Mozilla's Firefox web browser offers much more customisability than Microsoft's Internet Explorer ever did. Here are some tweaks you might not know about. We'll help you get better broadband performance, safeguard private and data and work more efficiently with Firefox.

While Microsoft's Internet Explorer remains the most popular web browser, there's a reason why many techies and surfers use Mozilla's Firefox browser: Control. Firefox simply offers more ways to customise the web-browsing experience, letting you get more work done in less time. Here are our favorite productivity tweaks for Firefox 2.0.

Quick links

Keep tabs on tabs

One of Firefox's most appreciated features is the browser's ability to display multiple pages that you view by clicking their tabs. But you don't have to click through menus to open a new tab; instead, just press Ctrl, T to view a blank page on a new tab, with the cursor in the address bar.

To have a link open in a new tab, either right-click the link and select Open Link in New Tab, or highlight it and click the mouse wheel.

Firefox tip I

You can have links that would normally launch a new browser window open instead in a new tab: Select Tools, Options, click the Tabs icon, choose a new tab, and click ok.

Firefox tip II

To move between tabs with the keyboard, press Ctrl, Tab to open the tab to the right, or Ctrl, Shift, Tab to go left. Or reorder your tabs by dragging them with your mouse.

To close all but one of your open tabs, right-click the one you want to keep open and select Close Other Tabs. If you accidentally close the wrong tab, press --T to bring it back.

Firefox tip III

Mozilla Firefox keyboard shortcuts

A surefire way to improve your browsing speed is by leaving your mouse alone and controlling Firefox from the keyboard. Here are some useful (but not always obvious) keyboard shortcuts:

To enter a URL or search criterion into the address bar, press either Ctrl, L or Alt, D. If you just entered a domain name into the address bar, don't bother adding ".com"; instead, press Ctrl, Enter to insert that suffix and go to the page. For ".org," use Ctrl, Shift, Enter; for ".net," Shift, Enter.

To enter search criteria into the Search Bar, press Ctrl, K. Next, press Ctrl and the down arrow, or Ctrl and the up arrow to cycle through the available search services. To search for text on the current page, press Ctrl, F to open the Find toolbar, or just / (the slash key) to access the Quick Find toolbar. What's the difference? The former provides a couple of basic search options, the latter naught but a text box for entering your search term. To find the next instance of the text you just found, press F3.

Two eyesight-saving shorcuts. To toggle full-screen view on and off, press F11. And to increase and decrease the web page's font size, press Ctrl, = and Ctrl, - (Ctrl with the equal and minus signs, respectively).

Sort out your Firefox bookmarks

If you create a lot of bookmarks but don't keep them organized, your bookmarked sites will be almost as difficult to find as unbookmarked pages.

Bookmarks are a lot easier to manage if you place them in folders that branch off the main Bookmarks menu. For instance, I place encyclopedias and other reference sites in a folder called Reference. And I keep dictionaries and thesauri in a folder of the Reference menu I named Language.

To organise your bookmarks, select Bookmarks, Organize Bookmarks to open the Bookmarks Manager. Here you can create new folders, drag bookmarks to new locations, and make other changes.

Firefox tip IV

Quick links

Find your new Firefox bookmarks a good home

Once your bookmarks are in order, you'll want to keep them organised by placing new bookmarks into appropriate folders.

Whenever you want to bookmark the current page, select Bookmarks, Bookmark This Page, or press Ctrl, D. In the resulting Add Bookmarks dialog box, click the 'Create in' menu's down arrow to see a list of folders into which you've recently placed new bookmarks.

Firefox tip V

But if you don't see the desired folder there, click the down arrow to the far right of the 'Create in' option. This expands the Add Bookmark dialog box, allowing you to select any folder, or to create a new one. When you're done, click ok.

Firefox tip VI

Prune dead bookmarks

Even if they're well organised, your bookmarks won't save you much time if you have to scroll through ones you're no longer using to find the shortcuts you need.

If a Bookmarks submenu has too many entries, right-click it and select Open All in Tabs. As the name implies, this opens each bookmark listed in the folder in a new tab. If a tab reads '404 Not Found,' the page is history. Click the tab, note the URL in the address bar, and delete the corresponding shortcut from the menu.

