First of all, a deep (and entirely unoriginal) apology for being inactive for so long. Just after last Christmas, I was hit in the face by a huge flaming chunk of Real Life, leaving virtually zero time for my pet projects. I have still been answering emails sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, so if you have a question, or you need help with Enigma, please don't hesitate to send a message. I still can't guarantee a prompt reply, but it's your best bet, and it's always great to hear from people.
Since it's been so long, I wanted to reward your patience with a real in-depth post. With screenshots! So read on.
Although I've had no opportunity to work on Rainmeter stuff, I've used some of my scattered moments of free time to tweak my Firefox setup, based on experiences with Chrome, Opera, and yes, even Safari 5. The beauty of extensible browsers is that whenever one of them gets a great new feature, someone will make it available for the others in short order. This means that the most extensible, customizable browser gets a huge Darwinian advantage. And in that, Firefox is still the undisputed king.
Even though I've made a lot of behind-the-scenes changes, you'll notice that it doesn't look much different from my previous setup from almost two years ago. That's because I can't really simplify it any more than it is. I've even removed the back/forward and menu buttons now, so typically, the only element that's actually visible is the awesomebar on top.
Theme: After all this time, NASA Night Launch is still the best, cleanest, smoothest, most professional dark-colored Firefox theme on the planet. If they charged for this theme, I would pay.
Search: I really feel that keyword-based search bookmarks are the perfect solution to this issue of combining the search and address bars. I could never get the hang of Chrome's way of doing things - if I type "wiki lifehacker," will I search Wikipedia for "lifehacker," or will I google for "wiki lifehacker"? An action that is so basic to modern Internet living requires a method as habitual and thought-free as possible, and keywords are the answer. All I have to do is prefix whatever I type with the corresponding code:
- g: Google
- w: Wikipedia
- u: YouTube
- d: Dictionary.com
- t: Thesaurus.com
- tr: Google Translate (This will automatically translate the text which follows.)
To set this up for yourself, copy the link location of each search into a bookmark, and type the desired prefix into the "keyword" field. Thanks again to Nabeel for introducing me to this concept.
Menu: You'll notice that there's absolutely no menu bar or button in sight. That's because I'm using a feature of Personal Menu that I've previously overlooked: adding menu items to the toolbar context menu. I can now just right-click on either side of my toolbar to access the menu. I know it sounds awkward, but it's actually very easy to get used to. I use keyboard shortcuts for most things, which allowed me to condense everything I actually use into a remarkably short list.
Status Bar: Gone, obviously, but replaced with the simplest, most perfect extension I've ever seen. It's called Fission, and it does exactly three things. First, it adds a loading bar to the background of the awesomebar, ala Safari. (You can also have it normal-sized on the far-right side, which I do, because otherwise it's wasted space.) Second, it displays the page status, also on the far right side. Third, when you hover over a link, it changes the address in the awesomebar to the location of the link. In other words, it uses the awesomebar to completely replace all the usefulness of the status bar, and it does so in the most elegant way imaginable.
I think the most dramatic addition is the sidebar, courtesy of All-in-One Sidebar. I gave Opera another try several weeks ago, and while I ultimately switched back to Firefox, I was smitten with the sidebar that Opera uses. I found it easier to use, because it's adjacent to the edge of the screen, so it requires less aiming than the regular (horizontal) toolbars, and it saves vertical space, which, as we all know, is more important on a widescreen laptop. Two hours later, I'd found this, and now, my entire interface, other than the awesomebar, has been moved to it. AiOS is wonderful in several different ways:
Hide/Show: I probably would not have kept this extension if there hadn't been an easy way to hide it when I wanted to minimize my interface. Fortunately, it offers not only a grabber on the far left (barely visible, but easy to click, since I only need to flick the mouse left), but a keyboard shortcut: F4.
Flexible Buttons: I only have a few buttons, but as you can see, they're stretched out to fill the full height of the window. This is great, because it gives each button an absolutely gigantic click area.
Sidebars: This is actually the point of AiOS. As you know, Firefox can open your Bookmarks (Ctrl-B) and History (Ctrl-H) as sidebar panels. AiOS takes this further: it lets you open Downloads, Addons, Page Info, and other tools as docked, collapsible panels. It feels good to have all of Firefox's most important dialogs in a consistent format, and if you're, say, doing a lot of tweaking in your various extensions' options, it saves a lot of time to have it permanently open.
