Extending your Browser
In my last article (www.hal-pc.org/journal/2003/03_nov/Feature/mozilla/mozilla.html) I talked about some of the features that make Mozilla (www.mozilla.org) a better browser choice than Internet Explorer. However, Mozilla is more than just a web browser/mail client.
It was designed from the ground up to be an application development platform.
In fact, O’Reilly has published a book called “Creating Applications
with Mozilla” (www.oreilly.com/catalog/mozilla)
If there is some feature you wish the browser had, chances are someone has written an extension for it.
When installing the extensions, many offer you a choice about where to install
it. You can either install it in the main Mozilla directory, or in your local
profile. If installed it in the main directory, all users have access to
the extension (assuming you have multiple users), but you will have to reinstall
the extension when you upgrade Mozilla. If you install in your local profile,
you can upgrade Mozilla without having to reinstall the extension, but only
you have access to it. In either case, you will have to restart Mozilla (NOT
your computer) after installation before you can start using the extension.
A simple static image is one thing, but a flash ad, or more often, multiple flash ads, are downright annoying and can cause major motion sickness. If the ad is moving, it’s probably Flash. Flash presentations aren’t the smallest downloads in the world, which makes page loads take a lot longer for dial-up users on top of the other problems.
The pop-up ads are easily dealt with using Mozilla’s built in pop-up blocker, but what about the ads embedded in the page you are looking at? How to deal with those? Using extensions, there are 3 ways to deal with them, the best of which IMHO is called adblock (adblock.mozdev.org/).
As the name suggests, adblock can be used to block ads from ever downloading. This saves bandwidth, and more importantly, prevents flash ads from playing, while, if set up properly, allowing other uses of flash to work fine. If you want to still “support” the sites you visit, adblock even allows the ads to be downloaded but hidden.
Adblock differs from the hosts trick (see pgl.yoyo.org/adservers/ for example) in three important ways. First, because you can use wildcards, or their much more powerful cousin, regular expressions, one line (called a filter) can block many different ads, even if the sources of the ads are different. It’s easier to maintain than a hosts list.
Second, you don’t get a white box with an error message in it like you do with the hosts trick, but just a blank space. It is more pleasing to the eye. Finally, some sites serve ads from directories off the main server. The hosts trick can’t block these ads, but adblock can.
Adblock can also import and export the filter list, so you don’t have to create your own list from scratch. One list you can download is at www.spotswood-computer.net/adblock.html.
Diggler - Deceptively Useful
Another extension for Mozilla is diggler (diggler.mozdev.org/). It’s tiny and the only change you see on the screen is a new symbol next to the location bar.
The main thing this little symbol does is it allows you to clear the location bar, and automatically puts the mouse cursor in the now empty bar space. No more click and drag if you want to type in a new URL or bookmark keyword. Doesn’t sound like much, but once you get used to it, you will find it useful.
Linky - The Power to Handle Links
Linky (linky.mozdev.org/) is a little
extension that makes opening all the links, or just all the image links, on
a page easy. Some sites have lots of thumbnails (or links). The old way to
see all of them is click on each one, wait for it to load, look at it, click
the back button (or other window/tab close button), and repeat. Linky allows
you to open all the links at once. You can even choose not to open some, such
as already visited links. The links can be opened in either new windows or
tabs (see www.hal-pc.org/journal/2003/03_nov/Feature/mozilla/mozilla.html if
you don’t know what tabs are).
Schedule Your Life
It uses the iCal standard for storing its calendar data, so you can share your calendar with any program that understands the iCal format. If you have access to an FTP or webdav enabled server, you can even use this to make your own calendar server. Also, there are a number of free calendars you can download (at www.icalshare.com/) to add to your calendar.
Googlebar - The Power to Search
The Googlebar project was created to address the widespread desire in the Mozilla community for the Google toolbar to support Netscape 7/Mozilla, since many users of Mozilla enjoy having all of Google’s specialty searches in one convenient location.
This is NOT an official toolbar from Google, however, according to the website (googlebar.mozdev.org/) the Mozilla toolbar supports some searches that the official toolbar does not.
Mouse gestures - Love It or Hate It
Mouse gestures is part of the Optimoz project (optimoz.mozdev.org/). This allows you to perform certain browser commands simply by making certain mouse movements. For instance, instead of clicking the back button (or ALT-left arrow), you could hold the left mouse button down and drag to the left anywhere on the screen to go back one page. This one of those things that some people love and some people hate.
The Mozilla Extension site has over 200 projects, although some are
more complete than others. While I describe 6, I’ve only scratched
the surface of what the Mozilla browser can do.
Robert Spotswood, a HAL-PC member, is active in the Linux SIG and a freelance computer professional. He can be reached at email@example.com