Thursday, September 08, 2005

Firefox Secrets by Cheah Chu Yeow


You're a smart Web surfer; you've downloaded the free Firefox browser, and started using it to cruise the information superhighway. But you sense there may be controls under the hood that you haven't got a grasp on yet—in fact, you haven't even had a glimpse of them.

That's where Cheah Chu Yeow's Firefox Secrets: A Need-To-Know Guide comes in. With a top-down approach, it offers the kind of help a new user is likely to need, guides the experienced user into a desireable browser configuration, and clues in the techno-geek to some little-known aspects of the program.

A CD comes with the book. Since I dropped this in before reading the manual, I initially had some serious concerns with it. For one thing, the version of Firefox on the CD is 1.0.3—the current release from the Firefox download site is 1.0.6. Same thing with the Thunderbird software: the CD has v.1.0.2, while the Mozilla download site is now at 1.0.6. Themes and extensions are provided in a take-it-or-leave-it format, with no sneek peek (such as they offer on the Mozilla site) or explanation. You can only click to install them. Bad news, I thought.

But the manual covers each of these options thoroughly. The very-solid v.1.0.3 of the Firefox browser is there on the CD to give you a safer way to acquire Firefox—then you can use it to download the updated version. Each of the themes is illustrated, each of the extensions explained. And having these items on the CD provides a simple way to grab software without needing to go online for it.

In fact, this approach of convenience is an obvious working philosophy for the author. Consider one of the extensions he provides on the CD: BugMeNot. This goodie provides an automated connection to, a site that consolidates entry for web sites that require you to register. This lets you work around the interruption that comes when you just want to follow a link once, not fill out a subscription form for the web site. (Of course, if you plan to consult a particular site frequently, you'll still be able to subscribe.)

Want to speed up Firefox's already-speedy data transfers? Yeow shows how to turn on pipelining for your specific connection. Need more than one "home page" to open automatically when you launch Firefox? That's easy, if you follow the two-step process Yeow describes. Bugged by windows that mysteriously open behind your working, tabbed browser? Take his SingleWindow tip on how to make every new window—even pop-ups—open in a new tab. Trying to debug and fine-tune your own Web site? Chapter 7 is "Web Developer's Nirvana": it has useful techniques to confirm that cookies are being set; view, edit and confirm CSS style-rules; and FTP easily from your Windows Firefox browser. (The author points out that better FTP methods are available to the Linux user; I know other programs are simpler than Firefox FTP from the Mac.)

With lots of pertinent illustrations, well-written instructions, and a light, "this is important, but not earth-shaking" approach to his topics, the author provides easy-to-follow guidance to the powerfully simple application that Firefox is. As a middle-level user, I appreciated that. And for those who have "reached the end of the Internet," Yeow provides Chapter 8: "Living on the Edge." If your desire is to get deeper into the nooks and crannies of the Firefox code, this chapter points the way.

For the average Firefox user, or the new user who wants to become one, this is a very useful manual. I can recommend it, and the included CD, highly.

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