Wednesday, December 26, 2007

NewsFox Tweaks and Tips: Make it even easier to use!

NewsFox is an RSS feed-reader Add-on extension for Firefox.

It has a three pane layout that fits within a single tab.  This allows loading of a sidebar item in Firefox without impacting the reader.

To the left is a column that shows a master "Feed" folder at the top.  This folder contains all your feeds.  Below you can create additional folders to place copies of your feed items into.  I have folders organized like "Tech", "Software", "Security", etc. This structure came out of my time using Sage as my Firefox RSS feed reader.  I've just preserved it, but don't really use them now due to NewsFox's great functionality.

To the right are two more panes, one over the other.  The top pane shows the feed posts and the bottom displays the feed content.

I won't bore you in this post about why I think NewsFox is the new greatest RSS feed reader on the block.  Please go read my gush on the "On the Edge of Firefox Bliss" post I did about a week ago. 

Since adopting NewsFox, it has not crashed, stalled or had any other issues.  It is fast, allows me to custom-organize and sort both my feeds and their category folders without locking me into an alphabetical nightmare.  It is easy to import a new feed list (OPML).  And feeds may be marked read individually, by post, or globally for the entire list with a single click.  And, you can even password and/or encrypt particular feeds, for what reason, I'm not sure, but it is cool to know it's supported.

However, there were a few tweaks and tips for NewsFox that I had to track down to make it really flow with my Firefox usage and feed reading.  Some of these are a repost from my previous article so I can combine them all here together. Some are new.

After making these easy adjustments I've been able to rip through anywhere from 100-300 pending feed posts in less than 30 minutes.

#1 - Tweak: Adding NewsFox to the Firefox RSS feed reader list

The current version makes adding RSS feeds a bit tedious.  You have to copy the feed URL then go into NewsFox and create a new feed, and paste the feed. Once saved and a refresh ran, it will correctly update the title information.  Not bad.  Native appearance of NewsFox in the RSS picker for Firefox will be added in an upcoming version.

When I find a page with an RSS feed I want to track, I don't want to go through all that copy/paste/refresh stuff. I just want to click the RSS icon in the address bar, send it to NewsFox and keep going.

If you want to add that ease in NewsFox right now, like I did, you can follow these steps to get it to show up in the list:

Starting in NewsFox 0.8.2, there is a bug so that the NewsFox autosubscribe option in Firefox does not get added properly. This will be fixed in 0.8.4. Here is how to add the autosubscribe facility manually: go to about:config and type browser.content in the filter box. Then change

browser.contentHandlers.types.3.title = NewsFox

browser.contentHandlers.types.3.uri = chrome://newsfox/content/addurl.xul?%s

You can use a different number than 3 in the above, but you need to use the same number for both preferences. For instance if you want to get rid of Bloglines, you can use 0 instead of 3. Alternatively you can install NewsFox 0.8.1 and then upgrade to 0.8.3.

Works like a charm!

#2 - Tweak: Customizing the NewsFox reading pane

The second issue I had was the bottom pane where the RSS posts are displayed.  The post text seemed a bit large on the font size, and the white background was too bright for my eyes. 

Would NewsFox support style changes to the color and font in the reader pane?

Style sheet for text view - MozDev forum post

Starting with Newsfox 0.7, the styling of articles in text view can be changed. This is done by editing the file 'textview.css' in the newsfox folder inside your profile folder. The file 'textview.css' is just an ordinary CSS file and can be edited with any text editor.
Here is the default file contents and a small view:

  font:10pt Verdana,sans-serif;
  background: #e3dfd9;

And here is an alternative file contents and a small view:

  font:12pt Helvetica;
  background: #dfdfbf;
  padding: 20px;
  font: 12pt Verdana;
  background: #7f9fbf;
  padding: 8px;
  border: 2px solid black;

In the body of the article, the alternative view has larger text in a different font, a parchment colored background, and more padding between the body of the article and the edge of the article box.

Inside the heading box, the alternative view has larger text, a different colored background, and a border around the heading box. Newsfox uses bold face type for the article title without it being specified in 'textview.css'.

