July 1, 2009

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Optimizing Firefox for Netbooks

Most commercial applications in this day and age have fairly decent user interfaces. A lot of money is put forth into making them as user friendly as possible. The problem is that sometimes these “friendly” ways aren’t necessarily the best users of screen real estate. Nowhere is this better exemplified than Office 2007’s “ribbons”. Now if you’re on a screen that is 20″+ and running at 1680×1050 – who cares? I certainly don’t mind. On the other hand if you are on a netbook that is running 1024×600 on a screen that is 10″ or less, you want every pixel you can easily get. I went over some of this (albeit, indirectly) in Optimizing Windows 7 for Netbooks, but since it is a **net**book after all, you’re probably going to be making good use of our favorite web browser – Firefox.

The first thing I did was install the LittleFox Theme. This theme doesn’t do much except to reduce all of your icons to a very tiny size, other than that it looks like a fairly standard copy of Firefox. This is just fine with me since I never really was big into the theming and skinning.

Next item on the list to help reduce “waste” is the Tiny Menu extension. After restarting with this you’ll notice the entire menu bar has been condensed into one entry (aptly) labeled “Menu”. This alone doesn’t do much, but you’ll see the point after you combine it with the next step.

Now what you’ll want to do is actually customize the UI in Firefox. Right-click in the Menu bar and you should see 3 options, you want “Customize”. Now, that you’ve got the ability to drag around the icons, do so. Drag everything from the navigation bar (i.e. Back/Next, Stop, Home, URL Bar) up to the now vacant menu bar. I personally don’t use the Google search box, so I drag that down into the “Customize Toolbar” window, thereby removing it from the screen. Also check “Use Small Icons” in the “Customize Toolbar” window, while it might not make a difference initially, if you add addons later, it will help. You can now exit that mode and right-click on the empty navigation bar. Now click and uncheck the “Navigation toolbar” and “Bookmarks toolbar” options.

You can also turn off the status bar, if you’d like. Menu > View > Status Bar. Personally I leave it on (since it tends to get filled with useful things from other addons I use). If you really need the space, just hit F11 and Firefox will spring into a full screen mode that is rather hard to beat.

A few other general suggestions for enhancing your netbooking experience:

• Install Adblock Plus mainly so you don’t have to download a bunch of images, animation, etc while you are on the go. Plus the less on a page, the easier it is to render.

• Install Flashblock. Flash is fairly CPU intensive, which is something you don’t have a lot to spare. Flashblock simply turns embedded flash into little icons that you can click on to re-enable.

• Disable image animation. In about:config find image.animation_mode and set the value to none. This might be a bit overkill for some, but it’s out there in case you need it.

• Disable IPv6. In about:config find network.dns.disableIPv6 and set the value to true. While I’m eagerly awaiting the widespread deployment of IPv6 – it isn’t here yet. Most places you connect from probably won’t support it anyways, so you might as well turn it off .

• Disable Network prefetching. In about:config find network.prefetch-next and set the value to false. Basically when you visit a page, Firefox tries to guess where you are going next and downloads the pages in advance (AKA: pre-fetch). This is great for getting up a page fast, but it sucks for slow connections (or ones where every byte counts) and it takes up precious CPU power.

Note: At the time of the writing of this entry, I was using Firefox 3.5 RC3. If you are using a previous version of Firefox you may have other addons that you can use, or the addons I list may not work for you. YMMV and all that.

Update 2009-07-04: Another item that might help: Turning down the “Magic bar” max results. Go into about:config and search for “browser.urlbar.maxRichResults” and turn it down from 12 to a more reasonable number, personally I used 4. I felt this sped things up when typing in URL’s a bit.