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125. Customizing Mozilla

By Andrew D. Wright

There are lots of good reasons to use the Mozilla Firefox web browser and Mozilla Thunderbird email client. They're free, they work well, they get timely security updates, there's versions for Windows, Macintosh and Linux. What's not to like?

Let's start with Mozilla Firefox, a free web browser that can be used instead of Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Why switch from the big blue E? To get the ability to make your web browser do what you want.

With Firefox you can use all the usual helper programs or plugins like Adobe Flash for animating web sites, Apple QuickTime for viewing videos, Adobe Reader for reading PDF files through the web browser, and so on.

You can also choose from hundreds of add-on programs or extensions with more being added daily.

Do a lot of instant messaging? Pick from several extensions that add IM to Firefox. Following a trail of websites trying to find information and need to split the search? There's a handy Duplicate Tab button that instantly opens a new tab with the same page and browsing history so you can go back and explore a different path without losing your place.

Speaking of tabs, there are extensions that will set different colors to tabs from different sites so you can see at a glance what you have open without having to read the labels.

Buyers and sellers on eBay can watch their online auctions while browsing the web with the eBay add-on.

There are extensions to customize all parts of the web page viewing experience. Block banner ads, stop unwanted web page scripts from running, clip parts of websites for later use, enlarge photos, bypass compulsory web page registration scripts, surf anonymously through web proxies, customize what your web browser is telling the sites it visits, there's dozens of ways you can make surfing the net fit your needs rather than settling for one-size-fits-all web browsing. The blue E can't touch this.

The real beauty of these add-ons is that you don't have to be some kind of computer genius to install and use them. The Firefox add-ons site is a handy one-stop shop for seeing what is available. Installation is as easy as clicking on the download button. Restart Firefox and your add-on is in place and working. It will even automatically update itself as time goes by or you can do it manually at any time through the Tools - Add-ons menu, where all your installed add-ons are helpfully listed.

The Mozilla Thunderbird email client has quite a few add-ons of its own. You can add a button to delete all mail the junk mail filter has labelled as Junk with one click. Add an appointment calendar. Set up easy email encryption. Backup your addressbook or synchronize it with Thunderbird on a second computer.

Browsing through the add-ons shows dozens of ways to change the way you look at your email.

As if having hundreds of add-on extension programs to customize Mozilla Thunderbird and Firefox weren't enough, you can also choose from an incredible variety of themes. A theme is like a skin for a program. You can alter the appearance of the program window, buttons and icons in dozens of different ways.

Another invaluable addition to the Mozilla programs is a helper program called MozBackup, which can create and restore a backup of your user profile, bookmarks, saved information and even installed add-on extensions and themes.


Mozilla Firefox site (free):

Mozilla Thunderbird site (free):

MozBackup site (free):


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Originally published 8 February 2008


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