Customize Firefox to Reclaim Screen Estate

by Nick Staroba

Screen estate is frequently gaining value in the world of intense computer users and this is especially true for those using a 9" monitor for example.

A common screen hogging program is the web browser. Every day I spend more than a few hours using Firefox and after noticing some interesting extensions for my favorite browser, I took a little time out to make it more friendly for this user.

The default look of Firefox's toolbars is this:

And with a few add-ons I now have this:

It may look sparse but almost all the functionality is still there and easily accessible.

Here is the list of add-ons I am using:

Hide Caption
This will hide the bar across the top of the program which displays the title of the Web page and contains the minimize/maximize/close buttons (called the Caption Bar). The buttons will be displayed on the menubar once this extension is enabled, but if the menubar is also hidden, they will show up on the navbar. Also, the title of the Web page can be seen on your windows taskbar. Note: This is an experimental add-on which requires you to log in to Mozilla's site to download it. I've never had a problem with it myself so I don't know why it's still "experimental".

Tiny Menu
With this you can collapses all of the menus normally at the top of a Windows program: File, Edit, View, etc. (called the Menu Bar). They can be taken off individually or completely and replaced with text or an image of your choice. I chose an image from a free icon set I found.

Smart Bookmarks Bar
The bookmarks toolbar normally shows a favicon and then the text for the bookmark. This extension allows the text for both folders and bookmarks to be hidden from view. It also has adjustments for the spacing between bookmarks and an auto-hide feature which I do not use for this setup.

Favicon Picker
Pick and choose your bookmark's favicons. This one is not necessary, but it's nice for added control of your bookmarks. I just wish it would allow me to change the individual folder icons.
The process:

  1. Install Hide Caption and leave its options at default settings.
  2. Install Tiny Menu and also leave its options at default (unless you want to choose an image instead of the "Menu" text).
  3. Install Smart Bookmarks Bar and set the bookmark spacing to small. Also uncheck "Show bookmark names on mouse over" as this can be a very annoying feature because it causes everything to shift when you hover the cursor over a bookmark. Changing this extension's options requires a restart of Firefox.
  4. Right click on any empty area on the toolbars and choose "Customize". This opens up Firefox's built-in customizer for its toolbars.
  5. Check the "Use Small Icons" box.
  6. Be sure "Icons" is selected in the "Show:" drop down menu.
  7. Then start dragging the buttons and toolbars around to arrange them however you like. I have removed everything but the Tiny Menu button, the bookmarks toolbar, the back/forward/stop buttons, the address bar and the activity indicator.
  8. Right click on any empty area on the toolbars again and uncheck both the "Navigation Toolbar" and "Bookmarks Toolbar".
  9. The final step is to start organizing your bookmarks toolbar. I have 2 bookmarklets and 3 folders: personal, work and everything else. This gives me access to all of my bookmarks without surfing through the Tiny Menu or the bookmarks sidebar.

There isn't much more to the visual aspect of it than that.

Some things to consider for usability of this setup are Firefox's shortcut keys which can help you to reduce the number of buttons needed on your all-in-one-toolbar. Also taking advantage of smart keywords in your bookmarks will streamline your browsing if you removed the search box as I did.

The only major problem I have with this setup is the loss of the ability to grab the caption bar to move the browser around. If you have the status bar enabled (view > status bar) then you can grab the window there to move it or a javascript bookmarklet can be set up to move/resize the window automatically.

This setup does not have to be done strictly as described above to improve your Firefox experience. The beauty of Firefox + add-ons is that it gives you the option to customize any which way you choose. I'd love to see screenshots of your custom Firefox setup in the comments. Enjoy.
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