The Benefits of Firefox

October, 2006

(This discussion may not be relevant to Apple bretheren -- their default browser Safari has many Firefox capabilities, and if they want an alternate, many choose Camino over Firefox because of issues with the latter this discussion won't address.)

If after reading this you're unsure of why switching browsers will improve your life, see these rules -- the last part points out the security flaws with IE, which may bite you. Some web-surfers are hesitant to switch because they're afraid specific sites won't work with an alternate browser -- I haven't encountered that difficulty for some time now, at commercial sites, but for anything Corporate you may still need IE -- company-related stuff is all I use that browser for, now, unless I'm stuck with no other option somewhere, like at an Internet Café.
Firefox Logo
So, why switch? So many reasons, but the main benefits to me are as follows.
  1. Blocked popups (yes, they can be inhibited -- Firefox is your friend! If it wasn't set by default, choose Tools->Options->Content and select "Block Pop-up Windows").

  2. Blocking animated-GIF banner ads.
    These were once ubiquitous; they're still around, and still annoying. Even if they're not animated, with Firefox you can right-click on any advertisement-image and the menu offers you a choice of "Block images from this server." Block, refresh the page, and you're usually rewarded with a pleasanty blank void containing one small word: "advertisement." Evil sites then refresh the space with an ad from a different server, so you must block again. Continue until your page is ad-free. Truly evil sites host the ads on the same server as their own; when the images you want to see disappear, you must go back, right-click and select "Unblock images from this server." Since so many commercial sites are hip to this, they've taken to creating ads that are just text -- or Flash (see below).

  3. Tabbed Browsing.
    Until you start using tabs, their utility may not seem obvious. Here's how I use them. Say you're reading a wep-page, and you notice an interesting link. Before tabbed browsing, you'd click the link, and thence on to another, possibly losing the trail leading back to where you started. With tabbbed browsing you hold down the "Ctrl" key as you click, and the new page opens in your same browser, but in its own tab, behind the current window, so you can move on to the new site at your leisure. Better yet, if it's a slow-loader, no need to wait -- just go back (or move on) to another tab, letting the slow loading page finish in the background. (I also use this feature to avoid viewing certain sites' non-member commercials which must be displayed completely before the real site appears, like Salon). Note that a tabbed browser is hard to understand until you see it demonstrated. From the page about tabs:
    Use tabbed browsing to open multiple Web pages in a single browser window, and quickly flip back and forth. Drag and drop open tabs to keep related pages together.
    Some Internauts do something similar by holding down the Shift key when clicking a link, opening it in a whole new browser-window; but I find things much easier to manage while dealing with just one browser. But if you prefer the multi- window method, Firefox will accomodate you -- see Tools-> Options->Tabbed Browsing. Another useful option can be checked there, "Force links that open a new window to open in a new tab.") Sometimes when I'm surfing furiously, I may have a couple dozen tabs on my browser.

  4. Another right-click choice, when viewing a page employing frames, is "This Frame->Show Only This Frame." Kind of esoteric but useful if you frequent a site where you're only interested in that one part (and the rest is static or annoying in some fashion).

  5. Now things get technical. Firefox can be customized with utilities called Extensions. (One of these, GreaseMonkey, allows for the execution of Scripts, but that's a whole 'nother ball of wax I won't get into here -- but if you're curious, the one I use most often is the Goggle Image Relinker.) The main extension everybody needs for pleasant browsing is Flashblock. So, what is Flash? Remember in 2) when I mentioned animated GIFs, and how to block them? They was an early method used to make moving pictures on web pages. But now things are more sophisticated, and Flash has become the standard, since Microsoft bundled a Flash Viewer into the IE browser. (YouTube videos are Flash.) What's terribly annoying is if you're still squeezing through a dial-up -- this streaming download can't be aborted unless you disconnect. If you already have Firefox you may have tried to right-click certain annoying animations, and noticed the menu didn't contain a "Block images from this server" option -- somehow, Flash inhibits this. Instead, you must install the Flashblock extension. Since you first need Firefox, however, let's get that onto your machine right now.
Go here and download FIrefox. It'll put an executable where you say to save it. Then, locate the file in your Window Explorer and double-click to install. As noted previously, if you're at work and are leary of downloading, don't stress -- this won't require SysAdmin permission. As the install completes, it'll ask if you want an icon on your desktop; of course you do. That's it!

Oh yeah -- the Flash ads... now go here and click "Install Now." When you restart your browser or computer, any Flash will be replaced with a little black lower-case "f" in a white circle. (The first frame of the animation may appear, momentarily, just before the "f" appears.) If you want to see the animation, click the "f" -- ONLY THEN will the Flash file begin streaming. When there's enough information to begin the video, the "f" is replaced with an ">" arrow, which is clicked to begin the animation.

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