Book Review: Firefox Hacks

In the 6 months since it was first released out of beta, Mozilla’s Firefox browser has easily become one of the most popular open source projects in existence. It has also shaken up the browser industry, claiming roughly 8% of the market share and chipping away at Internet Explorer’s dominance.

Most people are content with installing Firefox and never changing a thing, so long as it blocks pop-ups and malware. For some people, they like to be able to really dig into the guts of the software and tweak every little thing they can, as well as writing extensions to add additional features that do not exist in the standard install.

No matter which type of user you are, the new book by Nigel McFarlane published by O’Reilly, Firefox Hacks is for you. It covers a wide range of topics, from basic browser usage options to installing, using, and creating custom widgets, extensions, toolbars and plug-ins.

A large majority of the 100 hacks involve editing the about:config preference file, but it also makes use of the easily available preferences in the Options panel. Each hack is rated as beginner, moderate, or expert, indicating the level of complexity involved.

The book begins by explaining the different ways that web pages can be displayed and navigated, what the toolbar icons are and what they do, and the keyboard shortcuts that are assigned to various actions in the browser. It also touches on modifying the appearance of the browser interface.

The most interesting part of chapter 1 for me was the section on making firefox go fast. This gives you tips on improving the performance of Firefox whether you are on a dial-up connection or broadband.

Once you are past the basic features of the browser, the book moves into security, which has always been a major selling point of the Firefox browser. Here you are introduced to the various security features of the browser, as well as how to raise and lower the settings that affect how the browser interacts with the web.

Next up is installation and enhancements, covering the options for installing firefox beyond the standard procedure, and explaining how to use firefox as an information-gathering tool.

Once you move past the first 3 or 4 chapters, the subject matter turns to hacking the internal workings of the browser, such as working with XML, XUL, XSL, creating custom extensions and sidebars, and modifying the interface chrome to create custom themes.

Overall, this book is a great resource for anyone wanting to dig deeper into their favorite browser, and the extensibility of Firefox certainly affords the user that luxury.

So whether you are a bored web surfer, web designer, IT professional or experienced programmer, the tips and hacks in this book will help you make a productive switch to Firefox.

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