7 ways to optimize Firefox 3 for a better browsing experience on your netbook
February 11, 2009 There's three common complaints about netbooks. Small (and quirky) keyboard layouts, not enough horsepower, of course, the screen resolution - or lack thereof. We can't do much about your keyboard, but here's five ways to free up many of the wasted pixels of a stock Firefox 3 installation and browse the web painlessly on a small screen - plus a couple of bonus tips on how to make the most out of your low-powered CPU.
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I often come across videos and other elements embedded in pages that are too big for the tiny viewing window. This one is easily dealt with. Just hit F11 to switch to full screen mode - all your toolbars and your operating system's Dock/Taskbar will be hidden. Combine this with autoHideStatusbar (which we'll get to in a moment) and you can utilize every last pixel on your netbook display for browsing the web.
It's relatively uncommon to find a site that's optimized for screen resolutions wider than 1024 pixels, but it happens, and it can make life a real pain. Not only do you have to scroll horizontally to see the whole page, but that extra scroll bar takes up another chunk of valuable vertical screen real estate. Fortunately, Firefox's Zoom function allows you to deal with sites like this quickly and painlessly.
Hitting Control/Apple and - decreases the size of the page, while Control/Apple and + increases it. Control/Apple and 0 resets to the original size. By default, the behavior will scale all elements of the page, and doesn't seem to break any layouts, so it's just like zooming in or out while viewing a digital photograph. Very handy. If you want to resize the text only, go to View menu, and under the Zoom submenu, select "Zoom Text Only".
Use Small Icons
Firefox 3 sports some pretty massive icons - in particular, the back and forward buttons. They look great, but we can easily trim the fat for a better browsing experience. Just right click the Reload, Stop or Home button and select "Customize..." from the context menu. At the bottom of the window that pops up, check the box next to "Use Small Icons" and click "Done". Easy.
While you can remove the status bar by deselecting the "Status Bar" option under the View menu, I find it's pretty handy to keep around for a couple of reasons. For starters, you can hover over a link to determine the URL that the link is pointing to. It's also handy to see what's happening while a page is loading. The thing is, it's pretty useless the rest of the time, and it takes up another 20 or so vertical pixels. The autoHideStatusbar extension allows you to hide the status bar until over a user-definable area at the bottom of the screen, or hover over a link for a user-definable period of time. It will also unhide itself while a page is loading, if you want.
How often do you use the File (and other) menus? If you're like me, almost never, and much like the status bar, it's just wasting space for the rest of the time. The Personal Menu extension allows you to hide them all behind a button to the right of your search bar. Then you can right click the Stop, Reload or Home buttons and deselect "Menu Toolbar" and reclaim another 20 or so pixels.
Close Other Tabs
While this isn't related to screen real estate, it's a handy tip for people like me who are still used to having 50 or more tabs open on a more powerful machine with a much bigger display, and can't seem to break the fiendish habit. When you find things grinding to a halt, just right click the tab you're currently viewing, and click "Close Other Tabs" to give that Atom CPU a break and get things rolling again.
Download the Firefox 3.1 Beta 2
Using Firefox 3.1 Beta 2 is a good idea for netbook users, as it is much snappier than the current stable Firefox 3 release. All the functionality and extensions mentioned in this article function perfectly with Beta 2. Grab it here.
What do you recommend?
Have you found any other Firefox extensions that help maximize screen real estate? Know any better ways to squeeze some extra performance out of Firefox on an Atom CPU? Let us know in the comments.
Tim Hanlon (Follow Tim on Twitter)