The views are much narrower than is usual in order to fit this page better, which makes the alternative not as appealing due to the larger type and extra padding.
The syntax is reasonably self-explanatory once you understand 'px' for pixels and #xxyyzz is one way to specify a color. Use your favorite search engine with 'css tutorial' to find more information about CSS, and have text view look the way you like.

I ended up setting mine as follows:

body { font:8pt Verdana,sans-serif; background: #dfdfbf; }

#newsfox-box { background: #c7c7cf; padding:9px; overflow:hidden; }

.srch { color: red; font-weight: bold; }

Looks much better now.  Adjust your's accordingly. 

Here are some hex-code lists to get you started experimenting with:

Other classes are definable as well if you wish to tweak more:

The following classes are defined: .newsfox-mail, .newsfox-title, .newsfox-category, .newsfox-date, .newsfox-link, .newsfox-enclosures, .newsfox-encl. So you can style individual pieces of the newsfox-box in text view. For example, to keep the categories from showing, place

.newsfox-category { display: none; }

in your textview.css file inside your newsfox folder. The class .newsfox-enclosures refers to the span containing all enclosures, and .newsfox-encl refers to a single enclosure.

#3 - Tweak: Getting feed pages to open in a background tab

When I am rolling through all those feeds each day, I prefer to scan-though the posts, and then if they look interesting or worth bookmarking for a blog idea, I open the main page they link to.

Sage opened them in a background tab so I could have a ton opened and then later read them in detail later.  I had already set Firefox to open liked tabs in background tabs, but it didn't work with NewsFox. Each time I clicked on a post link, focus shifted from NewsFox to the new feed post, and I would have to click back to the NewsFox tab.  The CTRL-click worked, but I didn't want to have to do all that keyboard work.

Then I found an about:config setting tip over on Teuton's blog:

Open up a new tab and type about:config in the address bar of Firefox and hit enter.

In the filter bar, type browser.tabs and you will be able to filter down the list to those you want to look for.

  1. See if the browser.tabs.loadInBackground key is present.  If so, set it to true (as it should be).
  2. See if the browser.tabs.showSingleWindowModePrefs key is present. If so, set it to true.
  3. Finally, see if the browser.tabs.loadDivertedInBackground key is present. If so, set it to true.

If one of these keys isn't there, you will have to manually create it.

  • Right-click on the whitespace and select "New" then "Boolean".
  • Carefully enter the key's name from above you are missing, then set the value to "true".

These settings now allowed any NewsFox feed link I clicked on to open in a background tab every time.

Note: if you mis-enter a custom firefox key in about:config, there isn't an easy way to remove it. You have two easy and one not.  The easy way is to select the bad key and set it to default.  Firefox will ignore any custom keys set to "default".  The difficult way is to close Firefox, then navigate to the prefs.js file in your Firefox profile folder.  Open it with a text-editor and carefully find and delete the line with the bad key.  Save the changes and start Firefox.  Make a backup of your prefs.js file first, just to be safe.

#4 - Tweak: Change the default three pane layout to three vertical panes

This was great!  I just didn't really like the over/under style of the feeds and the reading pane.  I preferred a more "Sage/Outlook 2003'ish" view.  Too bad it wasn't supported.

Guess what? It is!

Type "about:config" in the address bar and enter.

In the filter bar, type newsfox to filter the list.

Find the key newsfox.advanced.horizontalPanes and set the value to "true".

Restart NewsFox and be amazed!

#5 - Tweak: Changing the default sorting of your feeds

With Sage, I had to click on each feed item in the top sidebar pane, then could click individual posts I wanted to read in the bottom pane, or just scroll through all the posts in the reading pane.  With hundreds of posts each day to sort through, this was a lot of work.  It would have been nice to be able to sort them all by unread-status and then by date.

That way I could just fire up the RSS reader, and chronologically look at all my unread feed posts, ignoring those I have already read in the past.

I had hoped NewsFox would allow me to do this, but at first glance, it appeared that while I could click on a column in the feed listings to sort it, it was not sorting them this way be default.

It took me awhile but I finally found the about:config preference rules in the NewsFox beta notes.

