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Mac OS X Panther Hacks
By Rael Dornfest, James Duncan Davidson
June 2004
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HACK
#28
Browse Different
If you are still using Internet Explorer on Panther, I have good news for you: your turtle of a web browser that slowly loads the Internet like the prehistoric pre-Panther piece of abandoned bloatware that it is is about to be replaced by a fast speedy little fox: Firefox
[Discuss (1) | Link to this hack]

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 browsing world.

Lest you forget that there are actually some rather nice alternatives out there, we present one of our favorite contenders: a little something called Firefox (http://www.mozilla.org/products/firefox). 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.

Switching Gears

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

TIP

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 .

TIP

In short, close Safari, launch the Terminal, type defaults write com.apple.Safari IncludeDebugMenu 1 on the command line, and relaunch Safari.

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.

TIP

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.

Search Different

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 page (http://mycroft.mozdev.org/download.html) that's chock-full of pluggable search-engine modules, from online dictionaries to news to file-sharing.

There's a "Find in this Page" option in the search box's drop-down menu, which behaves much like Safari's Find (&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.

Navigate Different

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 to leap.

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 Dictionary.com (http://www.dictionary.com). Hit &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 http://www.texturizer.net/firefox/keyboard.html for the consummate list of Firefox keyboard shortcuts.

TIP

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 own.

Embrace and Extend

One of the most attractive features of Firefox 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 onboard.

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.

WARNING

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.

Hacking the Hack

Firefox has rather extensive customization options available. Check out the Tips & Tricks page (http://texturizer.net/firefox/tips.html) for 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


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