Firefox tip VII

If you can't match the URL with a bookmark, you can usually guess the one with the bad link by noticing which others are next to it (the tabs open in the order the bookmarks are listed). Or right-click the bookmark, select Properties, and compare the URL in the bookmark with the one on the tab.

Firefox tip VIII

Quick links

Better default Google search in Firefox

One of Firefox's coolest features (although it's hardly undocumented) is its ability to search from the address bar. When you enter a search term in the address bar, the browser redirects to Google and searches that term automatically.

But these results are of Google's "I'm Feeling Lucky" persuasion. You're sent to the most popular page that matches your criteria. Only if there's no clear winner will the search engine list everything it finds.

If you'd rather not trust to Google's luck, change this setting by editing Firefox's configuration file. This is one important file, so back up it first.

With your backup in place, type about:config in Firefox's address bar and press Enter. In the resulting page's Filter field, enter keyword (you won't have to press Enter this time).

Double-click the keyword.URL entry, enter the string, and click ok.)

Firefox tip IX
Firefox tip X

Now when you enter a search term in the address bar, you'll get a full page of Google search results, just as you would if you'd entered the keyword on Google's home page.

If you decide later that you should've trusted Google (a familiar refrain in Silicon Valley), you can reverse your fortunes by repeating the steps, but this time enter this string:

Back up Mozilla Firefox's 'Registry'

Firefox's about:config screen is like Windows' Registry - it contains important information, but is obtuse and dangerous to fiddle with. So play it safe by backing up the configuration file before you make any changes.

To do so, close Firefox, select Start, Run (just Start in Vista), type %appdata%\mozilla\firefox\profiles, and press Enter. The resulting Windows Explorer window will contain a folder with a very strange name, such as '4hw0enat.default'. Open that folder, and then copy the file prefs.js to a safe location.

Better yet, make sure that the Profiles folder is included in your regular, daily backup routine. Should you mess something up in about:config, simply close Firefox and copy the backup of prefs.js back to its original location.

Firefox tip XI
Firefox tip XII

Add to the Firefox Search Bar

You can add, remove, and organise the services listed on the Search Bar in the Firefox window's upper-right corner. To do so, click the area to the left of the search box and select Manage Search Engines from the drop down menu that appears. In the Manage Search Engine List dialog box, click Get more search engines to view a list of available search services. To add one, simply select it and click Add. If you want Firefox to use that service as its default search engine, check Start using it right away, and then click Add.

Since you can search through Google via the address bar, you might want to remove Google from this list. To do so, select its entry and click Remove.

Firefox tip XIII
Firefox tip XIV

Quick links

Customise Firefox keyword searches

You don't really need the search bar if you set up some keyword searches. These special bookmarks let you use any search engine directly from the address bar.

First, go to a site with search capabilities, such as, right-click the site's search field, and select Add a Keyword for this Search. In the Add Bookmark dialog box, name the shortcut and give it a short, easy-to-remember keyword, such as pca. Choose an out-of-the-way folder in the 'Create in' drop-down menu, and click ok.

Firefox tip XV
Firefox tip XVI

To test the shortcut, press Ctrl, L to place the cursor in the address bar, type pca paul trotter, and press Enter. You should see a list of's best articles. (Well, maybe you'll do better if you type pca matt egan - guess who edited this article?)

Search a Firefox web page in a jiffy

Finding the right page is often only half the battle: You may also need to locate a specific word or phrase on the page. Firefox has a trick that makes searching a page easy. Select Tools, Options. Click the Advanced icon, and then the General tab. Check Search for text when I start typing, and click ok.

Now you don't have to press Ctrl, F or even / (slash) to find that word. Just start typing, and up pops the Quick Find bar.

Firefox tip XVII

Quick links

Purge private data from Firefox

Firefox records where you've been browsing to help you retrace your steps, as well as to reopen the pages you've visited previously more quickly. But this feature may compromise your privacy by letting other people using your PC see what you've been up to.

The browser's default security settings may not strike the balance of convenience and privacy that's best for you. To customize those settings, select Tools, Options, and click the Privacy icon. The dialog box is divided into three sections: History, Cookies, and Private Data.