To make a user defined default sort, set the about:config preferences newsfox.sorts.columnX and newsfox.sorts.directionX where X is 0, then 1, then 2, etc.. For example, the default is newsfox.sorts.column0="date" and newsfox.sorts.direction0="descending". To sort by date and then unread status (to put unread articles at the top), you can have


You do need to have newsfox.sorts.column0="none" in order to have no sorting, otherwise the default will happen. In fact, only the first letter of any of these preferences is ever looked at by NewsFox: newsfox.sorts.column0="d" is the same as "date". The columns are "flag", "title", "read", and "date".

By default, NewsFox comes with the following settings in about:config


So to get NewsFox to automatically sort all my feeds first by "read" status (presenting the unread feeds at the top), then by date (with newest ones at the top) each time I launched it, I opened up about:config, typed newsfox in the filter bar, then did the following:

Changed newsfox.sorts.column0 value "date" to newsfox.sorts.column0 to "read"

Added a new key newsfox.sorts.column1 with a value of "date"

Added a new key newsfox.sorts.direction1 with a value of "descending"

I restarted Firefox, then launched NewsFox.


Automatic sorting of the feeds now, with the unread ones at the top sorted by date/time.

You can adjust and create your custom auto-sorts to your needs using the values and techniques shown above.

#6 - Tweak: More about:config special settings

The NewsFox version release notes are a great resource for more undocumented about:config tweaks and inner workings.  Many of these are actually in the GUI option settings, but some are not.

Options that can be changed within Newsfox options dialog:

  • style
    default: 1(text) Global style can be text or web.
  • checkOnStartup
    default: false Check feeds when Newsfox starts?
  • autoRefresh
    default: false Auto check feeds every autoRefreshInterval minutes?
  • autoRefreshInterval
    default: none This is measured in minutes. It is only used if autoRefresh is true.
  • notifyUponNew
    default: false This will notify you when Newsfox is done updating feeds. Currently doesn't work with K-Meleon.
  • confirmDelete
    default: true The default extra check on deletions can be bypassed by setting this to false (or by unchecking the box in the options dialog).

Options that can only be changed in 'about:config':

  • doneButton
    default: true after first use This is set to true after the first running of Newsfox when a button is placed on the menubar. If the user then removes the button, no second attempt to place it will be made if this option is true.
  • favicons
    default: from Favicons can be turned off/on with this option. The default is set from the browser preference for favicons.
  • guessHomepage
    default: trueNewsfox only looks for the favicon in [homepage]/favicon.ico (this may change in a future version). Some feeds don't set a homepage and hence Newsfox doesn't try and get a favicon. If this option is true, a simple guess is made at a homepage based on the feed URL.
  • refreshTimeoutInSeconds
    default: 60The number of seconds to wait for a response from a feed server before giving up. I read feeds where the server regularly takes up to 30 seconds to answer, but this option can probably be safely lowered (I use 40).

# 7 - Tip: Adding duplicate feeds

By default, NewsFox prevents you from adding duplicate feeds. Not sure why you would want to do this, but someone might.

To add a duplicate RSS feed, you need to manually add the second feed but add a "?text" to the end of the duplicate feed's URL, where text is whatever you want it to be.

use "" and "" for example. The portion of the web address after the ? will be ignored if it doesn't make sense to the webpage server.

If there already is a question mark in the web address do the following: use

"" and

"" for example.

#8 - Tweak: Open feed post link directly in the reading pane

In tweak Eight, I worked hard to figure out how to open a feed post link in a background tab in Firefox.  To me that is the purpose of a feed reader, read the feed and if interesting, open the link in a new tab.

Some folks however, want to see the actual feed-link web-page open in the reading pane itself.

To make this tweak, you will have to add the following key in your about:config settings:

newsfox.z.openInViewPane and set the boolean value to "true"

#9 - Tweak: Only manually mark feeds as "read"

By default, NewsFox will mark a feed post as "read" when you select it in the feed list.  I like this behavior myself as it lets me rip through a bunch of feeds quickly without pausing if i want to. However I can see where some power-users want to skim through all their feeds VERY fast and then go back and manually mark feeds as "read" at their leisure.

