Netbook browsing tips for Firefox

Having recently bought a netbook (MSI U123) I had to readjust my browsing habits since normally I work on a 24″ Dell 2407WFP with a resolution of 1920×1200, whereas the MSI has a meager 10.1″ at 1024×600.

As a result I had to tweak my browser of choice to be able to work nicely on such a small screen. Fortunately enough, Firefox allows you to tailor almost exactly as you want, and to reclaim much of the needed vertical screen space.

So, let’s get started.

I don’t use bookmarks anyway

I never really used bookmarks, and especially since Firefox gained the awesomebar I never felt the need anymore. So the first step is quite simply get rid of the bookmarks toolbar.

To do this go in the View menu, open the Toolbars sub-menu and deselect Bookmarks toolbar.

There you go, you already gained 25px vertically.

Shrink that bar!

Next up is another easy tweak. By default the navigation toolbar (the one with the back and forward button, etc.) is set to use big icons. By using smaller icons, you can gain some more space.

To do this, open again the View menu and Toolbars sub-menu and click on Customize. At the bottom of the window that will appear you’ll find a check box named Use small icons. Select it.

No tabs? No tab bar!

By default Firefox always shows the tab bar (there’s a good reason to this: if it wasn’t like this new users would never learn what tabs are and they would keep opening new pages in different windows) but a tab bar with just one tab is a terrible waste of space… we can do better: let’s make the tab bar appear only if we have more than one tab in the current window!

Go to the Tools menu and select Options. In the Tabs tab deselect Always show the tab bar.

Let’s get radical: no more status bar

At the bottom of the browser window there has always been the so-called status bar. It’s purpose is to inform you of what the browser is doing (loading the page) or why isn’t doing what you asked to (typically because there are errors on the page).

Now, in general it is good to know what the browser is doing, so you’d probably want to keep the status bar. Luckily for us it exists Fission, a Firefox add-on that moves much of the status bar functionality to the address bar: we can therefore install it and eradicate the status bar.

To install the Fission add-on, follow the link above. To remove the status bar open (again!) the View menu and deselect Status bar.

The final blow: menus

Ok, so we don’t have much stuff left, do we? But we can do better, we can also hide the menu bar!

Again, you’re probably wondering “how am I supposed to do without the menus?”. Fear not: first because I said we’re just hiding and not removing it! In fact, when hidden, it is enough to press the ALT key to show all the menus, and all the keyboard accellerators (like ALT+F to open the File menu, or CTRL+P to print the page) will work just fine. And if you still are all for having some kind of visual clue you can install the Personal Menu add-on that will provide you with menu-buttons that you can place in the navigation bar.

Again, to hide the menu bar go to the View menu, Toolbars sub-menu and deselect Menus toolbar.

One last tip: Luna is ugly

Luna is the default Windows XP theme (the one with the green Start menu and blue applications bar) if you’re wondering. And beside the fact that it makes your computer look like a kid’s toy it has two side effects: it uses more memory (not much, but more than nothing) and it uses more screen space. In my humble opinion, those are three things that don’t help when you’re on a netbook and therefore I strongly encourage you to use the Classic Windows theme.

Just go in the Control panel > Display and from the Themes tab change the theme from Windows XP to Windows Classic and click OK.

The gains

ComparisonSo, you want to know how much you can gain in terms of screen space, right? All right, I attached here on the right two screenshots of the same webpage before and after my tweaks, and those below are the measurements of the height of the visible document area (the percentage refers to the whole screen, that in my case is 600px high)

Default Firefox, one tab: 408px (68.0%)
Default Firefox, multiple tabs: 408px (68.0%)
Tweaked Firefox, one tab: 519px (86.5%)
Tweaked Firefox, multiple tabs: 490px (81.7%)

What those number means is that by default, on a 600 pixel high monitor, about one third of the vertical space of the screen isn’t used to show the pages. With the tweaks described above, you can reduce that figure to less than one seventh while still having a fully usable browser.

Just to give an example what this means is that, as you can see in the screenshots above, in the tweaked version you can see four results instead of three in a Google search.

So where’s the catch?

Actually nowhere. And to prove it, just have a look at what the Firefox developer are working on for the next Firefox versions. Can you spot the little similarities?

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10 comments

  1. I use the “Classic Compact” Theme to reduce the sizes of lots of spacers and icons.

    And I don’t have a netbook. I find it just reduces the overhead on a work PC with a big monitor.

  2. Have you ever seen any page inside the apple developer’s website?
    Look at this one: http://developer.apple.com/iphone/library/documentation/UIKit/Reference/UILabel_Class/Reference/UILabel.html
    3 Headers
    1 Footer
    1 Side menu
    Now you need at least a 27” iMac…

    Let’s change the topic… What about a browser with a side menu?
    Most of the laptops (but also some desktop monitors) have a 16:10 screen ratio, so we have a lot of unused space horizontally but we would have more vertical space.
    I recently bought a 13” macBook pro and I immediately moved the Dock menu on the left instead of the bottom.
    Since I use a mac I almost never use full screen windows. I generally expand every window at the maximum vertically and at the 80% horizontally, so there could be a lot of space for side menu, status bars (or status boxes), etc.

  3. A. can you publish the list of actions\extensions you used to achieve those saving?
    I wanted something similar and ended up doing this:
    https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/collection/3bd4f12f-5f86-1873-ed5b-ebb5d7b69500
    B. To answer Ghigo question, there is an option for a side menu, or more accurately, side tabs, and it is awesome.
    The main change I made since i created the collection mentioned above is disabling “Tabs on top” and using “Tab Kit” instead (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/5447). It save up space since I have a wide screen, and makes multiple tabbed browsing way easier.
    Check it out: http://i48.tinypic.com/161z31d.png

  4. Let’s get rid of the TITLE-BAR also! 🙂
    You can try my addon ‘Hide Caption Titlebar Plus’ in my Website (url above).
    (I’m about to update it this weekend with new tweaks)
    Regards!

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