Posts in category microsoft - page 14

Firefox for power users

If you’ve been using Firefox for a while you might like to look at some of these tips and tricks to get more from your web browser. If you’re not using Firefox to find out what all the hoopla is about.

Get newer, optimized builds

Firefox, like most applications, is compiled without optimizations for specific processors. Some third parties such as Moox make processor-specific optimized builds available for download.

As well as the Firefox 1.0 release you can also download a trunk build. These are built directly against the source tree the developers use and can sometimes be rather unstable although the 20050206 one I’m using has been pretty good except for a view source bug. Make a backup of your %USERPROFILE%\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox directory first and unpack the trunk version somewhere new to give it a whirl.

If you don’t understand those just instructions you might want to wait for the any-day-now Firefox 1.0.1 release although it contains only essential bug-fixes.

Watch activity

We all know sometimes pages take a few seconds to load and knowing how many files to load and the current transfer rate is something geeks love to know. Firefox’s extensions architecture allows third-parties to add such functionality, so grab Extended Statusbar.

Optimise performance

The network settings in Firefox are a little on the conservative side for broadband users. As with Internet Explorer tweaking you can allow more simultaneous connections (it’s the HTTP connection and pipelining section although the other tuning tips are certainly worth considering).

Once done, visiting a page will start loading all images used on a page together rather than just two at a time. It will also mean you can download more than two files simultaneously from the same web site.

Block advertisements

Advertisements have gone too far, they’re now incredible obtrusive, annoying and can often cause pages to load slowly. Get rid of them with the AdBlock extension.

Learn shortcuts

Switching from the keyboard to the mouse to perform a single operation is incredibly slow. Get used to the following short cut keys Ctrl on Windows, Command on Mac OS X.

  • F Find text in the page (IE too)
  • N New window (IE too)
  • L Position to the address bar (F4 in IE)
  • K Position to the search bar
  • B Open bookmarks sidebar
  • H Open history sidebar

Tabbed-window specific short cuts:

  • T Open a new tab
  • W Close current tab
  • 1 to , Jump to specific tab
  • Tab, Cycle between tabs

Web development

If you develop web sites for a living then the Web Developer extension is essential. Features include:

  • Editing and identifying cascading style sheets (CSS) on the fly
  • Disabling forms, images, JavaScript, CSS
  • Validating page and CSS structure
  • Examining HTTP response headers
  • Modifying cookies
  • Highlighting page structure and layout

Windows corporate use

Check out the Microsoft installer (MSI) package and Group Policy integration project.


Visual Styles and themes in Windows XP

What are Visual Styles?

One of the less-touted features of Windows XP is it’s ability to theme the user interface. Not to be confused with Windows 98 Plus pack’s themes, this support includes ‘Visual Styles’ which allows the actual appearance of the windows, buttons and various controls to take on a whole new look providing the application has been marked as being compatible with themes using a manifest (most recent applications have).

Quick history (optional read)

This concept is not a new idea having been seen in everything from Amiga OS (MUI) to Linux (Gnome and KDE) but it’s a good addition. WindowBlinds has been letting users do this for years on everything from Windows 98 to XP/2003 and Kaleidoscope before that on the original Mac OS (Apple also had some lovely themes in MacOS 8 Copland but pulled them before release). Max OS X users get similar functionality with ShapeShifter and some wonderful themes.

How do I use them?

You can choose which Visual Style to use from the Display Properties dialog, on the Appearance tab under the option “Windows and Buttons” however Windows XP ships with just two looks shown here. The first is “Windows XP Style” which is known as Luna, the other is “Windows Classic Style” which isn’t actually a VisualStyle…

Dialog showing Windows XP Luna themeDialog showing Windows Classic theme

Microsoft decided during development that Windows XP would only allow you to choose themes that had been digitally signed by themselves. To date they have only shipped one other theme “Media Center Style” (known as Royale) that is actually part of Windows Media Center Edition but works happily in XP/2003 and provides a slightly glossier look than Luna:

Dialog showing Royale themeDialog showing Watercolor theme

So how do I get unsigned Visual Styles working?

Help is at hand with a number of tools to let you use unsigned themes. Free and simple to use is UXTheme which modifies Windows itself to remove this restriction leaving you to just dump the various theme directories and their contents into C:\WINDOWS\Resources\Themes.

If you’d rather not fiddle with Windows you could also check out TGTSoft’s StyleXP or StarDock‘s WindowBlinds which come with their own user interface. WindowBlind’s can also theme many applications and areas that Microsoft’s built-in support can not handle.

Where do I get more VisualStyles?

There are a number of sites providing Visual Styles but my favorites are ThemeXP.Org and Neowin.Net the latter hosting my favorite theme, Watercolor 4.3. The look is based on beta releases of Windows XP (code-named Whistler).

Why Microsoft decided not to ship it in the box I can’t understand, it’s elegant and good on the eyes… It’s my theme on all my non-server Windows boxes.