Firefox Tweak Guide
[Page 3] The Basics
It may seem odd to have this question here, but given all the hype surrounding Firefox, let's sort out the facts first up.
Mozilla Firefox - simply called 'Firefox' for short - is basically a free Internet browser, the same in many ways as Internet Explorer, Chrome, Opera or Safari for example. These browsers are all vying for a greater slice of market share in the increasingly competitive browser market, and the resulting competition has meant that they have all improved greatly in the past few years; the latest version of each browser now provides a solid set of features, good security, and sufficiently fast speed. What Firefox supporters claim as being a key benefit of Firefox above all the other browsers is the fact that it is highly customizable, both in terms of its appearance and, more importantly, its functionality, through a large range of free add-ons, along with several other customization methods. Firefox also has several unique features which you may find very useful, perhaps indispensable, and which are covered in the next two sections of this guide.
You can download and use Firefox alongside all your other browsers and web-based applications - even Internet Explorer - without any problems whatsoever. It won't conflict with other browsers, it doesn't take over your system or install dozens of useless background programs which clutter your PC. If you choose to uninstall Firefox, it doesn't leave a mess behind either; it's quite light and totally safe to install and use. At the end of the day I recommend that you do yourself a favor, step out of your comfort zone for a moment, and put in maybe 30 minutes to download, install and play around with Firefox. If you're still not interested, then that's fine. I have a detailed chapter on tweaking Internet Explorer in the TweakGuides Tweaking Companion which you can use instead.
Firefox 21 is the most recent "major" release of Firefox. It is not a major release in terms of a large number of new features or noticeable changes. Instead the new version numbering system, which has resulted in so many major versions of Firefox being released so quickly, is evidence of Mozilla's accelerated release strategy. The most significant changes include:
Firefox 4.0 can be considered the last real "major release" of Firefox, containing a large number of significant changes. It was released in March 2011, following on from the previous major release of Firefox which was version 3.6 way back in January 2010. The most noticeable changes in Firefox 4.0 include:
Because of Mozilla's accelerated release program, and thus several "major" versions of Firefox being released in the space of only a few months, throughout this guide, the most notable changes and features introduced in the latest versions of Firefox are denoted separately, such as New to Firefox 4.0. This allows previous users who may not have used Firefox recently to quickly get acquainted with all the recent major changes, especially the genuinely significant changes Firefox 4.0 introduced.
If you're running an older version of Firefox it is strongly recommended that you download and install the latest version of Firefox as soon as possible, if only for the performance and stability improvements if nothing else.
For optimal results I recommend that anyone who has an older version of Firefox - especially any version prior to Firefox 4.0 - do a full uninstall and cleanout of their previous version (as detailed further below) before installing the latest version. This will ensure that all features work correctly, that all traces of potentially incompatible extensions, preferences and other customizations are removed, and that the browser performs optimally. This is not essential, especially if you're just doing an incremental upgrade, but it's always best to start with a completely clean slate between each major version in my opinion.
Downloading and Installing Firefox
The Firefox browser is a completely free download, and quite a small package at that. The system requirements for Firefox are very modest - virtually any computer using a relatively recent version of Windows, Linux, or Mac OS X can run Firefox.
Primary Download Link: Download the latest version of Firefox here.
International Users: To download the correct version for your operating system and language, go here and click on the relevant link. This is recommended in particular for features like the built-in spell checker which are region-specific.
Release Notes: You can check the Firefox Release Notes to see the specific differences in each version of Firefox under various platforms up to and including the current version.
Once you've downloaded the installation package, installing Firefox is simple: just launch the package and follow the prompts. If you've downloaded a special build of Firefox which comes as a .zip archive and has no installer, simply create a new Mozilla Firefox folder under your \Program Files directory (or \Program Files (x86) for 64-bit users) and extract its contents there. You can then start Firefox by running the Firefox.exe file.
Note that during the initial installation of Firefox, you will be asked whether you want to import your current bookmarks, saved passwords, browsing history etc. I recommend that you select Yes to this option, as it will make the transition to using Firefox much easier. However if you say No at this point, you can still return to this option at a later date if you need to.
Using Firefox for the First Time
If you're not familiar with Firefox, that's not a problem. Firefox is virtually identical to Internet Explorer in its core functionality and interface, so using it is fairly intuitive. Most everything works the way you would expect it to. The most noticeable differences are: a slightly different - and highly customizable - appearance; a unified Firefox button which provides access to the major settings; the lack of a 'click' sound when you click on hyperlinks; and the ability to use Add-ons of various types. Of course Firefox has a lot more features and benefits than just these, but these are the more obvious things you may notice at first over Internet Explorer.
