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Firefox Hacks 309

Posted by timothy
from the why-leave-the-house dept.
honestpuck (Tony Williams) writes "If there is an application I run more often than my Web browser, particularly since I also use it as my email client, then I don't know what it might be. As a Firefox convert, that made the arrival of Firefox Hacks from O'Reilly a wonderful surprise." Read on for the rest of Williams' review.
Firefox Hacks
author Nigel McFarlane
pages 368
publisher O'Reilly
rating 7
reviewer Tony Williams
ISBN 0596009283
summary A good, fairly technical examination of Firefox

The first of several books on the topic of Firefox hacking (two more are due from other publishers in the coming months) Firefox Hacks sets the bar quite high. The author, Nigel McFarlane, has already written a number of other books and articles on similar topics and knows his subject well. He has also enlisted the help of a number of other cognoscenti to cover the more distant corners covered in the book.

A Web browser is a much more complex piece of software than you may realize on first examination, and Firefox -- with the core Gecko engine surrounded by a large wrapper written in XUL and JavaScript -- provides a fertile ground for any number of changes and enhancements. Firefox Hacks does a good job of mapping out the boundaries of this space.

Over the course of the now-traditional 100 hacks found in the same series' other members, this book covers hacking with, on, and to almost all aspects of Firefox and the 'net. The book is broken up into nine chapters, most worth reading by almost everyone -- even the first, "Firefox Basics," taught me a couple of tricks for getting the best out of a slow (and expensive) GPRS connection. The others are "Security," "Installation," "Web Surfing Enhancements," "Power Tools for Web Developers," "Power XML for Web Pages," "Hack the Chrome Ugly," "Hack the Chrome Cleanly," and "Work More Closely With Firefox." I have to say I felt the chapter on Power XML (with 17 of the 100 hacks) was far too general on Web technologies and a little out of place; easily half the hacks in that chapter could have been dropped without any real loss to a reader's understanding of Firefox. I would have preferred more on the browser itself. No insult intended to Seth Dillingham, who wrote four of the hacks I'd throw out -- they are well written and do show how best to deal with Web technologies inside Firefox. I just felt that the space would have been better devoted to more "core" topics.

The first four chapters will be useful to everyone, covering mainly the use of Firefox. From that point, the hacks become increasingly complex as they cover Web development, then modifying the interface, before covering such arcana as creating extensions and custom builds.

I am hard pressed to think of a corner of Firefox not at least touched, though it must be said that the later hacks only touch on the topics covered without really providing a lot of depth. If you get to the last two chapters in the book, performing and expanding on the hacks, you will probably need a great deal more information and assistance to branch out on your own. McFarlane, however, points out the possibilities and gets you started. I didn't feel this was a flaw, just that a line had been drawn, as it must unless the book was going to be three times the size and price.

The book is fairly well written. The quality of writing and editing fall into that middle ground of "fairly good" that one expects from the average O'Reilly book, though not the "excellent" they can sometimes hit. The structure and flow are excellent, making the book readable in large chunks -- enough sticks that when you are back in front of the computer using Firefox you can remember a few things. (Or, sometimes, I remembered that a hint existed and was able to easily find and use the information.)

For a closer look there is a decent page at O'Reilly with links to six example hacks, the table of contents (listing all 100 hacks) and the index.

To conclude, I'm not sure I could recommend this book to everyone; it spends a little too much time a fair way along the technology curve for those who aren't ready for some programming, though for anyone who wants to get their hands dirty and perform some hardcore hacking on their favourite browser, then this is an above-average volume. For someone who is happy as "just a user," this book may be too much: wait and see what else emerges into the Firefox book market -- including O'Reilly's other offering, the soon-to-be-released Don't Click on the Blue E, which they describe as giving "non-technical users a convenient roadmap for switching to a better web browser--Firefox."


Also watch soon for a review of Prentice Hall's Firefox & Thunderbird Garage. You can purchase Firefox Hacks from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Firefox Hacks

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  • PDF Hack (Score:2, Insightful)

    by The_Rippa (181699) *
    Where is the hack that lets you view the pdf examples of the other hacks in firefox without it locking up?
  • by Ron Harwood (136613) <harwoodr.linux@ca> on Wednesday March 30, 2005 @06:17PM (#12094123) Homepage Journal
    ...and I found out about editCSS and webdeveloper extenstions from there... they rock.
  • One hack I want (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jerometremblay (513886) on Wednesday March 30, 2005 @06:18PM (#12094135) Homepage
    I want to turn off the damn confirmation every time i open a http: //username:password@site URL!
    • Re:One hack I want (Score:5, Interesting)

      by th1ckasabr1ck (752151) on Wednesday March 30, 2005 @06:28PM (#12094292)
      This isn't funny - I have the same problem logging into my company intranet page. It requires a username and password. Under IE these stored passwords are sent immediately. With Firefox I have to click the confirmation each time. It's enough of a hassle that I redirected my Firefox home page away from the intranet.
      • Re:One hack I want (Score:5, Informative)

        by Elwood P Dowd (16933) <judgmentalist@gmail.com> on Wednesday March 30, 2005 @07:03PM (#12094670) Journal
        That's a different problem. Internet explorer won't allow you to submit a password in the URL anymore either.

