Firefox Tips and Tweaks From Hassle-Free PC

Sure, you use Firefox, but are you really making the most of it? I mean, I know plenty of users who never bother to change the home page, even though they always go straight to another site upon starting the browser. (Just make that site your home page, people!) This week I've got a few useful tricks for your favorite browser.

Four Things You Didn't Know About Firefox Browser Tabs

I've found that not everyone knows everything they should know about Firefox tabs. For example:

They're easy to create: Just tap Ctrl-T to open a new, blank tab. Or, if you want to open a Web link in a tab of its own, just click it with your mouse wheel.

They're drag-and-drop: You can change your tabs' order just by dragging and dropping them as you see fit.

They can return from the dead: If you accidentally close a tab you need, just right-click the tab toolbar and choose Undo Close Tab. (You can also press Ctrl-Shift-T if you're a shortcut junkie like me.) Presto: The last tab you closed magically reappears.

They can multiply on startup: Want to open multiple tabs every time you start Firefox? Say, one for Google and another for PC World? (Hey, can't a guy squeeze in a little nepotism?) Just open the tabs you want (and close all others), click Tools, Options, and then click the Main tab. Finally, click Use Current Pages. Now, whenever you start Firefox, those two sites will magically appear!

Of course, don't forget my all-time favorite tab trick: the PermaTabs extension, which temporarily makes tabs permanent.

Change the Speed of Mousewheel Scrolling in Firefox

After the mouse itself, the mousewheel is the single greatest navigation tool ever invented. Mine is spinning constantly, especially in Firefox, where I use it to zip up and down Web pages.

By default, however, one "turn" of the mouse wheel scrolls only a few lines at a time--and I want to move faster. Fortunately, there's a fairly easy way to adjust Firefox's scroll speed. Even better, there's a keyboard shortcut that can slow it down again for "precision" scrolling.

First, here's how to change the default scroll speed:

  1. Open Firefox, then type about:config in the address bar and hit Enter.
  2. In the Filter box, type mousewheel.withnokey.
  3. Right-click mousewheel.withnokey.sysnumlines and then click Toggle. This should set the value to False.
  4. Right-click mousewheel.withnokey.numlines and then click Modify.
  5. Bump the value to 6 or so and click OK.

Switch to another tab to see if you like the scroll speed. (Thankfully, you don't have to restart Firefox every time you make a change.) If not, experiment a bit until you find a number you like.

I keep mine at 7, though there are times when I want--or even need--the option of scrolling more slowly.

Solution: I hold down the Alt key. That drops Firefox back to line-at-a-time scrolling until I release the key.

Add Firefox's Spell-Check Feature to Forms

Firefox 3 comes with a handy-dandy built-in spell-checker. If you've ever used, say, Google Docs or posted a message in an online forum, you've probably seen it at work: A red line appears under each misspelled word. Right-click the word to see spelling suggestions (along with the usual context-menu options).

It's a great feature, but it has just one shortcoming: It doesn't work in Web forms. Well, not yet, anyway: It's a simple matter to tweak the spell checker so it pulls form duty. Here's how:

  1. Open Firefox, then type about:config in the address bar and hit Enter.
  2. In the Filter box, type spellcheck.
  3. Right-click layout.spellcheckDefault, and then click Modify. Raise the value from 1 to 2.
  4. Restart Firefox.

Now the spell-checker should work in most online forms.

Rick Broida writes PC World's Hassle-Free PC blog. Sign up to have Rick's newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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