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Firefox Friday Five: Encrypt the Web, Firefox on the iPhone, and a few tricks!

There's been a total of one blog post by Mozilla and all of its many-tendrilled offshoots this week. I don't know why -- perhaps they're trying to finish up Firefox 3.6.4 and get the 4.0 beta out of the door -- but even then, we haven't even seen a new release candidate for either 3.6.4 or 4.0.

In fact, the only actual release this week was a developer preview of Gecko 1.9.3 (but more on that later).

A slow week, then -- but don't worry worry, that just means I have to shower you with Firefox tips and tricks to make life with your fiery-headed vixen just a little bit easier.

1. Encrypt the Web with the HTTPS Everywhere add-on

Oh EFF, how we love you! If it wasn't for the EFF and Free Software Foundation, who knows where the Internet would be right now. Even outside the digital realm, without rms I would never have learnt how best to cultivate a beard. But I digress -- the EFF has released a fantastic add-on for Firefox that automatically uses HTTPS when it's available.

HTTPS is the secure variant of HTTP -- it's that padlock and colored address bar that ensure any data you send is securely encrypted. With this add-on (direct link), you'll automatically hit the https:// version of Google, Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook -- the list goes on. You can also add your own rules to the add-on until you're protected by HTTPS wherever you go!

Everyone should use this add-on.
2. Did you know about 'Close Other Tabs'?

As Yoda once said (and don't get me wrong, I'm not a Star Wars fan): "there is none so blind as he who will not see." Ne'er a truer word has been spoken -- but I doubt he was referring to the Firefox menus when he said it. Anyway: If you're using Firefox, right click your current tab -- see that 'Close Other Tabs' option?

It does exactly what you might think -- it closes every other tab except the one you're working in. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a built-in keyboard shortcut, but you could always use an add-on!

3. Mozilla releases developer preview of Gecko 1.9.3; faster, more standards-compliant, further HTML5 support

Behind Mozilla lays the Gecko, the scaled, once-lithe beastie (dinosaur?) which renders each and every page that you visit. Basically, Firefox is just a UI on top of Gecko -- but that's not to say this Developer Preview only sports better rendering! This pre-release supports WebM and Cocoa NPAPI for Apple Macs. It also has an early version of the 'tabs on top' code, and the new Add-ons Manager.

As the release notes say, some of these changes may never make it into Firefox proper -- and some of them can already be found in the 3.7 alpha branch. In fact, upon further investigation, this really is just the 3.7a5 release with a new Gecko engine. Still, if you're a bleeding-edge Firefox fanatic, give it a whirl.

Also, the SunSpider benchmark shows a slight-but-welcome speed improvement with the developer preview!

4. Search a page without using Ctrl-F

Ah, Ctrl-F! I have the 'Find' panel open in Firefox more than I have it closed -- but no longer! I've just discovered a very, very cool feature that's actually been in Firefox since its days under the Netscape Corporation umbrella. It's called Find As You Type, and it simply lets you search a page without having to hit Ctrl-F first.

Now, as far as I can tell, this feature is disabled by default in 3.6.4 and 3.7 (4.0). You have to turn it on by typing about:config into your address bar and setting accessibility.typeaheadfind to true. There are some other options too, if you feel the need to meddle.
With it enabled, just... start typing! Ctrl-Enter opens links in a new tab, but other than that the documentation seems to be woefully out of date. I wonder if I've just pointed out a 5-year-old feature that Mozilla will now swiftly sweep under the rug...

5. Firefox Home for iPhone is almost here -- and if you haven't used Firefox Sync yet, what're you waiting for?!

iPhone users! Judging by the 'introductory' post over on the official Mozilla Blog, Firefox Home should be here in a week or two! This means that you'll basically have access to everything Firefoxy on your iPhone -- everything but the browser. Using Firefox Sync, Firefox Home will show you your bookmarks, your open tabs and an 'Awesome Bar' -- you'll then be able to open those links using the iPhone's built-in Web browser.

Firefox Sync (formerly Weave), if you haven't tried it, is now undoubtedly ready for prime time. Install it, create a new account and then marvel as your Firefox settings are securely transmitted into the cloud. In true Mozilla style, you choose the pass phrase to encrypt your data, and that pass phrase is only ever stored in your head. Yay for proper security and privacy. Developers: there's a full REST API for every stage of the process -- you can even set up your own Sync server -- so... get to work!

Finally, if all that wasn't cool enough, both Sync and Home are open source tools. There's something deliciously right about submitting an open-sourced app to the draconian iPhone App Store.
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Tags: 1.9.3, 3.6.4, 3.7, eff, features, firefox, fsf, gecko, https, mozilla, privacy, rms, security