Sunday, June 01, 2008

More Firefox Goings-on

Few more neat things I want to highlight regarding Firefox.

I'm Fast Dialing!

I have been playing around with a new Add-on called Fast Dial.

It works just like Opera's Speed dial.  I really am preferring it over the similar Speed Dial add-on for Firefox at the moment.

You can highly customize the number of preview panes from 1x1 to 10x10.  Then you can set the size of each one, the maximum load time for each web-page pane, as well as how often you wish to refresh.  Drag and drop works well to rearrange them.  And to can set a custom field-color as well as the bars, fonts, and frames.  It's very easy to make it look like the way you want.  Even the window-pane corners are nicely rounded.

So I was working on seeing if I wanted to set this as my default view when I launch Firefox.  I did so I set Fast Dial to open on all default tab/window actions. Then I set Firefox to show a blank page at startup.  Voilla!  Now my 3x4 preview web-pages in Fast Dial appear at launch.

However this is not my "home-page."  I still have that set to this blog.

So when I start Firefox it shows my Fast Dial selections, but when I push the "Home" icon it still launches my blog as the home-page.  Got it?

How many homepages do you want?

While getting this all worked out, I started seeing multiple tab pages opening when I hit the "home" icon.  I hadn't seen that before and when I investigated, I found multiple URL's that were launching, each separated by a "Pipe" symbol like this " | ".  On my keyboard, it's above the Enter key on the back-slash key.

Clearly entering multiple URL's in the "Home Page" field separated with a pipe will open up multiple tabs as your "home-pages".

Turns out this behavior is by design: Making Multiple Home pages - Mozilla Support

Mozilla Test Pilot Taking Flight Soontest-pilot

This currently looks like it is a test project of Mozilla Labs.

The idea is to get better feedback and participation for items in Mozilla Labs.  Test Pilot is an attempt to get a more representative sample of users and data back for feedback.

Folks will sign up to participate, then install the Test Pilot Add-on.  The user will complete some (non-personal) demographic information. Then when a new experiment is available, it will notify users and they may choose to opt-in if the experiment looks promising to them.  The experiment will download the add-on and load any specifics for the test.  Periodically, Test Pilot will signal the user to complete a sample set of feedback questions from a larger pool of questions.  It appears that not everyone will be offered the same questions to help get a better sample data base. Results will be anoymized and aggregated, then posted to the Test Pilot website.

And here's the reward: "All participants will receive a “flight badge” displayed in their Test Pilot profile and available to embed on blogs, social networks, etc."  Cool!  Sign me up!

Seriously.  I think this is a good and solid move and will certainly draw better feedback.  I love to test new software but getting feedback returned to the developers can be a bit challenging.  I personally would pay more attention to my user experience if I knew that at random times I would be offered a change to provide comments and suggestions.

Mozilla Test Pilot isn't released yet.  But should be in the coming weeks.

I plan on participating!

Specific features and roadmap are being developed in the Test Pilot discussion forum on the Mozilla Labs site.

More information here: Introducing Test Pilot - Mozilla Labs

New and Old Firefox Browser Sync Solutions

When Claus last posted about syncing his Firefox browser across systems at home (Syncing Firefox Bookmarks) I had settled on the Google Browser Sync (GBS) tool for Firefox.  Then two-months in I got hammered.  I stuck with it a while longer, but it kinda freaked me out, so I went back to copying my bookmarks back and forth between systems using a USB stick.  Firefox 3.0 now exports the SQLIte file the bookmarks are managed in in a JSON file format.  It works great.

So now I find that Mozilla Lab's have released Mozilla Weave that will allow me to sync up my Firefox 3.0 across multiple computers.

Mozilla Weave Services - Registration/Log in

This new version brings the following features:

Major Updates and Features

  • Significant reworking and strengthening of core synchronization architecture, improving robustness and overall responsiveness.
  • AES (Rijndael) encryption is now used by default for all user data.
    (Note: external calls to OpenSSL are being used temporarily while we continue to work on extending NSS to support the necessary functionality.)
  • Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) back-end implemented in preparation for the introduction of data sharing capabilities.
  • Support for the new Firefox 3 native JSON parser for security, speed, and reliability.
  • Synchronization of browser history data is now based on visits rather than URLs.
  • Enhanced logging and debugging tools.

