As you may all know, I’m a die-hard supporter of the Opera web browser, despite many of my friends now claiming that Firefox is superior. I’ve been following the Mozilla project for a long while (haven’t we all), and on the many occassions I’ve tried Firefox (and it’s grandparents) I’ve always been unimpressed. It’s always been the little things that Opera did that kept me coming back to it, time and time again.
With the full release of Firefox 1.0 (download firefox here), there’s been an explosion in the number of Firefox extensions that have become available, so I decided to try to find a combination of extensions that would at long last give Firefox the capabilities that always kept me coming back to Opera. The theory is – if I can find enough extensions to give me the functionality I need in a web browser (which Opera very-nearly perfectly provides) in Firefox, it’ll make a convert out of me. Here goes –
- Mouse Gestures 1.0 – One of the great things about Opera is that it really pioneered mouse gestures (waving your cursor in strange patterns in order to facilitate shortcuts), and led the way for years thereafter. Mouse gestures are infectious – once you’ve used them and you get the hang of “doing things faster” (particularly mouse-intensive activities like web browsing), you end up trying to do it elsewhere – I’ve frequently used friends computers (with Internet Exploder, or similar) and tried to do a gesture before remembering that I can’t.
The Mouse Gestures extension for Firefox is fully-featured and highly-configurable. I found the original settings a little unresponsive, and had to increase the “diagonal tolerance” (slippage permitted in a non-cardinal direction) to bring it back in line with the speed at which I execute gestures, and of course I’ve customised some of my own gestures. Apart from that, it’s wonderful.
- Download Manager Tweak 0.6.3 – One thing I loved about my customised Opera configuration was that pretty much everything not directly related to browsing – my RSS-feed subscriptions (that let me keep an eye on all my friends’ weblogs in realtime), my downloads, etc. – were set up to all appear in the wonderful “sidebar”: a non-invasive way of keeping information “to hand”. Firefox’s download windows are chunky and ugly, only a little better than the hideous ones provided by Internet Exploder. This plugin allows you to move the download window to the sidebar – a far more sensible place for it – and manage all your transfers from there.
- Web Developer 0.8 and Nuke Anything 0.2 – As a web developer, I love the web developer tools in Opera. The ability to switch stylesheets, emulate other browsers, change and test content on the fly, and manipulate cookies is invaluable when debugging large, complex web projects. Combining these two excellent extensions gives me all of this, and more. The Web Developer tools can do things like manipulate form data on the fly, edit offline HTML and CSS on-the-fly, simulate different screen resolutions, and validate source code – it’s fantastic. Nuke Anything allows content to be ‘removed’ from the page: a great way of digging through complicated source code to find how a particular trick is being achieved.
- Sage 1.3 – Now here’s a stunning piece of software. Thanks to Jon for suggesting this one.
A great feature of Opera is it’s use as an RSS reader. RSS is a wonderful way to “subscribe” to news sources, weblogs, and the like, and be notified when they’re updated or even have the new content delivered directly to your desktop. It’s so good, that I rarely use Abnib or my friends page any more. Opera makes it easy to set up and manage your subscriptions, and delivers them in the way that suits you best.
Now Firefox does natively support syndication, but it doesn’t do a very good job of it. It’s system – “Active Bookmarks”, relies on use of it’s bookmarks list, lots of scrolling, etc. Plus – and here’s the big problem – it doesn’t pass your browser cookies when picking up the feeds – this means that you can’t have it, for example, pick up restricted “friends only” feeds from your friends’ weblogs. Without this feature, there was no way I’d be leaving Opera behind.
But Sage pulls it off. It pulls in the feeds and presents them in a brilliant way. It’s default options are a little wierd, and it doesn’t support automatic “timed” feed collection, but it still does a great job of this newsfeed lark. I think everybody with Firefox should install Sage.
- Session Saver – Simply put, this allows Firefox to remember what tabs you had open when it was last closed (even if it crashed or there was a power cut), and re-open them when you run it again, in a very Opera-esque way.
- MiniT 0.4 – A pet annoyance, but one that would have really annoyed me, is the inability to re-order the tabs while using Firefox’s tabbed browsing. I mean: why wasn’t this included with the program? Most other programs that use the dynamic “document” tab metaphor allow the user to click-drag-reorder them, including my beloved Opera. But no, you need a plug-in like MiniT to do this. It’s good: not as “fluid” as Opera, but quite satisfactory.
- LastTab 1.1 – By this point, I had very few quirks left unsatisfied on my “web browser wish list”. One was that, in Opera, pressing CTRL-TAB takes you first to your most-recently used other tab, and then (if you keep pressing tab) through the others you have open. This makes sense to me, because you can then use CTRL-TAB as a two-tab “flicker” (like the “last channel” button on a TV remote): perfect for use as a “boss key” (if you don’t know, you don’t need to know). Satisfied.
This only leave one “big” niggle that still pisses me off – I can’t find a plug-in that will allow me to hold down a particular key (e.g. shift) and click on a tab, to close it (really useful for closing multiple tabs at once, after running and completing a multi-tab information seek). If anybody can suggest an extension that does this, let me know!
So; I guess I’m a Firefox convert. I knew it would happen someday, but I’m just surprised it happened so soon.