Kevin has uploaded a video of my session on Google Video - it's kinda grainy and really soft.

I was at the 2nd WebSG (Web Standards Group Singapore) meetup (read about the recap of the meetup) on Wednesday (28 Feb 2007) where I hosted a short session on some Firefox tips. It's all thanks the urgings and encouragement of Lucian (the organizer) that I finally got down to publicly sharing my Firefox knowledge ever since I wrote Firefox Secrets.

Me at WebSG meetup 2

I was asked to blog about this (since I didn't have any presentation slides), so here it is, for those of you who missed anything in my mumbling or frantic keystrokes.

Keyboard shortcuts you should know

Note: Mac users should replace Ctrl with the Cmd key for any of the keystrokes listed below.

  • Ctrl-L puts your cursor in the address bar, Ctrl-K puts your cursor in the search bar.
  • Ctrl-T opens a new tab and puts your cursor in the address bar, but
  • I forgot to mention this during the session, but I personally prefer using Ctrl-L or Ctrl-K, typing in the new URL or search query, and hitting Alt-Enter open the new page or search result in a new tab - it just feels more accessible than Ctrl-T. Most people I observe still use Ctrl-T though.
  • Ctrl-Shift-T re-opens closed tabs. Keep hitting it to reopen more closed tabs in your history. This is a big time saver. Newly built into Firefox 2.0.
  • Ctrl-Tab and Ctrl-Shift-Tab brings you to the next and previous tab. If you're having trouble remembering both, just remember that the usual convention is a Shift does the reverse. So all you need is to remember Ctrl-Tab, and adding a Shift modifier does the reverse (i.e. goes to the previous tab instead of the next).
  • Ctrl-F brings up the Find bar, and you can start typing in whatever you want to find on the page and in any input fields. Use Ctrl-G and Ctrl-Shift-G to go to the next and previous occurences respectively. The Find bar is good, but...
  • I forgot to mention (as Zul mentioned to me after) during the session that Quick Find is much better. Just hit / and start typing as you would for the normal Find bar, and the Quick Find bar will go away after several seconds. Much better in most cases than the Find bar which likes to stick around until you close it. And why is this important? Because the Find bar takes up screen real estate, especially for those of us using wide screens.

Getting rid of the close button on all tabs

I've been told how annoying Firefox 2.0 is when it insists on putting a close button on each tab.

Firefox 2.0 - close buttons on each tab

Accidental closing of tabs when you try to select them is one big complaint. Well, you can turn it off and go back to the good olde Firefox 1.5 days of a single close button on the extreme right of the tab bar. Enter about:config in your address bar, filter for browser.tabs.closeButtons, double click on the preference entry that shows up, and change the value from the default of 1, to 3. If you don't want the close button on the right of the tab bar, enter a value of 2 (this assumes you're going to close tabs with either Ctrl-W or middle-clicking on the tab - this is my prefered setup).

Backing up your profile

MozBackup is all you ever need if you use Windows exclusively. This neat little (Windows-only) application backs up your profile into a single file - all you need is to use a very simple wizard. And of course, you can restore your profile just as easily. I loved this when I was still using Windows.

Like I said, people using other operating systems can easily DIY - just read Mozilla's official documentation on Firefox profiles. You're probably using either Mac OS X or some Linux distro - you can do this without any hand-holding ;)

What about backing up extensions?

Some people asked me during and after my session about backing up extensions. FEBE is one extension you can look at unless you use a Mac (I tried the beta version that supports Mac OS X, but gave up when I couldn't get it to use the correct binaries for zipping and unzipping.)

My personal take on backing up extensions: don't back them up. I prefer to dump a list of extensions (I use the Extension List Dumper extension) that I have installed and just re-install them again. This is no big chore for me now since I have significantly fewer extensions installed than back in the day. I just like starting clean, after having had bad experiences with restoring extensions from backup before.

Still, if you really want to back up your extensions, I say just go ahead and see if it works (MozBackup and FEBE should work).

Profiles and "why is my Firefox so damn slow?"

This is one thing I had planned to mention but I got kinda threw off kilter when the slowness of the wireless internet connection made me worried about quitting Firefox (didn't want to quit Firefox, load up another profile, only to find that it'd take another 5 mins to get my demo tabs loaded again).

Anyway, some questions I often get is, "why is my Firefox so slow?" and "why does Firefox use up so much RAM/CPU?" The first thing I suspect is a busted profile. Whenever I experience intolerable slowness in my Firefox setup, I dump and restore my profile into a newly created profile, minus all the tab history information (and of course, never restoring backed up extensions). Sometimes I even start clean new profiles, importing only bookmarks. You'll very likely notice immediately that Firefox is back to its old speediness. And if anything happens, you still have your old profile with you.

I'm not that certain of what exactly causes Firefox to get too slow over time, but my suspicions lie with:

  1. Firefox saving browsing history in all the bazillion tabs you have open - that's a lot of data to be carrying around
  2. broken/bad extensions
  3. a busted profile

Profile management for productivity

Firefox hides its Profile Manager from you. You can access it by passing the -profilemanager switch to your Firefox executable. For Windows users, it's actually --profilemanager.

Firefox profile manager

The Profile Manager is really handy for people who need to remove distractions. For me, I setup different profiles for work and for play so I don't become distracted the "play" tabs I have open while I'm working (I'm beginning to like the Tab Groups extension for segregating tabs more though). Also really handy for setting up clean profiles for running user demos (I setup a WebSG profile for my presentation and installed specific extensions I wanted to talk about) - don't really want to have your naughty browser history showing up in some autocomplete heh.

Some extensions I dig

I also demoed some extensions that I find essential.

  • Download Statusbar for unobtrusive downloads.
  • All-in-One Gestures for easily accessible Back and Forward gestures when you happen to have your hand on the mouse. Like I said, I don't use any of the other gestures because they all require memorization (I use too much of my memory storing keyboard shortcuts).
  • Super DragAndGo for drag and drop searching. Great time saver when you are doing online research.
  • Web Developer toolbar for its convenient Disable Cache, browser resizing, and HTML validation shortcut (Ctrl-Shift-A).
  • UrlParams for easy viewing and editing of GET or POST parameters.
  • And of course, Firebug - godsend for web developers, web designers, and especially AJAX developers like us.

Oh, and Mousepose was the application I used to get my keystrokes to show up on the screen. It's simple yet extremely helpful for presentations, though I probably should have used the mouse spotlight feature more. Oh well, I did just buy the license for it a few hours before the meetup - goes to show how unprepared I was heh.

It's late and I'll blog more on the event and the people I met another day.