Monday, July 06, 2009

In praise of Firefox

I love Firefox. It is quite simply, hands down, far and away the best web browser, ever. I can't understand why everyone doesn't use it. In fact, it is probably the best computer application ever. I must spend at least 90% of my time at the computer using it, so if there was anything not to like about it, I would have found it. And the reason I like Firefox so much is that, whenever I've thought of a feature or tool that would make my life using it much easier, it turns out to be possible using one of the seemingly limitless choice of "extensions".

Over the weekend, the Firefox on my shack computer developed an annoying habit of freezing, running the CPU at 95%. After killing and restarting it a few times, I noticed that they were advertising version 3.5 "the fastest Firefox ever." I was still on 3.something, so I decided to uninstall the old version in case it had picked up something nasty, and then install the latest version. This went without a hitch. But it still froze up, and it appeared to happen whenever I logged on to Gmail.

Gmail is a huge Javascript application and it has been getting slower and slower as it becomes more bloated with features, especially on my shack PC which is 5 years old and was cheap (and hence low powered) even when I bought it. It isn't unknown for Google to change or break something in Gmail. However, Gmail has a "basic HTML" version for people with slower PCs or unsupported browsers. I switched to that and made it the default, and what a difference! Even without the freezing it would be worth switching just because it is so much faster.

There is only one thing that I miss in the basic HTML version of Gmail. I like to keep the Spam folder empty, so I can quickly scan the new messages in there to see if anything has got marked as spam that shouldn't be. And the basic version doesn't have a "Select All" box that allows you to select all the spam messages in order to delete them. I Googled this to see whether I had missed something, or if there was a workaround. And sure enough, there is. Once again, Firefox comes up with a solution!

The solution in this case was a user-written script named GMail Select All Button for Spam in Basic HTML View. In order to run this script you first need to install a Firefox extension called Greasemonkey. If that sounds complicated, it isn't. Both Greasemonkey and the Select button script can be installed just by clicking a button and accepting a confirmation dialog. Including a restart of Firefox, it took about a minute. The Select All button didn't appear until I changed the settings for the script to use the https:// address for Gmail. If only everything to do with computers was this simple!

Whatever I have wanted to do in a web browser, from automated form filling to examining the HTML and CSS code for a page to finding out the IP address of a server, Firefox has never failed to come up with a solution. Forget Internet Explorer, forget Google Chrome, forget Safari. There is only one web browser: Firefox!

No comments: