May 30, 2008

Bling your browser with PimpMyCamino

Author: Lisa Hoover

As the Mozilla-based OS X Web browser project Camino continues to grow, so do the number of add-ons and plugins at PimpMy Camino. Although PimpMyCamino is not officially endorsed by the Camino developers, the project's Web site calls it "your one-stop shop for Camino add-ons."

While there aren't as many ways to accessorize Camino as its cousin Firefox, there are still some useful options to enhance the look and feel of this popular open source browser. Camino's plugins can be divided roughly into two groups: things that please the eye, and things enhance productivity. Let's have a look at both.

Window dressing

Though Camino ships with a perfectly nice default set of icons, there are more than 45 additional sets to choose from. Icons are a highly personal and subjective choice, but fortunately there is a wide range of visual appeal to the available sets. Some, like Camino Graphite and Amsterdam Purple, just change the icons' colors, while others, such as Bluesoullight and Cube, only change icons' shapes. There's also a few that change icons' graphics entirely. GANT adds a 3-D feel, while Foood is reminiscent of the rounded blue icons typically associate with Microsoft products.

Installing new icon sets for Camino is an easy process, but does require users to download visual theme editor Caminicon first, then follow a series of steps to get the icons working. The Web site has full installation instructions. After that, it's simply a matter of installing icon sets until you find one you like.

The advent of tabbed browsing means that tab themes are beginning to catch on. By default, all of Camino's open tabs are the same drab gray color, and the active tab is just a few shades lighter than the other tabs open in the same browser window. If you want to quickly close tabs, it's difficult to tell at a glance which tab is in front, and which are open behind it. The answer is to make the active tab a different color than the others.

There are almost 40 tab themes to choose from, and some are more useful than others. Aqua Blue Tabs, for example, has a default color so dark that it's difficult to read the text. Fortunately, the color was eventually toned down and the theme has been re-released in two more iterations: Aqua Tabs Revisited and Aqua Tabs Revisited 2. Other themes have different color options, ranging from emerald green to variousshades of gray, while Plastic Tabs removes all color whatsoever from the tab. Again, whichever theme you choose is simply a matter of whatever strikes your fancy.

Users who frequently switch between Firefox and Camino may be frustrated that the close tab button in Camino is on the opposite side of the tab of where it is in Firefox. Red Close Tab Button is a useful plugin that serves as a clear reminder that the close button on Camino tabs is on the left, not the right as it is in Firefox. This was one of the first plugins I installed, after realizing I kept trying to click on a close button that wasn't where I thought it was. A trivial thing, I know, but a timesaver nonetheless.

If you like to customize your software down to the last detail, PimpMyCamino has more than 20 application icons to choose from. Camino Blue is a no-fuss, two-color, basic icon, while Flarup Apple sports about 10 colors and busy graphics. Some icon apps, such as Off-Kilter, offer visual cues about the associated app, while others are just plain funny. CamiBert includes a picture of well-known Sesame Street character Bert, while El Camino riffs on the broswer's name with a picture of an old Chevy.

Under the hood

Power Camino users have lots of options when it comes to add-ons and builds. In addition to plugins that automatically fetch nightly builds, there are several scripts and Web development tools that integrate nicely into the browser. I've been running CaminoKnight 3.0 and testing the optimized Intel Core 2 Duo version of Camino for weeks with nary a glitch or crash.

On a related note, you'll find the Portable Camino build on the Web site's Optimized Build page, if you want to take a browser along with you on a portable device or USB thumb drive.

Camino Bookmarklets is a full page of one-click tools that add functionality to various aspects of the browsing experience. Some adjust the font display, while others target scrolling and image settings. Several of the bookmarklets access Camino's about:config settings, and a handful show various kinds of information about a given Web page -- user agent info, cookies, passwords, and so on. The more I use Camino, the more I find myself returning to this page to see if a bookmarklet exists for tasks I perform regularly -- such as referencing or creating TinyURLs.

To install, scan the list of available bookmarklets, and when you find one you like, either control-click its link and chose "Bookmark this link" or drag it to your Bookmark bar. If you want the whole kit and kaboodle, download the entire file and add the bookmarklets to your bookmarks via File -> Import Bookmarks.

Though there are already a multitude of settings accessible via the Preference pane, users can access even more with some additional extensions. GrowlCamino 1.6 provides notifications via Growl, and KioskMode 1.0 helps you tweak settings so you can use Camino for presentations. MoreCamino 1.0 helps users access hidden preferences for better content control, and UnifyCamino 1.9 lets you make changes to the bookmark, tool, and status bars. With the exception of KioskMode, I tested these plugins and they worked exactly as advertised, but I didn't see any practical use for most of the added functionality in my daily workflow.

I do, however, appreciate the AppleScripts for Mac users that automate certain processes that occur within the browser. For instance, I use RSS2GR to send my RSS feeds to Google Reader (scripts are also available for other feed readers), and the Google Notebook Extension to open my notebooks in the sidebar.

Several AppleScripts let you manage URLs, including the aptly named Shorten URL and Save URL to Desktop. Or use Clone Tab to automatically open a new tab with the same URL as the active tab. I get a lot of use from Combine Windows, which unifies all open browser windows into a single window with multiple tabs. When I'm having trouble rendering a Web page in Camino (which isn't often), I fall back on an AppleScript that opens the current URL in Safari.

While not strictly an AppleScript, Mac users will also want to check out the Camino Plugin for Quicksilver, which adds access to your bookmarks via the popular Quicksilver user interface extension for Mac OS X.

No visit to PimpMyCamino is complete without a visit to the Miscellaneous page to find goodies that don't fit in the other categories. Here's where you can get Camino wallpaper, user banners, stamps, a watermark, and more. There are even a few add-ons worth checking out, including FireTabs, which adds behaviors like Cmd-# tab switching and close tab on middle click that are common to Firefox.

Plenty of people use and enjoy Camino without adding extra plugins. If you're in the mood to tweak your settings or try new functionality, however, you're sure to find lots of things to keep you busy at PimpMyCamino.


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