Basic Firefox tweaks

Michael Geary | Wed, 2004-11-10 16:39

Get Firefox!

Mozilla Firefox is a mighty fine browser right out of the box. If you haven’t tried it out yet, I highly recommend it.

Firefox is also highly customizable. Here are some basic tweaks that make Firefox even better.


The first thing I do when I install Firefox is open the Tools/Options dialog and adjust a few of the settings there. On the General page, I click the Fonts & Colors button and choose better fonts. By default, Firefox uses the mediocre Times New Roman and Arial fonts. Georgia and Verdana are much more readable choices for the Serif and Sans-serif fonts.

I also change both of the Size (pixels) settings to 18, and the Minimum font size to 14. Finally, I change the Display resolution to 120 dpi to match my Windows setting.

Here are my font settings:

Firefox Fonts & Colors dialog

These are tuned to look good on the high-density 1600 x 1200 15” display on my ThinkPad. On a lower-density display you may prefer other settings, but in any case you’ll find it worthwhile to spend some time in this dialog.

The Display resolution setting has an unusual user interface. You don’t specify the resolution directly; instead you select Other… in the dropdown combo box, and then another dialog pops up with a line you’re supposed to measure. That’s nifty, but I just wanted to set it to 120 dpi, so I tried various values in the dialog until I found that 6.35 centimeters was the magic number.


By default, Firefox saves all downloaded files on your desktop. I keep a Downloads folder with subfolders for the various programs and files I download. So back in the Options dialog’s Downloads page, I set it to Ask me where to save every file.

Tabbed Browsing

In the Advanced page of the Options dialog, I change the Open links from other applications in setting to a new window. The default setting is the most recent tab/window, which I don’t like at all. When I click a link in some other application such as my email client, I don’t want it to replace a website that I had already open, I want a new window.

Firefox’s tabbed browsing is wonderful, BTW. I use it to group related sites together in a single window. For example, I often investigate several topics in parallel. Typically I start by opening a new Firefox window and doing a Google search. Then I hold down the Ctrl key and click on various links from the search results. These pages all open as tabs in that same window.

Then I may have some other topic to research, so I open another new window and repeat the same procedure. So each window contains a set of related search results. It’s a great way to organize related pages, and you can save the entire set of tabs in a window together in a bookmark folder to re-open them as a group later.


Firefox has hundreds of extensions available from the official site and the unofficial Texturizer site. I like to keep my Firefox lean and fast, so I only use a few of them. Here’s my basic set:

IE View

Alas, there are still some websites that are hard coded to work only with Internet Explorer, and IE View makes it convenient to get to those sites.

Clone Window

I like the way IE duplicates a window’s current state when you use Ctrl+N to open a new window. Firefox by default opens your home page in a new window when you use Ctrl+N, and if you use Ctrl+T to open a new tab, the new tab is blank.

I like IE’s window cloning, so the Clone Window extension fixes this. I set its Options to New Window command should open: Cloned Window and New Tab command should open: Cloned Tab.

Clone Window isn’t listed on the official Firefox update site, so when you click the installation link it you’ll get a warning at the top of the Firefox window that is trying to install software on your computer. Click the Edit Options button which will open the Allowed Sites dialog, then click Allow and OK. Finally, click the installation link again to install the Clone Window extension.


Firefox includes a basic Google search (along with several other searches) in its standard toolbar, but it doesn’t have all of the features of the Google toolbar for IE. The Googlebar brings these goodies to Firefox. One thing it doesn’t have is PageRank, but there are a number of variations of the Googlebar that include PageRank.

Like Clone Window, Googlebar isn’t listed on the official Firefox update site yet. The installer is located here (or via the link above). Follow the same procedure described for Clone Window to install it.

There are a lot more extensions than that. Every time I look at one of the Firefox extension sites I see something else I’m tempted to try, such as the nifty Wayback extension which gives you easy access to historical versions of sites from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

Keyboard shortcuts

You probably know that Internet Explorer lets you go to a .com site without typing the www. and .com; just enter the domain name without those and hit Ctrl+Enter. Firefox does that too, and it also lets you use Shift+Enter for a .net site and Ctrl+Shift+Enter for a .org site. So, you can type “archive” in the address bar, hit Ctrl+Shift+Enter, and you’re at the Internet Archive.

You can increase the text size of any site (any site) with Ctrl+Plus (you don’t need the Shift key, so I suppose it’s really Ctrl+=, but it’s easier to remember it as Ctrl+Plus), and decrease the text size with Ctrl+Minus.

