In all honesty I fell in love with Macs back before they were popular, back in the days of System 7. My Dad used Macs every day, when he worked as a graphic designer for a local newspaper, and even then I could tell that the user interface was just so much ‘better’ than Microsoft’s offering, which back then was Windows 3.1.
Times have changed since then, of course. Now I’m running Mac OS X Leopard on a dual-processor G5 tower. Not new by any means, but it still beats the pants off Vista on my laptop. Of course, Google has had its part to play in driving things forward, revolutionising web searches and pretty much anything we do online. They’ve even brought out their own web browser, but sadly they didn’t think it worth while to port a PPC version of it, so I can’t use that.
However, I can trick out my Firefox to do some of the same things that make Chrome such a fantastic browser.
There are several key areas where I think Chrome has got it spot on. Firstly, it’s simple. Really simple. In the same way that Google revolutionised web searching by stripping away everything but the search box itself, Chrome gives you only the controls you actually need. The result is a user interface that is streamlined, uncomplicated and easy enough that a chimp with one eye could work it without hesitation.
Tabs are also rather cool in Chrome. Putting them at the top actually does make a bit of sense, because it associates the location bar with the tab more logically. It’s perhaps swings and roundabouts with the rest of the controls, admittedly, but I personally like the look of it, and find it easy to use.
Then there’s that insanely wide location bar. Why is it so wide? Oh yeah, there’s no search box. Firefox thought they were so clever when they put a search box next to the location bar. The rest of the competition quickly followed, keen to take advantage of people’s newfound love of searching for stuff. But Chrome took it away again. You might think that was a step backwards – after all, every browser before Firefox, including IE6, had one big location bar too – but Google built in a powerful search tool there too, so that the same box does two things. Again, a nice bit of streamlining there.
Speed is another great arrow in Chrome’s quiver. So great, in fact, that it’s left all the other browsers quaking in their boots and wondering what they’ll have to do to keep up. Part of it, I’m sure, is a psychological thing: it looks simpler, so it must be faster.
And all of that is all very well, but I don’t actually have Chrome. Because it won’t run on my Mac. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy some of the benefits that Chrome introduced.
What you see in the screenshots above is not Chrome, nor is it Safari. It’s Firefox 3.6.3 for Mac. With bells on. Courtesy of a few clever addons, this is how I’ve got it set up:
- Tabs on top, courtesy of the GrApple Crisp theme.
- Mac OS buttons and controls, also courtesy of GrApple Crisp.
- Combined location and search bar. I removed the search bit from the toolbar so that the location bar extends to the whole width, and the CyberSearch addon allows me to search right from there. Almost as clever as Chrome’s.
- Formatted URLs, thanks to the Locationbar2 addon, which greys out the bits of the URL that are not the domain, and basically makes it clearer where you are.
- Combined stop/refresh button, made possible by the Smart Stop/Reload addon. More functionality with fewer buttons makes me happy.
- Tab close buttons on the right, and a whole load of other little tweaks provided by Tab Mix Plus.
That’s what makes my Firefox look the way it does. I’m loving having my tabs up top, I love the clean, streamlined layout, I love that I can search from my location bar, and I love that I still have all the power of Firefox under the hood when I’m busy working. Okay, so Firefox isn’t as fast as Chrome, but no addon is going to solve that one.
Of course, I do have a few other addons installed, either to make my life more bearable or to help me out as a web designer and developer.
- Web Developer. This gives me an indispensable array of tools for inspecting web pages, tweaking features and bug-testing my web sites. Couldn’t live without this. Although at the moment I’ve not got it displayed as a toolbar, because I like the clean interface I’ve got at the moment, but thankfully it’s still accessible from the menu.
- SEO for Firefox. I don’t use this often, but it’s a nice tool to have every now and then to check how web sites are performing on Google.
- Screengrab. This little baby takes a screenshot of a web page. It can grab a selection, everything you can currently see, the whole web page (including below the fold), or even the entire window. And it’ll either save the result as a file or copy it to the clipboard. I use this quite a lot.
- FoxTab. That’s the little icon on the far right of the tab bar. Clicking on that gives me an uber-pretty wall of thumbnails of all my open tabs. Which is very nice.
- Flagfox. This neat little plugin puts a flag in the location bar to tell me where the server of the web site I’m looking at is physically located. It also gives me more information if I click on it. Nice.
- Fangs. If you’re blind or partially-sighted, you’ll know all about JAWS, the industry leader in screen reading technology. The Fangs addon shows me what JAWS would make of a web site, by rendering textually what a traditional screen reader would read out. Useful for making sure my sites are accessible.
- Extended Statusbar. Gives me some useful information in the status bar about how long each page is taking to download, how big it is, and suchlike. A bit like Opera.
- Download Statusbar. Puts the page load progress bar at the bottom of the window, so it’s out of the way. A bit like Opera.
- DOM Inspector. The DOM is the Document Object Model, and is basically the structure behind a web page. This is a useful addon that helps me debug web pages by seeing how each element relates to everything else and what properties it has.
- British English Dictionary. Because there are times when even I make spelling mistakes.
- Adblock Plus. Because no one likes adverts.
So that’s my Firefox. It’s not as fast as Chrome. It’s not even as fast as Safari. But it looks rather dashing, it’s fun yet professional, and gives me everything I need to do my job.