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Mozilla Firebird - A review

By Raj Shekhar

1. Firebird  
2. Installation  
3. Making it the default browser in GNOME  
4. What's Good  
5. More tips  

1. Firebird

I have been using Mozilla Firebird for some time now and have stopped my search of a better browser. I had used Mozilla earlier, but it was so bloated that I switched to Galeon. However, if I had a beefier system, I would have been happy with Mozilla, bloat or no bloat. Mozilla took a lot of time to startup and came bundled with a chat client and a mail reader, which I seldom used. On the other hand its `tabbed windows' reduced a lot of desktop clutter. The Firebird is a spin-off from Mozilla. The project aims to develop software that is smaller and faster than Mozilla by extracting and redesigning the browser part of the application suite.

The developers of Firebird started out with the aim of creating a browser to provide an efficient (speedy, easy to use, useful) web access. According to the Mozilla Firebird 1.0 Development Charter:

The goal was, and is not to have more or less features than any other client (Mozilla included) but to have the right set of features to let people get their jobs done.
From what I see, I must congratulate the developers on a job very well done.

2. Installation

Using RPMs
I used the RPM to install Firebird on Red Hat 9.0. I am sure the hints provided here will prove useful for installing on another RPM based system. I used the RPMS for Red Hat maintained and built by Dag Wieers. If you want to locate the RPMs for your own distribution, try searching at rpmseek. Use `mozilla-firebird' as your search string.

After downloading the RPM, you can install it from the command prompt
rpm -ivh <package-name>

If you had installed Mozilla or Galeon earlier, you should have no dependency problems. Otherwise, you may have to search, download and install other packages too to solve the dependency problems. Again the best places to find the packages are rpmseek, Rpmfind.Net and Rpm pbone.

If you installed Firebird using the RPM package provided by Dag Wieers, then you can launch Firebird by giving the command mozilla-firebird. If you installed using the package provded by some other repository, type rpm -ql <package-name>|grep -i /usr/bin. That will provide you the command to launch Firebird.

Using official Firebird Release
Disclaimer I installed from a RPM and not from the official Firebird Release.

You can get Firebird from the Mozilla Firebird download page. At the time of writing, the website recommends to install Mozilla Firebird 0.7. There are downloads available for GTK (9.1 MB) and GTK2 and XFT (8.6 MB). Read the How To Install section to learn more on installation.

I will give a brief outline of the installation process. After you have downloaded the appropiate tarball from the above mentioned links, login as root. Unzip the files into the directory `/usr/lib/'. Next, issue the command
chown -c -r root:root /usr/lib/mozilla-firebird
In case you unzipped the tarball into a different directory, remember to substitute the proper name of the directory. That's all to the install process. To launch your brand new browser, issue the command
However, if you want to make it your default browser in GNOME and want to avoid the hassle of typing the full path every time, see the next section.

Installation in Windows
If you have a 100% Linux shop, you can safely skip this step. However, if you have to use Windows, I would strongly suggest that you consider switching from Internet Explorer to Firebird. I tested it out on a Windows 2000 PC. As in Linux, you have to just unzip the files, click on the `MozillaFirebird.exe' and that is the end of the installation process. The first time it starts up, Firebird imports your IE bookmarks and also asks you if you would like to make Firebird your default browser.

3. Making it the default browser in GNOME

Login as root and in your `/usr/bin/' directory create a file called `firebird-remote'. Put the following lines into it

/usr/lib/mozilla-firebird/MozillaFirebird  -remote "openURL($@, new-tab)" ||
exec /usr/lib/mozilla-firebird/MozillaFirebird "$@";
Just change the directory locations to suit your installation. Use chmod a+x /usr/bin/firebird-remote to assign everyone the permission to execute the script. That is all the work required by you as root.

In case you are wondering what this shell-script does, here is a brief explanation. When Firebird is invoked with the `-remote' argument, it does not open a window, but instead connects to and controls an already-existing process. The argument `openURL (URL, new-tab)' creates a new tab displaying the specified document. If you would rather have it open a new window, use `openURL (URL, new-window)' instead. The page remote control of unix mozilla has more explanation about this. Thie above script first checks if we already have a Firebird running and displays the page in a new tab. If it does not find one, it creates a new process and displays the page in it.

Next, if you wnat to make Firebird your default browser in GNOME, you have to edit the file `~/.gnome/Gnome'. You will find it contains a directive
[URL Handlers]
http-show=nautilus "%s"
https-show=nautilus "%s"
[ other non-interesting suff ]
Add or edit the lines so that it becomes
[URL Handlers]
http-show=firebird-remote "%s"
https-show=firebird-remote "%s"
ftp-show=firebird-remote "%s"
[leave this portion unchanged]
Thats all to it. Your default browser for GNOME and its associate apps like Evolution is now Firebird.

4. What's Good

Firebird packs quite a lot of power under its hood. The feature I like the most is tabbed-browsing. When you Ctrl + click on a link, it opens on a page in background Tab. This way, you go on reading the current page and the new page gets loaded in the background.

Firebird stops annoying popup windows dead in their tracks. This is a good example of a good thing implemented in a very non-intrusive manner. When it blocks a popup window, it displays an icon in the status bar. Clicking this icon shows a breakdown of the popup that Firebird stopped when loading the current page. You can then allow some or all of the popup windows to be shown.

Quite a few people think Free Software means an ugly user interface. Firebird is aesthetically designed, with nice icons and colors. If you are not happy with the default look-and-feel, checkout the themes collection on display. Some themes simply change the colors of Mozilla Firebird, others can change every piece of the browser appearance. I have switched from the default theme to the LittleFirebird theme, which reduces screen-space usage.

Firebird allows enhancing of the basic browser by use of extensions. If there a particular feature which you think Firebird lacks, check out the extensions available. In all probability, you will find what you need there.

5. More tips

Whenever Firebird comes across a page which needs some particular plugin to be installed, it asks you whether you want to install the plugin or not. It then takes you to the download page of that particular plugin. However, you can get all the major plugins from Mozilla Plugin Support page for Linux (or the Windows page).

Block opening new windows
Firebird doesn't stop web pages from opening in new windows (i.e using the target="_blank" or the illegal target="_new" properties.) you can tweak your settings to do this. In the address bar, if you type about:config, it takes you to the browser's settings page. Use the `Filter' to find the string browser.block.target_new_window, right click on it and Modify the value to true.

Increase text size
If you find the text size of a site too small, you can increase it by using the Ctrl + + key.

There are more tips on the Tips & Trick page.

This document was generated on December, 4 2003 using texi2html



I work for Yahoo! Bangalore (and I think it is the best place to work :-) ) as an Operations Engineer.

I am a staunch supporter of Free Software and the No Software Patents campaign. In my free time, I try to keep a semi-regularly updated blog.

Copyright © 2003, Raj Shekhar. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 97 of Linux Gazette, December 2003