developer | thinker | tinkerer

The Good Old Browser

  • Friday, March 23 2007

Following up on my earlier post (oh how time flies)... I thought I'd continue my conversation on tools. Usually when I give a presentation - someone always asks about some of the tools I'm using - so I thought I'd start with the basics... the browser.


I'm not going to go into which browser is better. With the latest crop of browsers - they are all full of useful features, fast, standards compliant (not 100%!), and free. (Yes, I'm old enough to remember when you could buy a browser!)

My theory is pick one and learn to use it - dig into the settings, find add-on's and really learn to use all the browser has to offer. In our job - we spend a considerable amount of time using the browser - you should be comfortable with your choice!

Currently I use Firefox. I used IE for a long time but when Netscape was reborn as Mozilla I started using early betas and have continued using it ever since. Another benefit: now that I'm 'cross platform' - it's nice using Firefox at work on Windows and going home and using Firefox on Ubuntu with no big differences.

One of the biggest selling points of Firefox is the extensions or add-ons as they are now called. These are small 'plugins' which extend the functionality of Firefox beyond just basic browsing. Similar tools are also available for IE7 and Opera though I don't think there are nearly as many.

You can find a huge list of extensions at the Mozilla site.

Probably the most popular developer extension is the aptly named "Web Developer Extension" by Chris Pederick.

This toolbar has so much functionality built in it's difficult to remember everything it does. Some of the functions I use daily:

  • easily disable/enable Javascript for testing
  • you can disable/enable CSS as well as edit inline
  • if you are working on a form - you can automatically populate all the fields
  • there is a ruler as well as guides available which are helpful while designing
  • there is also quick access to validation (HTML, CSS, 508)

While I still use the Web Developer toolbar frequently - I've started using a new extension - it's called Firebug.

Firebug started off as a Javascript debugger but has evolved into a very robust tool. One of the neatest features is the 'inspect' tool - it will allow you to hover over elements in your page - and you can visually see those elements in your page. Very handy for hunting down troublesome CSS. Firebug is still a great Javascript debugger and if you are doing anything with Ajax or one of the many javascript frameworks (jQuery!) it's a lifesaver. Also check out Ray Camden's Coldfile - which is an extension of an extension - it provides ColdFusion debugging within Firebug! (see screenshot above)

Some other extensions which I have installed:

  • Lorem Ipsum generator by Jeremy Gillick - ever need to have large chunks of text handy for forms, page layout, etc? The Lorem Ipsum generator extension puts the handy greek text a click away. You can specify number of characters, words or paragraphs and it will copy the text to the clipboard for easy use.
  • After using a long list of FTP clients I've started using FireFTP. Since usually I'm FTPing while working on pages - having an FTP in the browser is a no-brainer.
  • If you have a large monitor (esp. widescreen) - try out Split Browser - this one will split your browser anyway you want - horizontal or vertically - essentially giving you two (or more) browsers in one. Very convenient to compare pages side by side - or keeping Gmail open while you surf MXNA in the other.
  • Not sure if that color is - #B97DAC or #B590B0? Try out ColorZilla. This adds an easy to use color-picker to your status bar.
  • Lately I've been trying to do more testing and have discoverd - Selenium. Selenium allows you to record a series of actions in a script and then play them back later - I hope to cover this in more detail in a future post!
  • And finally - I would always bookmark something at work and then get home and forget the URL until I found Foxmarks! It eliminates that problem. Now my bookmarks are synced up at work and home!

What are your favorite extensions? Or if you use Opera, IE or another browser - I'd love to learn if there are similar tools available.

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