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July 21, 2006

Firefox Tip: Make the active tab more visible


Firefox logo

Change the color of the active tab in Firefox to improve its visibility.


By default, the active tab in Firefox is not very visible, and it becomes less so the more tabs you open in a single browser window.


Changing the color of the active tab makes it easy to see at a glance.

Firefox's tabbed browsing makes it easy to manage having several websites open at once, but with multiple tabs open, it doesn't take long to lose sight of the active tab.  Spending time looking for the active tab reduces the benefit of using multiple tabs. Changing the active tab's color solves the problem by making it stand out in the crowd.


Firefox active tab default


Firefox active tab more visible


Make a quick change to your userChrome.css file, then restart Firefox

Edit your "userChrome.css" file and add:
/* Change color of ACTIVE tab */
    -moz-appearance: none !important;
    background-color: rgb(255, 106, 106) !important;
    color: black !important;
/* Change color of normal tabs */
    background-color: rgb( 70, 130, 180) !important;
    color: white !important;

The colors in the example code above will make your tabs the same colors as mine in the screenshot above; you can use any colors you like.

Note:  You must restart Firefox for this change to take effect.


July 08, 2006

Things I have to recharge

I really like the convenience of rechargeable electronics, but they can also be a headache.  Sometimes I feel like I'm always recharging something, so I thought I'd see just how bad it is by making a list:

Power adapter

Things I have to recharge

  1. Mobile phone
  2. Bluetooth headset
  3. Digital camera
  4. Wireless computer mouse
  5. Notebook computer
  6. Beard trimmer
  7. Electric razor
  8. Electric screwdriver
  9. Dremel rotary tool
  10. Cordless drill
  11. Hedge trimmer

The list is shorter than I expected, but I think the real  challenge is not the number of things to recharge, but managing everything so it's ready when I want to use it.  This can be tough when it comes things I use very rarely, but want to be charged when I need it, like my cordless drill.  It came with two batteries, but despite having used it ~5 times and rotating the batteries once in a while, one is dead & the other holds only a small charge.  I guess that's why it was only $49.  In fact, buying two replacement batteries would cost just about as much as a new drill (of the same type)!

Update: 2007.03.31 - It looks like this may become less of a problem, now that a company called Powercast has invented a way to transmit power without wires!

Not all rechargeable electronics are created equal.  Here are my preferences for the major types: 

  • Ideal:
    • Works with a power cord attached in addition to battery power.  Example: notebook computers.
    • Takes standard batteries (rare these days) in addition to rechargable ones.  Example: my old digital camera (If I ever ran low on power, I could stop at a store or gas station almost anywhere and get batteries.)
  • Reasonable: Permits easy battery swapping.  This is fine, provided battery cost isn't exorbitant.  Example: modern digital cameras.
  • Bad: Uses integrated rechargable batteries.  Example: my electric razor and screwdriver.  Both of these have lasted and performed very well, but why not give them virtually infinite life with a replacable battery?  These devices fall into the category of unnecessarily disposable items, about which I'll write another time.

What's on your list of things to recharge?

Firefox Tip: Search from the address bar


Firefox logo

Use the Firefox address bar instead of the built-in search box to search any website or search engine.


By default, if you enter a search query in Firefox's address bar, the browser will perform a Google "I'm Feeling Lucky" search.  You can change this so it will perform a normal search using Google or any other search engine you want.

Firefox search from address bar


Fewer text input areas = simpler & faster searching

It's much more efficient to use a single input field for all text entry, rather than one for addresses and another for search. This eliminates the need to think about which one to use based on what you want to do, which means one less keyboard shortcut to memorize, and one less decision to make.

Computers can do a pretty good job of figuring out what to do based on what you enter, so let the browser work for you, and get in the habit of always using the same keyboard shortcut to jump to the address bar, whether you're navigating or searching.  After you try it for a while, you'll wonder why anyone would want two text input areas. No, it's not perfect, but it works great 99% of the time.

One less thing on the toolbar

Now you can free up space on the toolbar by removing Firefox's built-in search box (right-click on the toolbar, select Customize, and drag the search box off the toolbar).  If you were using it to access other search engines, try setting up Quick Searches for those instead.  Quick Searches use the address bar, and let you quickly perform a search on any website or search engine.


Make a quick change to your user.js file, then restart Firefox

Edit your "user.js" file, and add:

// Change to normal Google search:
user_pref("keyword.URL", "http://www.google.com/search?btnG=Google+Search&q=");

You can substitute the URL with the appropriate syntax for whatever search engine you want to use.

You may have heard about making changes like this by typing "about:config" in the address bar, but as far as I can tell, those changes apply only to the current browser session, and don't persist when you restart.

Note: You must restart Firefox for this change to take effect.


July 04, 2006

Firefox Tip: Enable instant "find as you type" in your browser window


Firefox logo 

Instantly find and jump to any link or text in a web page just by typing into your Firefox browser window.  No keyboard shortcut required.


As part of the Accessibility functionality, the Mozilla developers made it possible to "find as you type" without using a keyboard shortcut.  You can set this up by enabling "Begin finding when you begin typing" in Firefox, which takes less than 10 seconds. 


This makes finding anything on a web page almost effortless, and eliminates the need to do something (e.g. use a keyboard shortcut) to tell the browser you want to start searching.

Why go through extra steps when you want to find something on a web page?  Once you try this, you'll see it's really fast & convenient to be able to just start typing when you think of something you want to find on a web page.

Great for finding a tag in a tag cloud

This is a generally useful trick, but it's also a perfect solution for finding tags in a busy tag cloud, since you often know the name of the tag you want, but have to find it among many others.

I'm discussing this in the context of  del.icio.us tag clouds since mine is pretty large, and that's what inspired me to start using this technique.  One of the strengths of del.icio.us is that it facilitates using a lot of tags.  Unfortunately, if you do so, it soon becomes a challenge to visually locate and click on the one you want.  "Find as you type" solves this problem.

SCREENSHOT: Firefox find as you type in tagcloud

Screencast demo: See it in action

The best way to see the benefit of this is to try it, but you can get a sense of it by watching the screencast I made to demonstrate how this works:

SCREENSHOT: Firefox find as you type tagcloud demo 

(This is my first screencast, and it was very easy to create using Wink, so I want to thank the developers for this great free software!)


Enable "Begin finding when you begin typing" in 2 easy steps:

  1. Go to the menu and navigate to: Tools - Options - Advanced - General
  2. Select "Begin finding when you begin typing"
    • SCREENSHOT: Firefox Begin finding when you begin typing


To use it:

  1. Go to any web page and start typing a word you see on the page.
  2. When the link you want is selected, press "Enter" to open it.

Tips & Tricks

  • Try this on any web page that has text and links.
  • Try this with your tag cloud on your del.icio.us start page.
    • If you don't use del.icio.us, or don't have enough tags to warrant searching, try it with the main del.icio.us tag cloud that I used in the screencast.
  • If your cursor ends up on a word in the link title or notes that you don't want, just press "F3" to find the next instance.
  • I haven't seen an obvious way to do the equivalent of this in Internet Explorer; if you know how, please comment.


  • Mozilla Documentation / Keyboard Feature: Find as You Type
    • A bit out-dated, and this feature is now implemented via dialog boxes, but the documentation provides some tweaks some may find useful.