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
.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.