Doesn't Not Compute

My log of experiences with GNU/Linux and computers in general.

Tweaking Firefox for Netbooks

Let’s face it, Firefox’s default interface wastes a horrid amount of screen space. Three toolbars, a tab bar, and an information bar that occaisionally pops up on the top AND a status bar at the bottom.Β  My netbook can display 1366×768 resolution, sure — but that’s still only on an 11″ screen! Considering that desktop environments often have at least one taskbar, and the window manager has a title bar, this doesn’t leave much space at ALL to view what’s important — your email, your news, whatever.

And then there’s the other downside to netbooks: a low-performance CPU. Modern website designers seem to have this misconception that Flash is a good thing. The reality is that even if it’s the right tool for the job, it uses an obscene number of CPU cycles — which translates to CPU load, which translates to reduced battery life.

So, in this sequel/continuation of my “Less Browser, More Web” article, I’m going to demonstrate how to gain the most screen estate possible. Additionally, I will mention a couple add-onsΒ  that can reduce the load websites will put on your computer. Note that if you like using multiple profiles, you will have to apply these changes to each profile individually.

Warning to dial-up users: this post is image-heavy. Seriously. I doubt you’d be viewing this entry on a netbook, considering netbooks don’t have modems anymore, but if someone comes along viewing this at home with dial-up to learn how to set up the netbook they only use wirelessly on-the-go… well, I’d feel cruel not to warn them. πŸ˜€

Building On What’s Already Available

First of all, we’ll see what can be done without installing addons or themes.

Firefox Default Layout

That’s what we have to work with. (Freshly created profile, haven’t even closed the Info Bar.) Right-click an empty parth of the menu bar (ie, not on a word), and select “Customize” from the menu that appears. Check the box labeled “Use small icons”, as depicted below:

Setting Firefox to use smaller


Next, let’s rearrange what’s in those toolbars, shall we? Drag everything from the Navigation Toolbar (where the Address Bar is by default) into the Menu Toolbar, at the left of the File, Edit, etc menus. If you don’t want a button, just drag-and-drop it into the “Customize Toolbar” window. I recommend getting rid of the search bar, as I personally don’t use it — I set my homepage to the Secure Scroogle search engine scraper. This way, I can simply press Alt-Home to go straight to the search engine. Remember this key combo if you decide to lose the Home button, like I show in the example picture. Click “Done” when you’re satisfied with the arrangement.

To not show the tabbar when there is only one tab, open Preferences (Tools -> Options on Windows, Edit -> Preferences on GNU/Linux), click the “Tabs” button, and uncheck the “Always show the tab bar” checkbox. There is another alternative to this, if you don’t mind installing an extension. I’ll discuss it later.

Of course, we now have two empty, ugly toolbars. Right-click one of them again, and uncheck “Navigation Bar” and “Bookmarks Bar”. If you love your bookmarks, you can always reopen the “Customize Toolbar” window again and drag the Bookmarks icon into the Menu toolbar, resulting in this:

We’ve already done a lot to gain some screen space, no? Well, there’s still more we can do. There is of course the simple View -> uncheck “Status Bar” option, but that is more of a pain than it’s worth. I’ll discuss an easier alternative later.

They Came from the Mozilla Community!

I’ve mentioned some of these addons before, but they have continued to serve me well. I haven’t used “Personal Menu” for some time, but I will likely reinstall it when a new version supporting Linux is released.

Compact Menu 2: Removes the series of menus (File, Edit, etc.) and replaces them with a single button. If you click this button, a menu appears listing those File, Edit, etc. menus. There is an option for changing the icon used on the button, but I see no need to change it, so I haven’t tested it.
The Stratini theme: Designed to be very compact, especially combined with the aforementioned “Use Small Icons” tweak. Looks much better than Classic Compact, in my opinion.
Stylish: User style theme manager, makes it much easier to install, use, and remove CSS styles — including most that modify the user interface itself — without requiring to edit UserChrome.css or UserContent.css and restart Firefox. Download and install styles from UserStyles.org with just two clicks, or write your own.

These three, combined:

(Yes, the titlebar andΒ  status bar are gone, sorry. I had an image problem, and couldn’t track down the original.)

Firing the Terminated Redundant Department of Redundancy

The “New Tab” button, located next to the last open tab, isn’t really necessary. You can right-click an existing tab, or anywhere in the tab bar, and select “New Tab”; you can open the File menu and select “Open New Tab”; you can even right-click a link and select “Open in a New Tab”. You can even double-click So what’s with this extra way of doing things? Let’s lose this.