Ctrl+B opens the handy Bookmarks sidebar. Even if you like to use the Bookmarks menu to access your bookmarks, the sidebar is a great for creating them. To the left of the site address (URL) in the address bar there is an icon for the website you’re viewing. Drag that into the Bookmarks sidebar wherever you want it. (If there’s no icon, the blank spot to the left of http: will work as an icon anyway.)

The rest of the keyboard shortcuts are listed in the Firefox help.

Sorting your bookmarks

Firefox displays its bookmarks in some peculiar order by default. You can easily sort them by name, though.

For the Bookmarks menu, open the menu and right-click on any of the bookmarks, then select Sort by Name.

You can sort the Bookmarks sidebar (Ctrl+B) by opening the separate Bookmarks Manager using Bookmarks/Manage Bookmarks. On the View menu are several sort options which apply to the Bookmarks sidebar as well as the Bookmarks Manager.

Advanced tweaks

Fans of Reason Magazine’s lively Hit & Run blog may have noticed that the text on this blog comes out really tiny in Firefox, because of some unfortunate font choices in in the style sheets used on this site. This is likely to improve now that some of the Reason staffers have switched to Firefox.

But there’s no need to wait for Reason to fix their site. The font settings I listed above will fix most of the problems at Hit & Run. The one remaining problem is that the type used for comment text is still too small. It’s easy enough to fix this with Ctrl+Plus, but a better fix is to override Reason’s style sheet. If you don’t mind a bit of text editing, this is easy to do.

First, you need to find the “profile” folder for Firefox. On a Windows 2000 or XP system, this is located in:

C:\Documents and Settings\your name\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles

That’s a hidden folder, so you’ll need to use Tools/Options on the Windows Explorer folder window and go to the View tab, then turn on the Show hidden files and folders option.

On a Windows 98 or Windows Me system, the Firefox profile is likely to be in:

C:\Windows\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles

That location may be different if you’ve enabled multi-user settings in the Users control panel. If you don’t find it, use Start/Find/Files or Folders to search for the Firefox folder.

Inside the Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles folder on your system, you’ll see a folder with a name like v7qf3bzn.default. This is your actual Firefox profile folder. Firefox uses randomized names like this to help protect your profile against intruders.

Inside that folder is a folder called chrome. This is where you can do some interesting customization. In a fresh Firefox installation, there are two files here with a few examples of what you can do. userChrome-example.css is for customizing the “chrome”, things like the menu bar, toolbars, and such. userContent-example.css is about the content of a web page, and it’s the one we’re interested in here.

Copy userContent-example.css to userContent.css and then edit that new file. Add this text to the end and save the file:

/* Override Reason Hit & Run comment style */

div.comments-body {
  font-family: Georgia,serif !important;
  font-size: .95em !important;

Now close all Firefox browser windows, re-open Firefox and visit Hit & Run again. The comment text will display in the more readable Georgia font at a decent size, instead of the small Times font it uses by default.

One limitation here is that changes in userChrome.css apply to all sites that happen to use the same style tag, so this may affect other sites besides the one you want to customize. But it can still be very useful for sites like this.

Update: added installation information for Clone Window and Googlebar, and bookmark sorting information.

Submitted by Chuck Zhu (not verified) on Thu, 2005-04-07 10:39.


Thanks for the tips for tweaking Firefox. I just bought a 17” laptop and the screen resolution is 1920 by1200. So most web pages are tiny. I saw your tips for changing the font and it does make the page look nicer. However, i wanted to increase the page proportionally so that the page still keep in its original shape. Is there a way to do that? Currently you can use view/page style to switch the display. but again either does the trick i wanted.

I’m wondering if you have some ideas in this regard. Would very much appreciate if you could help.

Many thanks in advance, Chuck

Submitted by scot (not verified) on Sun, 2005-04-24 23:24.

cool tips.

Submitted by Visitor (not verified) on Fri, 2007-01-05 19:49.

I also have the same problem. IE adjusts quite fine but I prefer Firefox which cannot adjust to the 1920 x 1200 screen resolution. I have tried several extensions but all in vain. Any Ideas??? Thanks.


Submitted by Alan (not verified) on Tue, 2007-01-30 02:46.

I run a Shuttle computer with XP Proffesional and a Dell 24 inch LCD Flat Panel Monitor and have set the nVidia screen resolution to maximum resolution. (1600 x 1200 with 32 bit High Colour )

This is great, and normally all applications work with this resolution, however, every time I open up Firefox the screen blanks and the resolution is changed back to 800 x 600. I then have to go in nVidia to reset the resolution back to max.

Is there anyway this can be averted? It doesn’t happen with Mozilla Thunderbird.

As an aside, I have tried your font tweak but you have to dig a bit deeper than indicated to find the settings :- Tools/Options/Content/Fonts & Colours/Advanced gets to the above drop down.