Firebird extensions

Firebird is built to be extended. That was one of the main design goals, growing out of the way the bloated Mozilla application suite had turned into “every feature anyone has ever thought of, with a preference to turn it off, and thirty prefs to change how it works.” Extending it, or making major changes in how it looks and acts, is surprisingly easy (for some value of easy, at least).

Don’t get me wrong: Firebird by itself is a wonderful browser. Just the standard tabbed browsing, so you can easily switch between several different web pages without the distracting context switch of changing entire windows, and “Bookmark all tabs in a folder” plus “Open in tabs” in bookmark groups will make a huge difference in the way you use the web. But adding extensions (which is as simple as clicking a link, then an OK button or three, and restarting the browser) gives you the added features that not everyone needs, but that will save tons of aggrevation for people like us who live on the web.

Those annoying plain-text URLs in weblog comments, where someone didn’t realize that URLs wouldn’t be automatically converted to links? Install Text Links, double-click to select the URL, right-click and “Open selected url in new tab.”

Those entries that are a list of twenty links, and you know you want to look at all of them, but you don’t want to have to control-click them all individually? Install Tab Browser Extensions (a must for lots of things), and in the settings, on the Context Menu Of Tabs page, be sure Open Selection Links in New Tabs is checked, and you can just select a list of links, or an entire weblog entry that includes some links, right-click, and choose Open All Links in New Tabs. Check Block Referrer in the Available items in the context menu of tabs section, and you can right-click the tab for your weblog entry preview page, select “Block Referrer”, select the whole entry, and open all the links in new tabs, to be sure you didn’t mess up any URLs, without sending a useless (or dangerous, if you’re a sloppy coder) referral from your preview.

Those truly awful Flash ads, that sit flashing and wiping and morphing on three sides of the article you’re trying to read, until you think you might be epileptic after all? Install Flash click to view and they become just “flash [[Click to play]]”, waiting for that rare time when it’s Flash content you actually want to see.

Extensions are distributed as .xpi files, which are just ZIP files containing a install.js Javascript file that tells Firebird how to install the extension, and the files for the extension. Some extension may have a bit more to them, but quite often the other files are all in one .jar file, which again is just a ZIP file, containing some RDF and CSS files and the XUL files that make it work. How all the parts of an extension work is beyond the scope of this post (translation: I don’t understand it, and I can’t find any clear and up-to-date documentation to point to), but practically speaking what it means is that it’s sometimes pretty simple to hack at extensions.

The Web Developer extension adds a ton of lovely useful things, from outlining all block-level elements on the current page to replacing all images with their alt attribute contents (or the [image] of shame when you forgot the alt) to a raft of validation options including a Custom validator option for your choice of validation URL. However, it adds them as both a submenu off the Tools menu, and as a toolbar, and I hate excess toolbar creep: I’m using a browser to browse, not to peer through a tiny window below a screenful of toolbars, and although you can customize the Custom validator URL, the menu label is still just “Custom Validator”. Unzip the webdeveloper.jar file, find the menu.xul file that does the layout, and delete the <toolbox> (a toolbox is the area that holds a toolbar) and the <toolbarpalette> (which contains all the toolbar items that might appear in a toolbar, depending on how it’s customized), change the <menuitem label for Custom Validator to something like RSS Validator, zip everything back up, restart Firebird, and you’ve got a Web Developer menu without a Web Developer toolbar. True, the actual process may be more like unzip, muck around, rezip, try it, repeat, break things so badly that you have to reinstall the whole browser, but since reinstalling consists of just unzipping, you can afford to do more fiddling with Firebird’s guts than you would do with most applications.


Comment by Alex #
2003-06-15 03:10:07

Wow, I had both Tabbrowser Extensions and Text Links installed, but I didn’t know about ”Open All Links in New Tabs” until now.
That is seriously cool.

Comment by Dorothea Salo #
2003-06-15 07:40:00

Multitudinous thanks, and keep this series coming! That Flash thing… it’s lovely.

Comment by Mark #
2003-06-15 10:22:01

I’m addicted to Mozilla Mail. Is there a standalone version I could install instead, so I could use Firebird as my primary browser?

Comment by Phil Ringnalda #
2003-06-15 10:36:03

Standalone Mail would be Thunderbird. I’m not quite sure yet whether I’d recommend it as stable enough for widespread use (About says version 0.1a(!)), and I just installed it and made it my default mail client about 14 hours ago, but so far my only problems are that it doesn’t seem to have a way to make a combined Inbox from multiple accounts, unless I’m missing something, and on one message it developed a really weird flicker that looked like it was forgetting that I had told it that a message it thought was junk was not, and then quickly remembering. Telling it to use separate SMTP servers for separate accounts is too hidden for my taste, but they’re probably right that you really don’t need to be doing that. Other than that, I’m happy with it so far, but I don’t really push a mail client very hard.