While you can do this manually by creating/editing your profile’s userChrome.css, as mentioned here, I’d recommend using the excellent and complete capabilities of Stylish and the resources of userstyles.org. πŸ˜‰ Makes things much easier to add, remove, and edit — without hunting down your profile folder.

Specifically, go to http://userstyles.org/styles/16653 and click the “Install with Stylish” button, then click “Install”. Poof, bye-bye New Tab button! :mrgreen:

For the record, the “Remove List All Tabs Including Container” style will get rid of the down-arrow that lists all existing tabs — but this actually get in the way if you have more tabs open than fit in the screen. The scrolling tabs feature can be more pain than it’s worth.

Push Things Aside

Sometimes you might want to see more of the page, but you’re constantly switching between tabs — so fullscreen (F11) view would get in your way. Or you just want to hide a couple toolbars temporarily, but don’t want to go through menus and dialogs.

Enter “Hide GUI bars“. With just a key combo (Ctrl-Shift-A by default), you can hide anything from one toolbar to all of them, depending on how you configure it.

TIP: Setting this add-on to hide ALL of the toolbars doesn’t leave the the narrow mouse-over bar at the top like the “fullscreen” view does. πŸ˜‰

TIP #2: The first time you start Firefox after installing this add-on, it will be active and none of your toolbars will be visible. Just use the key combination (Ctrl-Shift-A) to toggle them back on. Remember, the toggle state of this add-on when you shut down Firefox is the state it will be in when you start Firefox again. If the toolbars aren’t visible when you close, they won’t be when you open. Remember the key combination, it is your friend!

My Preferred setup

I prefer keeping the address bar always visible — with the Stratini theme, it’s extremely narrow height-wise. More importantly πŸ™„ I don’t have to re-hide the toolbars again when I press Alt-D or Ctrl-L to enter a new URL in the Address Bar.

Since this I’m using a window manager has an option to easily hide the title bar — namely Openbox — I can simply right-click the titlebar and choose “Un/Decorate”, and gain a few more pixels vertically

So, here is the fruit of your hard instruction-following πŸ˜† :

Firefox, minimal GUI

Click picture for somewhat larger view

That ought to be enough screen space to comfortable check up on the latest issue of Questionable Content, XKCD, or whatever your favorite webcomic is, right? πŸ˜‰ Or, oh I don’t know, read your email like a serious person. πŸ™„

Increase Time On-Battery

I haven’t discussed the other things you can do to both reduce Firefox’s drain on your battery and improve your security and browser experience at the same time yet. So let’s take care of that!

These plugins will help reduce the CPU usage.

  • Easiest thing to do: Install Flashblock, then follow the “Customize Menu” process to add the button to toggle it on and off. All Flash videos, ads, games — everything Flash-based, won’t be loaded or played. Which is very good, because the Flash player on Linux is pretty CPU-intensive.
  • Install NoScript. This will prevent all JavaScript, Java, and Flash from being executed unless you add the site to a “whitelist” of trusted sites. Scripts take time to run, even with modern computers and browsers — and by time, I mean CPU time. Time equals energy.
  • You could install AdBlock Plus so that ads — especially animated ads — are not rendered, but personally I use other methods. Which I’ll discuss at a later time and link to here. πŸ™‚

NoScript is very, very annoying at first, as you have to explicitly tell it to trust a site or domain before it will let any JavaScript run — whether Facebook, Youtube, or anywhere else. There are instructions for backing up and restoring your “Trusted” list here. However, I haven’t found any lists of trusted sites available — and such lists shouldn’t necessarily be trusted anyway. This security stuff is a very complicated topic, however, and frankly much of it is still over my head.

Well, That’s All Folks!

That’s all of the tweaks and suggestions I’ve found or come up with, I’m afraid. I hope they are of some use to people, as they took a long time to compile together and write here. Please, feel free to leave comments and suggestions below! πŸ™‚

I didn’t mention a few additional ideas I’ve had, because I haven’t had the chance to test just what effect they would have on battery life and browsing performance. They mainly have to do with the disk cache and some other obscure configuration options, so if anyone finds/tries any before I do, please mention them in the comments below.

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3 responses to “Tweaking Firefox for Netbooks

  1. Pingback: Ubuntu Netbook Edition 10.04 Beta 1 « Doesn't Not Compute

  2. ArtessDacrave April 15, 2010 at 3:02 am

    Hello! Can you tell me how i can register mail at http://google.com

    • mulenmar April 15, 2010 at 4:20 am

      Go to http://www.google.com, click the “Gmail” link at the top of the page, and click the “Create an Account” button.

      Personally I’m looking for a different email provider, as Google is getting pretty well know for its privacy issues and Yahoo isn’t much better. 😦

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