November 27, 2007

How to make Firefox look and feel like IE, Safari, or Opera

Author: Andrew Min

One of the biggest complaints a Firefox evangelist encounters is "it doesn't act or feel like browser X." Internet Explorer users complain that Firefox doesn't look like what they're used to. Opera, Safari, and Netscape users complain that it's missing many of their favorite features. And the social networking gurus point to the powerful social networking features Flock boasts and Firefox lacks. However, all these users overlook one of the most powerful features of Firefox: support for third-party add-ons, which can make emulating the features of other browsers extremely simple.

Making Firefox look and feel like Internet Explorer 6

One of the most popular browsers (and the most popular browser for non-techies) is Internet Explorer (IE) 6. When you're converting relatives to Firefox, IE 6 will most likely be what they're used to.

If you want to make an inexperienced Windows users comfortable with Firefox, you'll first want to make Firefox look exactly like IE. To do this, install the Looks Familiar theme. It will change the toolbars, icons, address bar, search bar, tab bar, and throbber to look exactly as they do (or in the case of the search bar, would do) in Internet Explorer 6. If you're extra picky (or like a good joke), install the Firesomething extension to change the browser's title to "Microsoft Internet Explorer" (or "Mozilla Internet Explorer" or "Microsoft Firefox").

Once you have everything looking just right, you can give Firefox the features of Internet Explorer 6. First, make Firefox mask as Internet Explorer 6. Install the User Agent Switcher and then configure it by going to Tools -> Options -> Add-Ons and clicking the Preferences button for User Agent Switcher. Go to the User Agents tab, click Add..., make the User Agent Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1), the App Name Microsoft Internet Explorer, the Version 4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1), and the Platform Win32.

Making Firefox look and feel like Internet Explorer 7

If your wannabe geek claims that Internet Explorer 7 fixed all the Internet Explorer 6 vulnerabilities (he must not have been around when the first vulnerability was found six days after the launch), you can save him from himself by installing Firefox with a few add-ons.

One of the main upgrades found in Internet Explorer 7 is the skin. Personally, I think it's atrocious unless you're running it under Vista, but for those who like it, the myFireFox skin will give a basic Internet Explorer 7 feel.

Next, add some IE7 functionality to Firefox. The first step is to install the Firefox Showcase extension, which will display thumbnails of all your open tabs in one page. It will even work with the showcase button in the myFireFox skin. Additionally, you'll want to use the aforementioned User Agent Switcher to change your user agent to Internet Explorer 7. The setting is built into the add-on; just select it from the drop-down menu.

The only other tool that IE7 adds is a nice RSS reader, but Firefox's Sage RSS reader is even nicer. It boasts RSS and Atom support, style sheets, bookmarks integration, and tons of languages.

Making Firefox look and feel like Opera

The first step is to make Firefox look like Opera. Kagematuri has a wonderful theme for this purpose, hosted at Im Suden's blog.

One of the newest features in Opera 9 is Speed Dial, which lets users add up to nine pages to a quick loading launcher. Envious Firefox users can stop drooling and download the Speed Dial extension. Once it's installed, users can access their favorite sites from the provided portal or with a keyboard shortcut.

One thing I hate in Firefox is that it has a really weak zoom. Unlike Opera (or even Internet Explorer 7), it only zooms text, not images or any other media. That's where PageZoom comes into play. It will zoom images, Flash videos, and more.

Quite possibly the most touted feature in Opera is the sidebar. Firefox users can get similar capabilities with the All-in-One Sidebar, which lets you view pages, source code, downloads, add-ons, page info, an error console, and as many toolbar buttons as you could wish for.

One of the most useful Opera security tools is the wand, which when clicked automatically enters the username, password, and other form data. To do that in Firefox, try Secure Login.

A real timesaver in Opera is that browser's use of mouse gestures, which work like hotkeys for your mouse. Luckily, a Firefox user came up with a similar tool called Mouse Gestures (Firefox users can be so uncreative). You can go backwards and forwards in your browsing history, close tabs, make new tabs, and do much more just by moving your mouse.

With Opera 9 and above, you can have your browser read a Web page using text-to-speech conversion. If you miss that feature, try out Fire Vox. It requires quite a few non-Firefox programs to run (see the guide for more information), but it does a great job.

Another nice little feature that Opera had is a widget engine. Frankly, I find it useless; I think widgets should be on the desktop as opposed to in a browser. But if you like widgets, try out Firefoxit, which allows you to run drawing pads, sticky notes, Gmail notifiers, and other little applications within Firefox.

Making Firefox look and feel like Safari

Apple's Safari is a pretty cool browser, but it's closed source, runs on Windows and Mac OS X only, and doesn't have add-on support. If you're switching from Safari to Firefox, here are some add-ons to make it resemble your old browser.

Making Firefox look like Safari is dead simple: Install the iSafari theme created by Fear Fox. It's an almost exact replication of Safari's brushed metal interface. You'll also want to install Fission to add a Safari-style progress bar.

There are only a few features in Safari that Firefox doesn't have. One of the best is called SnapBack, which lets you "snap" back to the page you were originally viewing. If you enjoyed that feature in Safari, try out SnapBack or How'd I Get Here.

Another Safari lets users resize text areas to provide for easier editing. Firefox's Resizable Form Fields goes even further: it lets you resize text areas, select boxes, text fields, and even iframes.

Making Firefox look and feel like Flock

Every time I see a story boasting about the Flock browser's features, I think, "Why would anyone use that?" Sure, it has nice social networking features, but all those features are available with Firefox.

First off, get the Flock Theme For Firefox. For some reason, the site claims to support only Firefox 1.5, but the theme actually runs on Firefox 1.0-3.0.

Almost everyone uses Facebook, and Flock does a great job of integrating Facebook out of the box (it basically runs a mobile version). However, Firefox can do the same thing with the Official Facebook Toolbar. It includes a toolbar with notifications, a friends sidebar, and a share button.

Flock also integrates well with Flickr, letting you view your friends' (or anyone else's) photostreams. Luckily, the Flickrfox add-on will do all of that and more.

If you swear by del.icio.us and love the fact that Flock syncs with its bookmarks, try out Foxylicious. It will sync the remote del.icio.us bookmarks with all the Firefox bookmarks.

Another nice built-in feature in Flock is the ability to blog directly to TypePad, Movable Type, WordPress, and Blogger. But Flock isn't the only browser that will do this. All you need to do is install Deepest Sender or ScribeFire (formerly Performancing) in Firefox.

Making Firefox look and feel like Netscape

Believe it or not, the main Netscape theme for Firefox was created by the Netscape team. The theme is called Netstripe, and it is basically an exact replica of Netscape 9. Unfortunately, the team didn't include Linux support (their reasoning was that a tiny search field bug looked bad. I don't use the search bar so I'd have been fine with that). Therefore, I've hacked it for Linux.

You can add a few more Netscape-specific features to Firefox. There really aren't a ton of features in Netscape that Firefox doesn't have (it is, after all, built on Firefox). URL Fixer is a great add-on that corrects domain misspellings. A user named Gomita created a program called ScrapBook that is similar to LinkPad. And you can emulate Propeller integration with Propeller.com Friends' Activity Sidebar and Propeller.com Sitemail Notifier.

Conclusion

You now know how to make Firefox look and feel like virtually any browser. Whenever a fanboy of one of those other browsers explains why his browser "pwns ur fierfox," you have a weapon to refute him. Or when one of your stubborn in-laws explains that she simply doesn't have time to learn Firefox, you can show her she doesn't need to.

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  • Internet & WWW
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