        The reason your intranet works for everyone on IE is because IE supports Windows integrated security. It can tell that you are who you say you are because your machine is joined to the Windows domain.
      • This is due to NTLM authentication, I work as a web developer in a corporate environment and always check my HTML/CSS output in Firefox first.
        Only problem is, you need to input your Windows domain username/password before viewing any internal page served up by IIS.
        IE (as per usual) happily gives the server my authentication data...this is why IE is unfortunately here to stay in the office environment, unless you run Apache.
    • What I want is a way to turn off any and all confirmation windows complaining about an SSL certificate once I click the "accept this forever" button. Well I mean aside from buy a real certificate......
    • Re:One hack I want (Score:2, Insightful)

      by emilv (847905)
      That's actually a security feature due to the fact that it was widely used by scammers to write URLs such as
      http://www.google.com [google.com]\@scammersite.com
      resulting in a redirect to the scammer's site.
  • by Kimos (859729) <`kimos.slashdot' `at' `gmail.com'> on Wednesday March 30, 2005 @06:18PM (#12094137) Homepage
    If there is an application I run more often than my Web browser, particularly since I also use it as my email client, then I don't know what it might be. As a Firefox convert

    If there is any English that would make me not want to read this article, particularly since English is my first language, then I don't know what that might be.
    • Re:Didn't RTFA yet (Score:2, Informative)

      by Vaevictis666 (680137)
      Now, now. That's a perfectly valid sentence. Taking out the text surrounded in commas as an aside, the main thrust of the sentence is:

      If there is an application I run more often than my Web browser, then I don't know what it might be.

      The "then" might be debatable, but otherwise it makes perfect sense to me. And taking the aside on its own is fine as well, so I dunno what your gripe is.

      • Re:Didn't RTFA yet (Score:4, Insightful)

        by fm6 (162816) on Wednesday March 30, 2005 @06:47PM (#12094500) Homepage Journal
        The sentence may be validEnglish, but it's not clear English.

        However, the suggestion that the writer isn't a native speaker is both bigoted and illogical. Only a native speaker could spawn that many subordinate clauses in such a confusing way!

        • I wouldn't bet, which is probably illegal in your country anyway, as so many fun things, like alcohol in public or hookers, who are a bit to "often-used" for my taste, on that, at least not if I were you, which I, who am not a native speaker of English, or whatever you Americans consider such, but one of german, which allows for very harsh sounding swear-words, am certainly not. :-P

          Point in case: confusing subordinate clauses aren't related to the language they're expressed in, just to the Kafkaesqueness
          • Coders seem very likely to use such sentences in my experience, as they're trained to nesting complex expressions (usally involving brackets (such as these)) anyway :-)

            but (beware (lisp (write (those who)))
      • ..so I dunno what your gripe is.
        While it may be that the sentence makes perfect sense to you--and I'm glad it does--that does not mean that the author (perhaps not willing to spend the necessary time to improve his prose) should be so easily forgiven for using lengthy clauses and asides; meaningful though they may be, in a sentence clearly intended to introduce us to the topic at hand, as it were.

        Do you know what the gripe is now?

        • Point taken :P

          Personally, I wouldn't consider the original to be a lengthy aside, at least compared to your most verbose example, but to each their own I guess.

      • My first impulse on reading it was to rewrite it thus: "There's no application I run more often than my Web browser, particularly since I also use it as my email client." Simple, direct. The original is not wrong, but it's bad.
  • Close (Score:5, Funny)

    by TheSportsGED (838061) on Wednesday March 30, 2005 @06:19PM (#12094138)
    But if it doesn't tell me how to load Firefox on a memory stick for my PSP, I'm not interested.
  • by spywarearcata.com (841806) on Wednesday March 30, 2005 @06:19PM (#12094145)
    An excellent book. The explanation of about:config and its mods are very useful.

    I did the opposite of the Anonymity sub-chapter by putting my home page URL into my referrer string.
  • ... it spends a little too much time a fair way along the technology curve for those who aren't ready for some programming, though for anyone who wants to get their hands dirty and perform some hardcore hacking on their favourite browser, then this is an above-average volume.

    If you're not ready for some programming, then, by definition, you're not a hacker.

