May 26, 2008

Making the most of your browser screen real estate

Author: Rob Strover

My Asus Eee PC 701 is a brilliant low-cost ultraportable notebook, but it has a really small screen (seven inches diagonally). I needed to find out how to make the best use of the available area when I was using the Firefox Web browser. I used F11 to toggle the browser's built-in full screen mode, in which a modified navigation toolbar and optional tab bar are all that is displayed above a Web page, but I yearned for something even better. I found two add-ons that could meet my needs.

Extension series

With the FullerScreen extension, when you press the F11 key the current Web page is displayed over the entire screen -- no menus or toolbars. If you move the mouse pointer to the top or bottom of the screen area, the extension will display a full screen navigation bar, the status bar, and, if appropriate, the tab bar.

Via the extension options menu you can to alter some aspects of what is displayed under these conditions, but despite there being options available to change which toolbars are exposed when you point to the screen edge with the mouse, in practice you can see only the navigation toolbar. Still, this does not really detract from the usefulness of this extension. The ability to expose the navigation toolbar means that it is easy to open a new tab, navigate to a new Web page, or initiate a Web search.

When you install FullerScreen you'll see a new "full screen" icon on the status bar. Clicking on it with the left mouse button toggles the full screen mode display. Right-clicking brings up a context menu you can use to display the options dialog box or to hide the vertical scrollbar.

I found a couple of cases where FullerScreen acts in a somewhat erratic manner. Firstly, with the navigation and status bar show and hide behaviour, the status bar sometimes stays visible when it should have become hidden. Secondly, if the vertical scrollbar has been hidden, then navigation through the Web document occasionally jumps back to the start of the document.

Another screen extension, Full Fullscreen, works with the F11 key just the same way as FullerScreen, except that an active tab bar remains visible even in full screen mode. If you want your browser to always start in full screen mode, or want to hide the tab bar or vertical scrollbar in full screen mode, Full Fullscreen has options that make it possible. There is also an option to make the navigation bar visible in full screen mode, but it does not work. Fortunately this does not detract from the usefulness of this extension. In addition, under full screen mode, there is a context menu item enabling return to normal screen mode display.

In Full Fullscreen, in full screen mode, there's no way to make the navigation toolbar visible, but you can still use many of its features using built-in Firefox shortcuts. To get access to the location (address) box, press Ctrl-L. To access Internet search, press Ctrl-K. All the other normal navigation-related keyboard shortcuts are also available.

With all of these extensions, you can display a sidebar (e.g. Ctrl-B to display bookmarks or Ctrl-H to display history) even in full screen mode.

These two extensions achieve what they set out to do. Of the two, I prefer Full Fullscreen for its ability to start the browser in full screen mode. For my much-smaller-than-usual computer screen, this is a fantastic feature.

Every Monday we highlight a different extension, plugin, or add-on. Write an article of less than 1,000 words telling us about one that you use and how it makes your work easier, along with tips for getting the most out of it. If we publish it, we'll pay you $100. (Send us a query first to be sure we haven't already published a story on your chosen topic recently or have one in hand.)


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