The Guru: At Work with Firefox

Over the past few weeks there has been a decline in the number of post on the blog. I’ve been trying to post at least the Mozilla Project Weekly  Status posts each week and if there is new info, the Firefox Release Recaps. My job has been keeping me a bit busy and since being promoted to a hosting support team in August been very busy with training and ‘challenge projects’ (most of which end up becoming ‘homework’). Things have settled down a little, but really it is just ‘the calm before the storm’. Much like a hurricane and right now the eye is over me. The first part of my extensive training is done and up ahead is server training and more projects/homework. So, while I have this extra time I am going to get caught up on my posts.

One of the many things I like about where I work is not only do we have Firefox available to us, but we are encouraged to use Firefox. Even more so, we are encouraged to let our customers know our products work much better in Firefox than in Internet Explorer (especially IE8 which conflicts with our site builder application by adding redundant code). Even more so to Safari users or *shudder* AOL Browser users.

I have posted in the past several ‘Real-Life Extension Lists’ provided by others. Well, this time I am going to post a list of the Firefox Extensions I use at work.

  • Clippings: Save frequently-entered text for pasting later.
    Besides handling inbound support calls, I also work online support tickets. Prior to being promoted to the hosting support team I had to do at least 10 general support tickets each night. The system we use does have ‘canned answers’ for many of the types of tickets we would come across. However, they were organized poorly and some required extra steps to enter into our responses.  Now that I am on the hosting support team, we have our own ‘resolved’ hosting queue we work from. These are tickets which had been created because an issue with a hosting account that required additional work either by the advanced support or the admins. Once the issue was fixed the ticket was marked as ‘resolved’ and dropped into our queue. From there we check to make sure the issue/problem has been fixed and close the ticket by sending a response to the customer their issue has been resolved.Our current system really didn’t provide these responses as these were unique to hosting support. Our team’s hosting support specialist came across Clippings and over the process of a couple months complied and organized a mass number of ‘clippings’ for both the general support queue as well as the hosting support queue. So now when we work a ticket, all we need to do in the response is right-click in an empty area, select Clippings and then choose the Clipping we want to insert. I noticed the other day other departments in the company are using Clippings now as well.
  • Firebug: Firebug integrates with Firefox to put a wealth of development tools at your fingertips while you browse. You can edit, debug, and monitor CSS, HTML, and JavaScript live in any web page.
    I don’t use this add-on all that much as we don’t provide support for custom coding. But it is useful when a customer calls to say that part of their site is not working correctly or at all. We can clicking on the malfunctioning element on their site and determine if they are trying to use something that is not supported on their hosting plan or if just a case of bad coding.
  • IE Tab: Embedding Internet Explorer in tabs of Mozilla/Firefox.
    By far the most popular and downloaded add-on for Firefox. Being that I use Firefox as my main browser at work, I don’t always see the same things that the person on the other end of the phone is seeing.  Then there are times I don’t see anything at all. In cases like this reloading the page in IE Tab reveals that whatever they are doing doesn’t work well in IE or in the latter case, they’ve designed their site as such that it can only be viewed with Internet Explorer.
  • lori (life-of-request info): ‘lori’ can tell you how long it takes to load a page.
    The second most common issue I get is ‘my site is loading slowly’ or ‘your sever is too slow’ or they get ‘time out errors’. The first thing I always look for when I go to their site is what are trying doing on the home page.  I’ve seen customers site that have a dozen or so very high resolution images which they ‘re-sized’ by coding instead of shrinking them on their own computer and then uploading. Or worse yet they’ve embedded video an/or music from multiple sources. With ‘lori’ not only can you see how it takes the site to load, but it will even break down and report the load time for each element (images, videos, music, scripts, etc).  This really helps to narrow down where the slowness is coming from (besides cramming to much stuff on the home page).
  • Show IP: Show the IP address(es) of the current page in the status bar.
    A very simple extension but very useful when troubleshooting DNS settings. A common issue I run into is customers who have their domain registered elsewhere but hosting with us. They are wondering why either nothing comes up when they type their domain in a browser or get a Forbidden Error.  Before going to a site such as DNS Toolbox to do a DNS check on the domain I can easily narrow down where the issue is by the IP address that is showing.
  • Tamper Data: Use tamperdata to view and modify HTTP/HTTPS headers and post parameters.
    I don’t really use that add-on all that much. Just haven’t really had a need or more so haven’t really had time to to see what information it provides.
  • Domain Details: Displays Server Type, Headers, IP Address, Location Flag, and links to Whois Reports.
    I just recently started using this add-on and really found the most useful piece of information it provides is Server Type. Useful for when I have customers moving their hosting from another provider to us. The old method was for me to go to their website and see if I came across any PHI/CGI (Linux/Apache) or ASP/ASPX (Windows) pages. Now all I have to do is go to the site and I can instantly see if they are Apache, Windows IIS6 or Windows IIS7 server. Even for current customers who might be trying to run ASP/ASPX on an Apache Server or PHP on a Windows IIS6 server. I also don’t need Show IP anymore since this add-ons does that as well.

We even have an add-on for our internal web-based hosting/server troubleshooting tool. The add-on adds a one-click copy feature. Very useful for running FTP or Database connectivity tests as I can click on any part of the server address, user name or password and it is copied to the clipboard.

I’ve talked about FEBE (Firefox Environment Backup Extension) last year and I think I even have it installed on my hone system, but never use it that often. I’ve started using at work now, at least the Quick Backup feature which allows me to select which extensions I want to backup and save into an installable XPI package file. This is similar to an executable zip file, you don’t have to have a zip application installed to extract the file. The installable XPI package is the same way, you don’t need to have FEBE installed. Just drag and drop the file into the Firefox add-ons manager and it will install all the extensions (if compatible) which are contained within the package.

While our profiles are suppose to follow us at any of our offices or to other computers in the same location, this does not always happen. Sometimes I’ll go to login only to discover can not be located. Most of the time logging out and back in fixes this problem. Then there are times when they try to change my system permissions and end up wiping my profile instead. The final straw was when I submitted a trouble ticket for a low on virtual memory limit. Their ‘fix’ was to reset my profile. Not only does that wipe out all my Firefox settings (bookmarks, passwords, add-ons) but it didn’t fix the problem.

Bookmarks aren’t too big of a deal as I keep several copies on my Network drive and make a habit of exporting them at least once a week. It only takes a minute or so to reload all my bookmarks. Add-ons are a different story though. Biggest problem I run into is I can never remember what I have installed until I go to to do something and discover I am missing that functionality. Plus it is pain to go to AMO, search for the add-on, install, search for the next add-on, search, etc., etc. No more, my XPI package has all my add-on (including FEBE) so as long as I have access to my network drive. Only once have I not been able to access my network drive. Then when I did finally get access it was read-only. Took a couple hours to get that fixed (which did NOT involve resting my profile).

So there you have it, The Guru has put out a ‘real-life’ extensions guide. Now I need to go update the main site and add these to my extensions page. Then need to sort through my notes and see what else I need to write about. Stay tuned…