This article was first published in Oct 2016 and was updated in May 2017.
If Chrome is the Starbucks of Internet browsers, then Firefox is the hip independent cafe – a little less popular but with a better reputation because of its open-source nature and less dubious privacy policies. Like Chrome, Firefox has a lot going on under the hood that you can play around with, tailoring your browsing experience to your personal tastes. Here are five of my favorite tips for Firefox that you may not know about.
1. Watch YouTube Videos in a Mini Pop-Out
You know how phones have those cool apps where you can watch YouTube videos in the corner while carrying on with other stuff? I always thought they were somewhat wasteful on relatively small phone screens, but luckily you can do something similar in Firefox on your meaty PC monitor.
First, you’ll need to install Firefox Test Pilot using your Firefox browser, which is the official tool for trying out various experimental plug-ins that may one day be fully implemented. Next, on the Firefox Test Pilot homepage, scroll down to “Mini Vid” and click “Get Started,” then “Enable Mini Vid.”
The next time you watch a video on YouTube, there’ll be a little icon in the top -left corner of the video when you hover your mouse over it. Click the icon and the video turns into a little pop-out.
2. Delete Individual URLs from Your Search History
Spent too much time stalking someone you shouldn’t have been stalking on Facebook (as opposed to all the people you SHOULD be stalking)? If you want to cover individual tracks in your URL search history for whatever reason, you can do so quite easily.
Just open Firefox, click the downward arrow at the right of the URL bar, then use your keyboard arrow keys to highlight the search you want to get rid of and hit the “Delete” key. Tracks covered!
3. Crucial Keyboard Shortcuts
Once you get a decent grip on keyboard shortcuts, you’ll find your usage of your PC accelerate two-fold. Here are some of my personal favorite keyboard shortcuts for Firefox (though there are of course plenty more for you to discover):
- Ctrl + Tab – Switch between open tabs
- Ctrl + Shift + Delete – Clear recent browsing history
- F5 / Ctrl + R – Reload current page
- Ctrl + N – Open new window
- Ctrl + T – Open new tab
4. Try Out Multiprocess Firefox
I recently wrote about the big under-the-hood changes coming to Firefox and the effect that they’ll have on your browsing experience. Essentially, Firefox is going from a single-process browser to a multi-process one which will have a big effect on extensions, browsing speeds, etc.
This is something that will be introduced with Firefox updates throughout the year, but if you want to be ahead of the curve and test how a Firefox that uses multiple processes on your PC will work, then do the following:
1. Go to
about:config in Firefox.
2. After the “Here be dragons” warning, type
browser.tabs.remote.autostart into the search bar.
3. Right-click the search entry (if its value is set to “false”), then click “Toggle” to turn on multiprocess Firefox.
5. See Which Add-Ons Use the Most Memory
Firefox doesn’t really have a proper means of showing you which add-ons are using up the most memory in your browser, but this clinical and lightweight little add-on, about:addons-memory, can fix all that.
Once you’ve installed it, just type
about:addons-memory into your URL bar to instantly see the biggest memory hogs in your browser.
6. Thumbnails for Your Tabs
Tabs in web browsers used to be a novelty for those rare instances where we actually had more than a couple of web pages open at once. But with Internet speeds being what they are today, our browsers can become flooded with so many tabs that we can’t even see what’s contained in each one. The solution? Great big thumbnails that you can access at the press of a keyboard shortcut!
about:config into the URL bar in Firefox, ignore the “Here be dragons!” message (You’re safe with us.) and click the “I’ll be careful” button.
browser.ctrlTab.previews into the search bar on the new page, then double-click the result so its value changes to “true.”
3. From now on you’ll be able to scroll through thumbnails of your open tabs using Ctrl+Tab.
7. Speed Up Firefox
Firefox is pretty zippy by default, but strangely some of its settings are designed for Internet connections probably much slower than yours. If you have a fast broadband, you can enable pipelining which allows the loading of multiple items on a page simultaneously, speeding up the browsing process.
about:config in the Firefox URL bar (ignore the Dragons etc.).
2. Once you’re in there, find
network.http.proxy.pipelining, then double-click both of them so their values are “true.”
3. Restart Firefox, then take a moment to appreciate your fancy new browsing speeds.
8. Lock Firefox with a Password
There are a thousand reasons you may want to keep your browsing history hidden away from other people using your computer, so keep your reasons and your browsing history to yourself by setting up a password for Firefox.
1. Click the three-line menu icon at the top-right and select “Add-ons,” then type
master password into the add-ons search bar.
2. Install “Master Password+” and restart Firefox.
3. Open Firefox, click the menu icon at the top-right -> Options -> Security, then tick the “Use a master password” box.
4. Click Master Password+ from the control panel, enter the password you’d like to use for Firefox, click the “Startup” tab, then tick the “Ask for password on startup” box and click OK.
9. Your Special Unicorn Friend
Want to know something that serves no practical purpose apart from giving you a good chuckle?
Go to the screen where you customize the Firefox control panel (see second tip), then drag and drop all the features out of the control panel and into the “Additional Tools and Features” window. (Make sure to also remove the Zoom and Edit bars at the top of the control panel.) Click “Exit Customize,” then click the menu icon at the top-right, and you’ll see a unicorn bouncing around the control panel window. Hover over it, and it’ll turn colorful for you! It’s about a minute’s work for about ten seconds of fun but totally worth it.
As with Chrome, there is a lot of tweaking fun to be had with the Firefox browser, and it’d be fair to say that what you just read is the tip of the iceberg (sorry) of things you can do with this robust browser. Go ahead, play around with it, and don’t be scared of those dragons in
about:config. The worst case scenario is that you’ll need to reinstall Firefox, and you might learn some interesting things along the way.
Image credit: Channy Yun