I think I might create some test profiles on my systems, then sign up and give it a whirl before attempting to use my primary profile data.

More links:

Introducing Weave - Mozilla Labs

Weave installation instructions - Mozilla Labs

Install Weave v0.1.28  - Mozilla Labs

Performance and Stability Update to Weave Prototype  - Mozilla Labs

Mozilla - They're UnbeWeaveable - Download Squad

Another very popular solution for syncing Firefox bookmarks across different systems is Foxmarks.

Earlier I went with the Google Firefox sync solution as it had encryption on the host servers. Something (at the time) Foxmarks didn't offer.  Now Foxmarks is also compatible with Firefox 3.0 browser builds.

It is certainly a mature and very popular solution as well.

Foxmarks Bookmark Synchronizer Compatible with Firefox 3 - CyberNet News

The Foxmarks Blog

Personas Gets Enhanced

Alvis really loves Personas for Firefox.  It is an experiment from Mozilla Labs that attempts to unify Firefox browser theming.  It provides quite a large number of default themes and does so with nice effect.

Now I personally prefer the smooth and plain default theme (for now). Alvis is a teenager and likes making things very, well, personalized.

The new version now supports dynamic "Personas" that can change over time and support rich web content, a custom persona editor to give even more control to the user for Firefox theme customization, styling application to even more UI elements, and some bug-fixes and minor enhancements.

Install Personas v1.0a1

New Extensions of Note

I have (and still do) have a hacked version of's » ListZilla add-on installed.  It does a great job of listing my Firefox installations for quick posting.  But I got to wondering if a better solution now existed as this project hasn't been maintained in years.

The first solution I found was Extension List Dumper :: Firefox Add-ons.

It works very well and has a lot of options.

The second solution I found, and ultimately chose, was InfoLister :: Firefox Add-ons.  It seems a bit more simplified.

The lists generated aren't 100% accurate with the back-link to the main extension source. I still have to do a bit of cleanup work with Google searches, but for pure-list generation, either one does a slam-bang job of listing your themes, plug-ins, and extension add-ons.

Highly recommended.

Fire Analytics - I don't even know how I stumbled across this one.  I think it is done by the same guys who make Fast Dial.

What it does is to interface with your Google Analytics data and provide a quick view of the following (currently) seven reports in a pop-up window.:

  • Map Overlay
  • OS & Browsers
  • Languages
  • Referring Sources
  • Keywords
  • Top Content
  • New vs. Returning

The developer claims that it save you bandwidth traffic as the main Google Analytics page can take up to 450Kb for the first report and 50 Kb for following, while this extension takes just 6 kb for the same report.

Might be very handy for quick report checkup.  It doesn't have all the GUI and graphical eye-candy of the main Google Analytics website.  Certainly no substitute, but could be handy for quick spot-check and monitoring.

Link Alert - My new tool to check what format the link target in Firefox I'm about to click really is.

I had previously been using TargetAlert which placed a static icon next to links indicating if it was a PDF, Office, or one of many other formats. However it never got updated to Firefox 3.0 compatibility and hacking it didn't seem to work well.

At first I thought I wouldn't like Link Alert, as it actually changes the cursor to an iconic symbol for the URL target type.  I thought this would be annoying, but the icons are pretty small (can be make optionally larger) and the mouseover change really does work well.

Icons can be set as you wish to appear for the following link-types:

Applications, Bit Torrents, Excel Docs, Images, Javascript, Mozilla Extensions, Music files, PDF files, PowerPoint files, RegEdit files, Text docs, video files, Word docs, ZIP files, AIM links, E-mail links, FTP sites, Javascript links, secure sites, unsecure sites, external links, internal links, new windows, and RSS feeds. Cursor appearance may be modified and custom icons used.

It really is an awesome tool and may greatly help getting a sense of what is going to happen when you click what looks like an otherwise ordinary link.


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