Since Internet Explorer is still the most popular Internet browser in the world, Firefox is designed to quickly and automatically adopt your existing Internet Explorer bookmarks. You may have already imported done this as part of the Firefox installation process, however if you haven't, or if you want to update these again at any time, click the orange Firefox button at the top left and then click the Bookmarks item. In the Library window which opens, click the 'Import and Backup' button, then select the 'Import HTML' item. Select 'Microsoft Internet Explorer' from the list shown, and then follow the prompts. Your IE bookmarks will be imported and placed in a 'From Internet Explorer' folder under your Bookmarks.
One of the major advantages of Firefox is the fact that its appearance and functionality can be altered to suit your tastes in many more ways than Internet Explorer can, and it has a range of features you may have never seen before. Make absolutely sure you read the Firefox Settings and Features, Tips and Trick sections of this guide carefully. Then once you're across those and have had a chance to play around with Firefox for a bit, you might like to try the Advanced Tweaking section to really customize and optimize Firefox to your liking. If you're not sure where to go or what to try first, just keep reading along and see what interests you.
If you have an old version of Firefox, or a beta version of Firefox, I recommend that you completely uninstall it, do a thorough cleanout of any traces of it as covered below, and then install the latest full Firefox package. This will prevent a wide range of problems down the track, particularly as settings and customizations from previous Firefox versions may conflict with, hide, or hinder certain new Firefox features or performance benefits. Furthermore, if you're experiencing strange issues in any version of Firefox at any time, doing a complete uninstall and cleanout as covered below is also recommended as a last resort to help resolve this.
To completely remove all traces of Firefox from your system for whatever reason, follow these steps:
1. Backup your bookmarks. In Firefox 3.6, go to the Bookmarks menu and select 'Organize Bookmarks'; in Firefox 4 onwards click the Firefox button and then click the Bookmarks item. In the Library window which opens, click the 'Import and Backup' button, then select either the Backup item or the 'Export HTML' item. The difference between .HTML and .JSON Bookmark files is explained in more detail at the beginning of the Advanced Tweaking section of the guide. The .JSON format is optimal for use by Firefox, but if in doubt, export your Bookmarks in both formats for maximum compatibility.
2. Note down any saved passwords you may wish to keep. Under the Tools>Options menu in Firefox 3.6, or Firefox button>Options in Firefox 4 onwards, go to the Security tab and click the 'Saved Passwords' button. Click the 'Show Passwords' button at the bottom of this box and all your saved login details for various sites will be shown. You may also wish to note down any optimizations, the names of particular add-ons you've installed, or other changes you've made which you wish to repeat if you want to reinstall Firefox.
3. Go to the Windows Control Panel>Add/Remove Programs in Windows XP; or Windows Control Panel>Programs & Features in Windows Vista/7, and if a 'Mozilla Firefox' entry (or similar) exists, select it and click the Change/Remove or Uninstall button and uninstall it. During uninstallation, I recommend ticking the 'Remove my Firefox personal data and customizations' box as well - this will delete all of your bookmarks and saved settings, so make sure you've performed steps 1 and 2 above first.
4. Go to your \Program Files (x86)\Mozilla Firefox directory and delete it and all of its contents if it still exists.
5. To remove all Firefox profile data, delete the following directories if they still exist:
In Windows XP:
\Documents and Settings\[username]\Application Data\Mozilla
\Documents and Settings\[Username]\Local Settings\Application Data\Mozilla
In Windows Vista/7/8:
This will ensure that all remaining custom data relating to your profile, any cached files, any files relating to installed extensions and themes for Firefox, will all be removed from your system.
6. Find and remove all of the major Firefox/Mozilla-related entries in the Windows Registry. Using the Windows Registry Editor (Start>Run>Regedit), delete any of the following keys if they exist - that is, right click on their name in the left pane of Registry Editor and select Delete:
Note: If you also have Mozilla Thunderbird or any other Mozilla products installed, make sure to only delete entries/folders which specifically relate directly to Firefox by name. If you're not confident with using the Registry Editor, see the Windows Registry chapter of the TweakGuides Tweaking Companion for more detailed instructions.
The steps above will remove all the major Firefox-related settings and traces on your system. In the majority of cases you should only have to undertake Steps 1 - 3 of the above list. However again I must stress that if you are updating to to the latest major version of Firefox from a pre-4.0 build of Firefox, or are having strange problems with Firefox and nothing else in this guide works to resolve it, or if you simply want to remove all traces of Firefox from your system, then I strongly suggest you follow all the steps above. On the other hand keep in mind that you do not need to uninstall Firefox when updating for incremental versions of Firefox which don't contain major changes; just use the built-in updater to install the latest version.
On the next page we start looking at how to correctly configure Firefox's in-browser options - this is very important and should not be skipped.