Comment by Phil Ringnalda #
2003-06-15 12:35:38

Ah, the flicker is a scrolling problem: if a folder has enough messages to require a scrollbar in the upper-right pane, it flickers in and out as the divider moves up and down. Don’t know how permanent a fix it is, but for now it seems fixed by just dragging the divider around, so it has a value for where I want it (which could be the problem, for all I know).

Comment by Anonymous #
2003-07-12 00:30:37

So how DO you get thunderbird to use different smtp servers with seperate accounts?

Comment by Anonymous #
2003-06-15 15:24:42

I never saw the point in the ”text link” extension. Double-click, middle click, all done.

Comment by Phil Ringnalda #
2003-06-15 15:34:47

I just switched back from my middle-button-free laptop to a desktop with a mouse a couple of weeks ago, so I’m still not used to the idea of middle-clicking. But where are you getting middle-click to open selected text as a URL? For me, that doesn’t do jack.

Comment by Joeri Sebrechts #
2003-06-16 03:42:36

I think he meant middle-click in the tab bar, so it pastes your selection in the current tab. Still, usually you want it in a new tab, and text links is just that little bit faster about it. Though I can higly recommend linky instead text links and tabbrowser.

Comment by Phil Ringnalda #
2003-06-15 18:35:39

Maybe I should get rid of the View menu, since I clearly never use it: rather than ripping the toolbar out of menu.xul, you can just use View, Toolbars, and uncheck the Web Developer Toolbar. If you’re sane, that is.

Comment by LinkTiger #
2003-06-15 19:44:11

To open a text address, just make a new tab, highlight the URL, and drag the url into the new tab! I love it!

Comment by Phil Ringnalda #
2003-06-15 20:40:04

”make a new tab” – I can’t think of any smooth way to work that in, since you have to assume that the link will average out to the middle of the screen, so you either have to move the mouse up to the top for a toolbar button or menu item, then back down, or you have to combine keyboard (Ctrl-T) and mouse (double-click, drag). However, I just tried dragging a selected text link to the blank area to the right of the right-most tab on the tabbar, and that opens it in a new tab, so I won’t be needed Text Links after all: I really don’t like right-clicking all that much, and even though it’s more movement, it feels better to me than a right-click.

Comment by Anonymous #
2003-06-16 11:24:39

If you have the Go button enabled on the toolbar, you can also drag the text link to it to open it like a normal link. And of course you can also drag the text link to any existing window or tab to open it.

Comment by Ted Mielczarek #
2003-06-17 10:03:45

Glad to hear you enjoy some of my extensions. :)

Trackback by Alt.Jen #
2003-06-15 07:07:03

Mozilla Firebird

phil ringnalda dot com: Firebird extensions Firebird is built to be extended. That was one of the main design goals, growing out of the way the bloated Mozilla application suite had turned into ”every feature anyone has ever thought of,…

Trackback by Couchblog #
2003-06-15 11:20:18

Firebird Weekend

Phil Ringnalda is talking about Firebird extensions. I like this Flash-Click-2-Play-Extension most. More about Firebird over at Mad Penguin, more

Trackback by adot's notblog* #
2003-06-15 12:41:07

the bird of fire it is good, eat!

I’m sure that the Google translation of StandBlog leaves a bit to be desired but I like it anyway. ”With

2003-07-18 10:26:48

Firebird rising from the ashes

After reading so many reviews (particularly one from Joel Spolsky, noted technologist and Microsoft sympathizer :-) of the new

Trackback by Legends of the Sun Pig #
2003-07-30 03:01:29

Mozilla Firebird

I’ve been using the Opera web browser since version 5.11. Until now, it has been simply the best web browser available for Windows. It is lightweight, fast, and highly functional. When I wrote a web browser since version 5.11. Until now, it has been simply the best web browser available for Windows. It is lightweight, fast, and highly functional. When I wrote a <a href="http:/…

Trackback by bent back tulips #
2003-08-04 12:24:14

Firebird rocks

You all know it. I’m guessing you’ve all been preached to on the subject. Well, guess what? Now it’s my turn. Firstly, the basics. Why switch from Internet Explorer? Firebird is significantly faster than IE. Firebird can by default block…

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