    Geesh, next you'll want the Flash version ...
  • by therealfitzman (807672) on Wednesday March 30, 2005 @06:33PM (#12094352) Homepage
    The new Firefox prototype is amazing. It works by "neuralink" allowing you to think about what website you want to go to and it opens in the browser. The only caveat so far is you have to think in Russian in order for it to work.
  • by c0ldfusi0n (736058) <admin&c0ldfusi0n,org> on Wednesday March 30, 2005 @06:35PM (#12094365) Homepage
    Sorry for the slightly offtopic comment, but i have to post this.
    O'reilly have a book called Don't click on the blue E! [oreilly.com] that's a kind of migration guide from IE to Firefox for disenchanted Internet Explorer users.

    I just love the title of it. Frankly, how many Firefox users trying to get thir sister/mother/grandma to use Firefox (mostly because they're sick of being called to remove spywares/viruses induced by IE) have actually use that phrase?
  • Nice review (Score:5, Informative)

    by echocharlie (715022) on Wednesday March 30, 2005 @06:38PM (#12094394) Homepage
    Author did a nice job on this review. I will probably pick this book up. Here's a link to O'Reilly's official site for the book [oreilly.com]. NerdBooks.com [nerdbooks.com] has is carrying at 50% off [nerdbooks.com].
  • by fm6 (162816) on Wednesday March 30, 2005 @06:44PM (#12094457) Homepage Journal
    Why is XML not a "core topic"? Serving web pages as XML is the Next Big Thing, in my opinion. In any case, XML is a lot more relevent to most people's needs than hacking the browser as a game platform!

    Not that anything was really excluded. They seem to have had a little trouble coming up with 100 hacks. Some I see on the list are interesting, but not strictly about Firefox (CSS, Bugzilla). Some are pretty lame ("Identify and Use Toolbar Icons"). Some are not even hacks (a list of customized prebuilt versions).

    Some hacks do look interesting -- integrating Firefox with other apps, making chromes and extensions, and (as I said) XML support. Maybe these are good enough to justify the price of the book. Though a book about these specific topics might be money better spent.

  • But if they don't mention greasemonkey, then the only excuse I'll accept is that it's too new to appear in print. I'm using it at work to clobber that last webapp so that I no longer have to use IE...

    Also, check out Favicon picker, for those last few sites that don't work properly (shame on you, www.dilbert.com). Nice too, for those embedded devices you keep bookmarks too, (print servers, etc). Even if my WAP icon looks gay (I did pretty decent freehanding on the printer icon).

    PS Anyone have a decent 16x1
    • by fm6 (162816)
      Greasemonkey is certainly a cool hack. But would it have killed you to provide a link [mozdev.org]?

      Installing a extension just so you can tweak a few bookmark icons is just a bit, you know...

    • Re: Greasemonkey (Score:4, Informative)

      by binarysearch (605184) on Wednesday March 30, 2005 @07:37PM (#12095043) Homepage
      Speaking as one of the "cognoscenti" who contributed to the book, I'd say that yes, Greasemonkey is a bit too new to have made it into the book. When I came onboard in late October 2004, most of the hacks had already been thought up and allocated. The deadline for the first draft of the hacks was November 22, and contributor's reviews were due by December 11.

      Looking at the CVS repository for Greasemonkey ( http://www.mozdev.org/source/browse/greasemonkey/ [mozdev.org] ), it looks like the oldest files are four months old, which means that yes, Greasemonkey is too new to have had a chance to get in to the book. I imagine that it'll *probably* be featured in any subsequent editions. The problem is that Greasemonkey is really quite code-centric, far more so than most of the stuff in the last few chapters, and those chapters are already striking some as "too technical." Writing a hack would be tricky, as you'd have two main options, neither of which are particularly appealing:

      * Delve into the nuts-and-bolts of programming to show users how to Get Stuff Done with Greasemonkey, which is outside the scope of the book, or
      * treat The Code That Does Stuff as magic, and use e.g. Butler as an example of what can be done.

      Of course, hacks.oreilly.com does allow you to submit your own hacks. If you want a job done right...
    • by Osty (16825)

      But if they don't mention greasemonkey, then the only excuse I'll accept is that it's too new to appear in print. I'm using it at work to clobber that last webapp so that I no longer have to use IE...

      You really should give a link for Greasemonkey [mozdev.org], and to the script repository [dunck.us].

      Also, shameless pimpage, but I've built a Greasemonkey implementation for IE, GreasemonkIE [daishar.com]. It's still in development (missing a pretty major feature right now, which should be sorted out soon -- covered in the blog entry above),

    • if you have lots of bookmarks, then using favicons can severely bulk up your bookmarks.html file. 40mb bookmark files are NOT FUN.

      add these lines to your user.js to get rid of all site icons.

