One of the reasons I still use Firefox as my primary browser is because of the reconfigurability of it. Intrigued by articles about Firefox on widescreen displays I read years ago, one from lifehacker.com and another here I implemented their recommendations. Today you’ll find some of their tips out of date but the concept remains sound. Here’s what I’ve done since then.

Wide screen usage with Firefox is superb. With it I can reduce the horizontal and vertical space taken up by tabs and menu bars. Thus I maximize the space for what I want – the content. I also make extensive use of keyboard shortcuts, so extra menus and bars aren’t needed. I also don’t want extra windows popping up or blank pages when downloading attachments.

Here’s the recipe so you can make use of it this way, too. Many of these tips work on Windows, Linux, and Mac OSX. Windows has the full widescreen experience. I’ve used variations on this for the last two or three years. I’m running Firefox 15 at the time of writing.

Widescreen Firefox Recipe

First, install the latest Firefox. I make it my primary browser everywhere except on my work laptop where “the job” requires IE.

Next, install the following add-ons:

Download Statusbar

Turn on “Mini Mode” to replace the Downloads pop-up window. I move the icon into Nav Bar toolbar at the top of the Firefox window.

Nav Bar on Titlebar

This Windows-only add-on (at the time of writing) moves the main Nav Bar to the window’s title bar. There are a few settings one can configure but I keep it to the default.

Stylish

Stylish allows for script installs, scripts that alter web pages’ appearance as well as configuration elements to change the overall appearance of the Firefox interface. The one I use for maximizing Firefox is “Hide Forward/Back Buttons When not Needed“.

One other one I like is “Google Reader Readable” as I’m a heavy Reader user. It’s not required.

Head to UserStyles.org to see a huge collection of scripts you may find useful.

Tab Mix Plus

This extension possesses configuration options about tabs, sessions, and a multitude of tweaks. Spelling them out or even attaching screen shots of every possible tab would push this post even longer than it already is.

Instead, my config is here: TMPpref. You can import it into your TMP. Adjust for your own tastes.

Tiny Menu

UPDATE: Windows has the orange Firefox button. Ubuntu Unity embeds the menu in the top menu bar. Mac OS X does something similar. In all other cases or if you disable those you want Tiny Menu. With it and some toolbar customization you can minimize the vertical space you’d otherwise waste, putting the navigation and tool bars onto one while keeping the horizontal usage in check.

Vertical Tabs

This moves the tab bar from along the top horizontally to along the side vertically. You can drag the tab bar to the left which is where I prefer it. You can also resize the width, which I do. I make it wide enough to see the tab icon.

Final config

Move icons around so the few add-ons you need and some informational icons are on the one title/nav bar. Some might be on the status bar at screen bottom.

Close the status bar when you’re done.

Result

Here’s the final look. Note I have other add-ons installed.

If you’re able to make use of this and it works for you, please leave a comment below. I’d also love to hear about other tips and tricks to maximize browser space.

My trusty ThinkPad X301 running Windows 7 Enterprise was dying. It wouldn’t shut down. It had a hard time starting up. It might Blue Screen of Death (BSoD) while reading email or editing documents. It might decide to not charge either of the two batteries in the case. It might forget that it has a wifi and bluetooth adaptor.

I handed it off to the appropriate internal technical support team. Unfortunately the loaner laptops were all in use. I had three options.

  1. Use my own laptop until my work laptop was fixed
  2. Demand a new laptop without knowing if my current laptop is fixable
  3. Go without a laptop until mine is fixed

Option 3 doesn’t work. I travel too much to go without a laptop. Mobile devices are a gray area, but I shudder to think about editing my budget spreadsheets in an iPad.

Option 2 is within the realm of possibility, but I don’t know what I would take to replace my X301. It doesn’t have the biggest RAM footprint or a current CPU or even competitive graphics. It does have a good display and good battery life and it is light. I’m not due for another laptop until 2013. The longer I can wait the better the hardware will be.

Option 1 is workable. There is only one problem: my laptop is an Apple MacBook Air (late 2011).

My European colleagues can use Apple products. My Asia Pacific colleagues can as well. In the Americas it is a different story. I’ve written about this before.

Nevertheless, things came to a head. I could adhere to the unwritten policy or I could keep working. I chose the latter.

So far the only folks that even care are those in my organisation that would like an Apple option and our VP. I hung a sign on my laptop while using it that told folks: “Don’t Get Your Hopes Up: This is Temporary” for the VP’s benefit. She laughed but also asked how it was working for me.

I told her it’s working well.

The thing is, it’s actually working better than I expected. Here’s why and how.

First, I have a corporate copy of Windows 7 x64 Enterprise running in a Parallels 7 Desktop session. It is on the Active Directory (AD) domain. All of my business applications, even those I could run in OS X, run in the VM. I use Coherence mode to better integrate the Windows apps. It works really well for me.

For the network I carry a USB to 100MB Ethernet adaptor. I assign it to the VM only and use guest wireless access for the MBA. If physical ethernet isn’t available I will fire up a VPN from the VM guest to get it on-line. I can use a USB wireless adaptor as well if I want.

As my team manages the VPN environment, it is a good idea for me to drink our own champagne (as it were). As the head of IT security, the separation of work from personal in a functional way is a powerful example.

I expanded my environment with an Ubuntu guest VM for some GNU and F/OSS tools not available for native Windows for work. I added some of the tools in the MBA via MacPorts just in case.

The other stuff? Being on the domain means links I open in the email client open in IE 9. I can view and edit MS Visio and Project files that can’t be opened in OS X without expensive third-party software using software licenses already assigned to me. I can be permissive and allow opening of files in either environment. I can be restrictive and allow opening files only in one environment.

From the user experience angle, after logging into the VM guest I don’t think much about it. It works really well.