Back to Firefox

Firefox Web Browser

I’ve been using Chrome on my work laptop for the past few years. It’s what most of my colleagues use and a sizable portion of the customers I interact with use Chrome too. So I sort-of fell into it.

But I never really loved the idea of using Chrome as my default browser because I don’t like how much power and influence Google has over the web in general. Chrome perpetuates that. Ideally, I would be using something that was developed by anyone else.

Prior to joining Automattic, I was using Safari on macOS, but that’s not a viable option for my work laptop because of browser extension limitations. We have a browser extension that we develop internally that’s vital for my work and it can’t be built for Safari — it’s Chrome- and Firefox-only.

I was a die-hard Firefox user back during my Windows days in the mid-2000s. And truthfully, my heart has always been with Firefox. It’s neck-and-neck with Microsoft Edge for market share and is developed outside of the largest technology companies. It’s always been the underdog and I like rooting for the underdog.

They develop their own browser engine too. Even though I appreciate consistency in the rendering of HTML and CSS, I don’t like that practically every web browser is built on WebKit or Blink. I want a viable alternative. And a viable alternative developed by someone outside of The Big Five.

My setup is pretty customized with browser extensions, bookmarks, and whatnot. And just about my entire workday is in a web browser, so making the switch is pretty serious business. I need everything to be reliable and just work.

There were some quirks to start, but after some customizations, add-ons, settings changes, and hacks, I’m falling in love with Firefox all over again.

I’m using the MacOS – Safari (Big Sur) – Light theme, which gives the browser a delightfully light feel without sacrificing too much contrast in the tabs bar. Aside from the Automattic-developed internal tool, I also use the following browser extensions:

  • 1Password: My current password manager of choice, which recently added support for Touch ID.
  • Firefox Multi-Account Containers: This helps keep browsing of selected domains separate from the rest. I currently have containers for Facebook and Amazon, but plan to add one for Google as well.
  • Load Progress Bar: Displays a progress bar along the top of the webpage when loading. I have it configured with a blue bar for normal windows and a purple one for private windows.
  • RSSPreview: I wish every browser on the market offered RSS feed previews, but unfortunately that isn’t the case.
  • Stylus: Allows me to add custom stylesheets for specific websites. At the moment it’s only used to make some adjustments to internal Automattic tools and communication channels.
  • Tampermonkey: Let’s you run custom scripts for specific websites. Only currently used to customize the functionality of internal Automattic tools.
  • Translate Web Pages: Chrome had this feature built-in, but on Firefox it requires an extension. I’ve tried a handful and this seems like the best one.
  • Wallabagger: I recently switched to Wallabag, a read later service with a self-hosted option. This extension lets me quickly save links to it.

Firefox also offers some more obscure settings through the Configuration Editor, accessible with about:config in the address bar. I feel like I’ve made a handful of adjustments there, but the only one that jumps out to me as crucial is setting browser.urlbar.trimURLs to false. This prevents Firefox from hiding the protocol portion of the URL in the address bar.

But the customization doesn’t stop there, Firefox offers even more options through a custom stylesheet file named userChrome.css that you can add to a specific location within your profile folder.

I’m not too fond of the new design of tabs in Firefox, which was introduced in version 89. But has a tool that can generate a CSS snippet to add to userChrome.css and customize the look of tabs. I set mine to no tab corner rounding, connect the tabs to the toolbar, use compact height, and using a vertical bar.

Another annoyance was the lack of visual distinction between private browsing windows and regular browsing windows. But I was able to find a userChrome.css snippet on Reddit that changes the background color of the tab bar to purple in private browsing windows. I use private windows frequently for work-related tasks and this helps ensure I won’t get my windows mixed up.

And lastly, I added the following in userChrome.css to hide the action buttons that appear on the right-hand side of the browser address bar:

/* Hide page actions buttons in URL bar */
#page-action-buttons { display: none !important;}

I don’t find those buttons to be particularly useful. And the ones built-in to Firefox and added through my collection of extensions were accessible in other ways. I would rather just have the clean URL bar.

I’m so happy to be using a browser that offers a deep level of customizability again. And one that’s developed by a company that shares my enthusiasm for a free and open web. It’s far more important than most of us realize and I hope there’s a lot more effort aiming in that direction in the future. From more than just Mozilla.