mouse and move through the open tabs. I can also right click for a ton of tab options like close all tabs, duplicate tab, etc. Also they are color coded.

    In addition to those plugins I also use: piclens: cool way to browse photos and videos. download status bar: keep track of downloads in a small status bar at the bottom of the browser. firebug: javascript development tool. measureit: development tool, get sizes of things on screen. blue organizer: just a cool plugin does a lot of stuff with content of pages, check it out. google toolbar: which I have hidden, I just use it to collect my web history (I love being able to search through all of the pages I have ever visited. It can do this without showing it on the menu bar as I have no use for the other features of the toolbar.


  13. I used to use FF, but a quirk in my current computer sadly negates all the benefits (and then some). The touchpad (made by Alps Electric) doesn’t support finger movement functions in any browser but IE. THAT I can’t live without.

    If anyone knows of an add-on or something that allows finger movement fuctions in FF on an Alps Electric touchpad, I’d REALLY appreciate it. IE kind of annoys me.