MultiPanel: AiOS adds one more sidebar of its own, called MultiPanel. This does a couple of different things. The one I love most is that you can open a second page inside the panel. It can even render the page in a mobile format, perfect for sidebar viewing. Menus at the top of the panel also offer quick access to the page source (which can be made to open in the sidebar by default) and the "about:" dialogs, including about:config (same).
Still using Fast Dial as both my homepage and new-tab page. I could save on some performance by replacing it with a homemade HTML file, but for the moment, it doesn't bother me, and it's nice for the infrequent times when I do need to move stuff around. I made the thumbnails myself in Photoshop (not that they're anything special; just jumping on the Helvetica bandwagon).
As you can probably tell from the contents, I'm still a heavy and devoted user of Google services, especially since I've finally taken the leap to browser-only messaging. Yes, I have given up Thunderbird (except for making IMAP backups, because I'm still paranoid), and am now using Gmail to manage four different email addresses from a single inbox, which, to Gmail's credit, is working flawlessly, thanks to a combination of forwarding, filtering, and a secure send-from-address feature. As for my feeds, I'm using Google Reader with the gorgeous Helvetireader skin, via Greasemonkey. And as they say, I haven't looked back.
It took a bit of fiddling, but I was able to add my bookmarks toolbar to the sidebar. Here's the trick: I moved all of my bookmarks into a single, unlabeled folder, so the effect is that it appears as if it's just a button, and therefore takes no horizontal space. The only (nitpicky) downside is that it doesn't really work without the "flexible buttons" option in AiOS; it expands to fill the entire sidebar vertically, which is annoying.
One of the things I'm asked about most often is my organization scheme. It's pretty simple, actually. Writer contains the sites where I'm an active member and contributor: forums, wikis, etc. Reader used to contain my daily reading material, before I started using feeds; now it holds my archive of saved posts, news stories and other pages, sorted by tag. (I discovered this completely by accident: Firefox lets you add a tag to any bookmark folder, where it appears as a menu.) Writer is where I save the pages that I don't have time to read. As you can imagine, this grows rapidly, and I have to cull it every few weeks. Resources is a list of useful tools that I may need during the course of the day. (Click the screenshot below to see.) After that, all that's left are a few folders dedicated to each of my currently-active projects. This method has served me well for literally years. I don't know if it qualifies as a "GTD" tactic, but I certainly recommend it.
Readability: This is the newest addition to my browsing suite. After Safari 5 popped up last week - although Safari for Windows is still the trashiest app ever released by a developer of Apple's standing - I was reasonably impressed with the "Reader" feature, and, naturally, I tried to see if anything like it was available for Firefox. Lo and behold, I discovered Readability. It's a bookmarklet which changes the layout of any page you throw at it, stripping all the unnecessary elements and reformatting the text to your preferred reading conditions. It's lovely. (Via Soeren Says.)
The last extension I'll be highlighting is All-in-One Gestures. Like AiOS, I grabbed this after being really pleased with the mouse gestures in Opera. I never really thought I'd like them, but it does save an awful lot of time, and of course, it's customizable, so you can define those gestures that are most intuitive to you. It's now just a quick swipe to go back, forward, to the top or bottom of the page, to refresh, to open a new tab, or load the homepage in the current tab. These are just a few of the functions it can be used to invoke. It even has a command to increment a digit in the current page's URL - in other words, scroll through multi-page articles with a flick of the wrist. I admit, this isn't as seamless as Opera's method, which not only finds the page number automatically, but activates it whenever you use "forward" on a page that's already at the end of your history. But this works. I don't have to think about it, which is the most important thing.
This is also a great example of how extensions can be used to enhance each other. One of AiOG's other uses is to open a "favorite bookmark." I added the Readability bookmarklet (above). So now, I can reformat any webpage to my liking with a flick of the wrist. Welcome to the future.
I won't go in-depth with these, since they're not really relevant to my browser interface like the others are. But for completion's sake, I'm also using:
One More Thing
Go to about:config. Find the key called "general.smoothScroll". Change it to true. Instant smooth-scrolling, no extensions needed. Cheers.