To make this tweak, you will have to add the following key in your about:config settings:

newsfox.z.selectMarksArticleAsRead and set the boolean value to "false"

#10 - Tip: Create custom feed search folders

Suppose you have a key word or topic that you want to monitor your RSS feed posts for. What to do?

NewsFox lets you create custom search feed folders with a range of filter values.

Finding and creating the search folders isn't easy at first, but when you realize where to go and how powerful they are, it is amazing!

Notice up in the icon bar for NewsFox the little folder with the green +?  There is a drop-down arrow next to it.  Select the arrow and click "search".

You will notice a small folder is now added to your feed folder list, and it has a magnifying glass on it.

You will also see a "Group Options" window come up. Give your custom folder a meaningful name "Vista related feeds" for example. Set the search values, and search text. I put "vista" in there in my trial-run. It can support pretty complex operations.

When done click "OK" and let it rip.

Now when you click on that particular folder, all the feeds that NewsFox has that apply to that search filter will be listed in that folder!

How cool is that?!!

Note One: Adding search folders does seem to slow down the feed discovery speed.  I think this is because it is having to search the content of each feed as it scans to see if the feed post needs to be added.  Use these when needed, and carefully.  Your performance experience may vary.  Removing my "Vista" test search folder remarkably sped up the feed finding again.

Note Two: If you do choose to use these, I do recommend following the NewsFox developer's advice to turn off the option to show the number of unread articles in your search feed folders.  It does tend to slow down the NewsFox reader even more.

I hope you have enjoyed this post.  And maybe gotten a glimpse at why I think NewsFox whips the pants off just about any feed reader for Firefox out there, including my former favorite, Sage.



Harmon said...

As a long-time Sage user, I decided to try NewsFox based on your review and I was happy with the results. I have tried several of your hacks but want to use it for awhile before doing a lot of customizing.

Thanks again for the tip!

Claus said...

Hi Harmon,

Glad you decided to give it a chance.

That's one of the features I really like, it allows for quite a lot of tinkering depending on your personal preferences.

The tips were scattered all over the place so I hoped that by putting them all in a centralized location it might help a bit.

Sage is still a very good RSS feed reader for Firefox, but didn't allow the customization I like, and it just wasn't Firefox 3.0 compatible.

I'm waiting for the bookmarking issues to get fixed before jumping over to Firefox 3.0 betas/nightlies for long-term use.

NewsFox gives me one more excuse to be looking forward to that transition.


ole said...

Hello Harmon!
Thanks for tweaks and tips. I couldn't get Newsfox and FF to work properly together because of a bug. And it was hard work to find your blog, but now I've added to two lines in the config-file, so now it works fine. Thanks again and keep up your good work!
Ole, Copenhagen

MikeF said...

Wonderful - thank you for the about:config tweak to add NewsFox to the Firefox readers list - just what I needed. Works a treat now!

Thanks again


Steffi said...

Hi Claus, even you don't use NewsFox anymore, maybe you can help me.
I'm using the webpage view for my feeds and for some websites the feed entry is not displayed in the NewsFox reading panel, but is reloading the complete browser tab and opening the website there. The NewsFox view is gone in this case and I always need to go back to read the next feed entry.
Do you have an idea how to fix that?
Web Page -JS would be a workaround, but I cannot use some of the features of the affected websites in this case (e.g. adding a comment).
Is there a about:config parameter which could fix that for the webpage view display style?
Thanks a lot!
Best regards,

Claus said...

@ Steffi - This is a stumper! I don't believe I have seen that behavior before with a feed handle in NewsFox.

I don't know if you could share with me one or two of the full RSS feed URLs to plug into my NewsFox session and see how it behaves could you?

If you want to keep it private, just drop a comment and I will pull the data then delete the comment without posting it publicly.

You've got my curiosity up.


--Claus V.

Steffi said...

Hi Claus, in the meantime we found out it's because of some code the owner of the website included for security reasons. This is not a NewsFox issue.
Thanks anyway for your commitment,

Mike (US) said...

Hi Claus, I have enjoyed using Newsfox for several years but noticed something strange today when sorting feeds. All of dates were off by months although the news articles were current. After reading your blog I visited about:config and discovered the newsfox date preference set to 0 which when changed to 1 fixed the issue. Thanks!