      // Disable Bookmark Icons
      user_pref("browser.chrome.site_icons", false);
      user_pref("browser.chrome.favicons", false);

      (though it wont clean the code for known icons out of bookmarks.html)
  • by standon (546762) on Wednesday March 30, 2005 @06:51PM (#12094549)
    I own several O'Reilly books, many of them relating to Hacks - whether it be for Postfix, OS X, et cetera. It's funny (or perhaps just interesting, depending on your sense of humor) how the term "hack" has evolved [bachue.com] over time. Am I a hacker if I utilize a book to balance a shaky table? Of course I'm being a bit facetious with that example!

    I understand this might be (mistakenly) modded offtopic, but hopefully the powers that be acknowledge the relevance.
    • Duct tape and coathangers make for good hacks as well. Yes, 'hack' means what this book pertends -- a clever hack is a way to accomplish something in a non-obvious way and/or an interesting mis-use of an object or idea.

      It does not mean to break into webservers, although (malicious) hacking is often involved there too.
  • by planckscale (579258) on Wednesday March 30, 2005 @07:03PM (#12094679) Journal
    I'd like to share my browsing experience with my sweetie. Kind of like a status bar or something we can see real-time what websites we are visiting. It would be our choice if we want to share this info. I guess it would be similar to an IM but it wouldn't have to include chat. Of course, password protected sites would be unavailable. Basically I would like to see a click-able hyperlink in the statusbar showing me what website she currently has active. It could have a drop-down/up menu for multiple users as well.

    • it's great that you have a GF but have you thought this through? she'll see all e.g. the porn you visit.. seriously i can't imagine many people would want that, no matter how close.

      eh, you just weirded me out a bit with that request, but that's probably because of my own problems..

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Check out http://www.stumbleupon.com/ [stumbleupon.com]

      It's not spyware like what you described but rather will allow you to queue pages to your GF. When she hits her stumble button it will show your comment to her then load the page.

      It's actually really cool. It does a bunch of other things too. I could go on and on decribing it to you but I wont. Go check it out, you wont be sorry.

      Here is my stumble page as an example:
      http://emfb.stumbleupon.com/ [stumbleupon.com]
    • by The Wicked Priest (632846) on Wednesday March 30, 2005 @09:29PM (#12096062)
      My first thought was "Ew", but my second thought was "You know, there's probably an extension for that". And here's what I found with a cursory search:
      Feed Me Links Toolbar [extensionsmirror.nl] - The Feed Me Links extension for Firefox/Mozilla shares and manages your links via any computer or browser. Tag links to classify them, share tags and links via email or comment discussions, browser your friends' links, etc.

      Firefox Bookmark Share [extensionsmirror.nl] - Firefox Bookmark Share allows you to store your Firefox bookmarks, upload and download from your browser and share them with your friends and much more. All you need to do is sign up for an account, download the plugin and you're all set. The extension will create a folder in your bookmarks named "Firefox BM Share for [username]". This folder will be uploaded and downloaded.

      If these aren't precisely what you wanted, check again tomorrow.
  • Is there a "hack" to fix the email search result sort-by-date problem? This is one of the biggest issues keeping me from migrating...I search through my email a lot.
  • why does it use the windows startbutton icon in the taskbar? is there an extension/hack to change it?
  • I know I'm not the only one who won't use Firefox over Mozilla due to its incredibly annoying download manager "feature". I haven't found any way of making it use the IE/Mozilla style one-window-per-download system.

    If it wasn't for this, I'd probably give Firefox/Thunderbird another try as a replacement to the Mozilla Suite 1.7 that I currently use.
    • Re:Download Manager (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Reziac (43301) *
      I had no luck getting Mozilla (also with an annoying dl manager) and Getright (which I love) to play nice together either. However, I let Getright monitor the clipboard. So when I want to download something in Moz, I rightclick the link and pick "Copy Link Location", and most of the time Getright will pick it up, and I can then download it with Getright without any extra steps.

      Worst case, I might have to open GR's status window and paste the URL as a new download.

  • Why is it so slow? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nagora (177841) on Thursday March 31, 2005 @05:34AM (#12098345)
    I'm using an old 400Mhz machine here and it runs Opera fine. But, I think I'd rather use Firefox or at least try it long enough to decide which is better. But Firefox is so slow that it simply isn't an option. It takes literally a second (that's 1000ms, folks) or more to draw a drop-down menu after clicking on it. Everything is like that - it's like using a computer in slow-motion.

    Is there some known issue with Firefox that can cause this? I can't believe anyone is using the browser if it's like this for them, so I assume that it's not like this for other people. Or have I just been spoilt by Opera's speed?

    TWW

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