Chances are, you're well and truly settled in to
Apple's Safari web browser, having jumped ship from
the now-stalled Internet Explorer (IE) for Mac you found so
impressive back in OS 9. IE was good for its time—in many ways,
even better than its Windows kin. But
Safari, with its simple candy-coated shell
and tabbed windows, is now the undisputed champion of the Mac
Lest you forget that there are actually some rather nice alternatives
out there, we present one of our favorite contenders: a little
Firefox is a member of the Mozilla clan (http://www.mozilla.org), the open source
offspring of Netscape. These browsers' names provide
a not-so-subtle hint as to their relative strengths. Mozilla (think
Godzilla) is a powerful monster of a web browser, replete with
integrated email client, IRC chat client , HTML editor, and just about
anything else you need to stomp through the Internet, knocking over
anything that gets in your way. It's all a little
too heavy, quite honestly. Firefox, on the other hand, is
Mozilla's faster and sleeker cousin, free of all the
extras and focused on doing just one thing well: browsing the web.
The obvious question no doubt already forming in your mind is
"Why bother, when we Mac users have
Safari?" Glad you asked.
Firefox isn't just a
stripped down, standalone Mozilla. It can be served with all the
trimmings, buffet style. There are spoonfuls of themes, a good
helping of extensions, and a dollop of standalones to go along with
powerful, flexible mail client stripped out of Mozilla.
There are things you can do with Firefox that you just
can't do with the one-browser-fits-all Safari, even
if you just want to see how your site might look to non-Mac,
non-Safari users or visit sites that aren't
Safari-friendly (e.g., Weight Watchers).
You can actually get Safari to masquerade as other browsers, but that
doesn't mean you truly get to see through the eyes
of another browser. See
for more information.
Also, if you're a cross-platform user, spending time
in some combination of the Mac, Windows, and Unix worlds,
you'll appreciate being able to take your
browser—look and feel, functionality, shortcuts, bookmarks, and
all—with you. Safari, quite frankly, just
isn't that much better than Firefox to make all the
bustling between Safari on Mac, IE on Windows, and Mozilla on Unix
At this point, I've either convinced you to give
Firefox a look-see or to never leave your beloved Mac and Safari
browser behind. I do hope it's the former.
After downloading and installing
Firefox, the first thing you are going
to want to do is launch Safari. I know this sounds odd, but bear with
me. From Jaguar to Panther, the place to set your default web browser
moved from an Internet Preferences pane (now vanished) to
Safari's Preferences. Select
Safari→Preferences→General and, under Default Web
Browser, select Firefox from the drop-down menu, as shown in .
Figure 1. Setting Firefox as the default browser in Safari's Preferences
If it isn't listed, choose Select... and navigate to
Firefox in your Applications folder.
If you don't take this step, links from Mail, iChat,
and the like will keep opening in Safari. To give a new browser a
whirl, you really do want to get the full effect rather than browse
some here, some there.
If Safari is currently your browser of choice, you will also want to
export all your bookmarks so that you can have them available to you
in Firefox and not just start out flying blind. To do so, you will
first need to enable Safari's debug menu .
In short, close Safari, launch the Terminal, type
defaults write com.apple.Safari
IncludeDebugMenu 1 on the command line, and relaunch
From Safari's Debug menu, select Export Bookmarks...
and save the bookmarks to your Desktop. Close Safari and launch
Firefox. Select Bookmarks → Manage Bookmarks to open the
Bookmark Manager, choose File → Import, browse to the
exported bookmarks on your Desktop, and import them.
Firefox imports IE Favorites and Mozilla/Netscape bookmarks by
default, so you should find them already in folders in the Bookmark
Manager. You will also find all the Safari bookmarks you just
imported at the bottom of the list.
After you've finished organizing your bookmarks the
way you'd like them, close the Bookmark Manager and
visit Firefox→Preferences ().
Figure 2. Firefox Preferences
For now, just click through and familiarize yourself with the various
settings available. Most of them will be familiar to you from other
browsers you've used in the past. Under Web
Features, you'll find that pop-up windows are
blocked by default. Themes is a list of installed skins for
customizing the appearance of Firefox; there's also
a Get New Themes link to a site where you can find more (58, in fact,
as I write this). You'll also notice an Extensions
tab; we'll get to those beauties in just a moment.
Taming the Fox
With everything good to go, navigate to one of your favorite sites
and notice just how fast Firefox runs; it's
comparable to Safari and oh so much faster than IE. Speed is
Firefox's number-one claim to fame.
Firefox's second claim to fame—at least in the
usability nightmare of open source interfaces (to our Mac eyes, that
is)—is its clean, simple interface. It's
almost Mac-like, whether you're running Mac,
Windows, or Unix under the hood.