Firefox tip XVIII

History You might want to shorten the number of days Firefox saves your surfing history - the default is nine days. If you don't want to save your browsing history at all, uncheck Remember visited pages for the last [X] days. You can also choose not to record the text you enter in web forms or search boxes, and the programs you download.

Private data To clean things out regularly, check Always clear my private data when I close Firefox. Then click the Settings button to fine-tune the options.

Firefox tip XVIIII

What should you leave checked and unchecked in the Clear Private Data dialog box? Checking the Browsing History and Cookies sections will override any changes you made in the other sections of this dialog box, so leave them unchecked. Checking Cache may slow Firefox down a bit, but probably not enough to notice if you have a fast Internet connection. Deleting Saved Passwords is entirely pointless. You should check every other option. After you click ok to close the Clear Private Data dialog, uncheck Ask me before clearing private data to avoid this annoying pop-up dialog box.

Quick links

Revise your Firefox history

Firefox offers a way to delete selected pages from both your browsing history and your address bar history while retaining everything else.

To delete an entry in the address bar's dropdown menu of recently visited pages, point to the item with your mouse, but instead of clicking it, press Delete.

To edit your browsing history, press Ctrl, H to open the History sidebar. Right-click the page you want to remove and select Delete. If you want to delete a bunch of pages, all adjacent to each other (as they will be if they're from the same site), right-click the first one and select Delete. When it disappears, the one below will be highlighted, and you can just press Delete on the keyboard until they're all gone.

Safely store passwords

It's good security practice to use a different password for each site you visit, although it can be difficult to remember them all. Unfortunately, Firefox's password manager is not really safe unless you use its Master Password option.

To set this up, select Tools, Options and click the Security icon. Check Remember passwords for sites and Use a master password. In the Change Master Password dialog box, enter a password that you can remember but that no one else can guess. Check out this Windows Tips column for advice on selecting a safe, but memorable, password.

Firefox tip XX

Once you've set your master password, managing your Web passwords is easy: Whenever you enter a password on a page, a dialog box will ask if you want Firefox to remember it. The next time you return to that page, the browser will automatically fill in the password - with one important exception. If this is the first time you've gone to such a page since you last launched Firefox, you'll have to enter your master password first.

Quick links

Optimise Firefox for broadband

Believe it or not, Firefox is optimised for dial-up connections by default. You need to change some settings to get the browser's best performance over DSL, cable or other broadband links.

Before you change anything, back up Firefox's configuration file; return to the page "Better Default Google Search" and scroll down to "Back Up FireFox's 'Registry' " for details.

Next, open Firefox and press Ctrl, L to place the cursor in the address bar. Type about:config and press Enter. Then enter network.http in the filter field. Now make the following changes:

In the field of 'Preference Name' choices (click on the thumbnail at right to see the screen), double-click network.http.pipelining to set it to 'true'.

Firefox tip XXI

Next, double-click network.http.pipelining.maxrequests to bring up the 'Enter integer value' dialog box. Enter a higher number than the default 4; 15 works for me. Press Enter.

Firefox tip XXII

Double-click network.http.proxy.pipelining to set it to 'true'.

Right-click anywhere on the page and select New, Integer. Enter nglayout.initialpaint.delay and press . Set its value to 0 (zero), and press again.

Firefox tip XXIII

Move your Firefox bookmarks and settings to a new PC

Amazingly enough, Firefox doesn't include an obvious, intuitive way to migrate the program's settings to a new PC. (I guess it's my job to tell you how to do it.)

On the old PC, close Firefox, select Start, Run (Start in Vista), type %appdata%\mozilla, and press Enter. The resulting Windows Explorer window will contain a folder named Firefox. Using a network or external drive, copy that folder to the new PC.

On the new PC, install, open and then close Firefox. If reopening it doesn't bring up the import wizard, close Firefox and open it again. When the wizard (which is useless in this situation) comes up, just press Cancel, and close Firefox.

Next, select Start, Run (Start in Vista), type %appdata%\mozilla, and press Enter. Rename the Firefox folder something like frominstall, and then copy the Firefox folder from the old PC to this location. Finally, open Firefox and relish your old, familiar settings.

Quick links