Firefox, like Safari, integrates
tabbed browsing, allowing you to
exchange a proliferation of windows with multiple tabs within a
single window (or multiple windows, if you insist). If
you've enabled the "Open links in
the background" feature under
while you continue reading, you can
&command;-click links and have them
load in a new tab in the background for later; this makes for a
smoother reading experience. You can also select Open in Tabs from
any one of your bookmark folders to have the entire folder open in an
array of tabs, as shown in .
Figure 3. A selection of sites in Firefox's tabbed window
Though Firefox's single search box looks just like
Safari's, there's more to Firefox
searching than meets the eye. While the search box is set to search
Google by default, you can customize it to search as many different
search engines as you please. Click the little arrow next to the
Google icon to open a drop-down menu of available engines and an
option to "Add engines...," as
shown in .
Figure 4. Choosing another search engine to use with Firefox's search box
Select "Add engines..." to visit a
that's chock-full of
modules, from online dictionaries to news to file-sharing.
this Page" option in the search
box's drop-down menu, which behaves much like
(&command;-F). However, Firefox has a
groovy feature that you'd never think to ask for
but, after just a few minutes, you can never do without. With any
page loaded, just start typing; the page starts scrolling and
highlights matches to what you're typing as you go.
If you type something that matches a hyperlinked word or phrase, hit
the Return key when the word is highlighted to follow the
link—no mouse or excessive taps of the Tab key necessary (as
were required to move between links in IE). If you instead press
&command;-Return, the link will open in
a new tab.
For those of you who loathe to overuse your mouse or trackpad, this
opens up an entire new world of
keyboard browsing. Scroll up and down
with the arrow keys, jump a whole page at a time with Page Up and
Page Down keys, and type your way from link to link, pressing Return
Option-left arrow goes back a page, and Option-right moves you
forward. &command;-K highlights the
search box, wherein the up and down arrows scroll through search
history. &command;-F pulls up Find in
This Page, and Esc dismisses it.
&command;-G finds the most recent text
search again. Control-Tab cycles forward through open tabs;
Control-Shift-Tab cycles backwards. Tab bounces between text boxes in
the web page. &command;-L takes you
back to the location/address bar, ready to enter a new URL.
Type dict and word in
the location bar for a visit to
&command;-E to view the Downloads
Manager, &command;-B to visit your
Bookmarks, and &command;-Shift-H to
open your History. (Tab through any of the History links and hit
Return to open them, or tab on over to the search box to find the
page you're after.)
Phew! And that's just the beginning; visit
for the consummate list
of Firefox keyboard shortcuts.
Since the keyboard shortcut page is geared to Windows and Linux
users, be sure to substitute &command;-
for all the Control keys listed.
Then, of course there are
mouse gestures (http://texturizer.net/firefox/extensions/#mousegest),
but we leave you to experience that mind-blowing adventure on your
Embrace and Extend
One of the most attractive features of
is its expandability, which is available through user-contributed
extensions. From Firefox→Preferences, choose the Extensions
tab, as shown in .
Figure 5. The Firefox Extensions Preferences pane
Click the Get New Extensions link at the bottom-left of the
Extensions Preferences pane
to browse the library of extensions (168 at the time of this
writing). Installation of each extension is just a matter of clicking
its download link and then clicking through a couple of dialog boxes.
Extensions require a restart of Firefox before
they'll take effect; you can install a few at once,
though, and restart the browser only once when you have a good batch
Some highlights of the available extensions include a nice Java port
of the only Windows app I have ever loved, Minesweeper; mozedit, an
advanced text editor available under the Tools menu; Tabwarning,
which warns you if you are about to close a window with more than one
tab (Safari tab users will recognize the value of this); Mouse
Gestures, which allow you to navigate the Web with certain predefined
mouse movements (a must-have for the keyboard-weary); RSS Reader
Panel, which allows you to read syndicated content right in your browser;
and...really, I should stop now.
When you start loading lots of Extensions in Firefox, there is a good
chance you'll run into extension conflicts similar
to those that haunted the Macintosh OS back in the pre-OS X days.
While you have to do quite a bit of hacking to make Safari do some of
what Firefox does right out of the box, there are a few reasons why I
still use the latter only as my secondary browser:
It doesn't spellcheck as you type. I work on my blog
quite a bit from my browser, and while
supports more default Blogger GUI goodness than Safari, it
doesn't offer squiggly underlining of misspelled
words in its text-entry box.
It has no option (not that I could find, anyway) to
open links from other programs in a
new tab in the current window. At the end of a NetNewsWire session, I
suddenly find myself with 15 or so open windows when
I'd prefer to find one nicely organized window with
15 tabs. Safari does this rather nicely (enable it from
links from applications in a new tab in the current
Firefox is still in beta and it has a few bugs.
Most of the online documentation and several of the extensions are
geared toward Windows and Linux users.
Hacking the Hack
Firefox has rather extensive customization options available. Check
out the Tips & Tricks page
a multitude of ways to hack Firefox: block ads, turn on kiosk mode,
tweak the "find as you type"
feature, and so much more.
—C. K. Sample III