Secrets of Firefox 1.0

By Brian Livingston

It’s not so long ago that we learned to master the Windows Registry, a buzzing hive of little-known configuration settings. Now we find that Firefox 1.0, the hot new browser released on Nov. 9 by the Mozilla Foundation, has its own hidden playground for us to tweak.

In case you haven’t heard, Firefox is rapidly gaining steam as a free replacement for Microsoft’s own Internet Explorer browser., which measures Web behavior in 100 countries around the world, reported on Nov. 22 that IE had lost 5 percentage points of market share in the past six months, dropping to 89% of browser users. Firefox and its predecessor, Mozilla, are up to 7.35% of users. The foundation says 7.5 million people downloaded Firefox 1.0 in the month of November.

That doesn’t tell the whole story, though. Experienced Windows admins, who often set the tone for other users, seem to be adopting Firefox at a much higher rate. More than 25% of the visitors to my specialized Web sites —,,, and the like — are now using some version of Firefox or Mozilla, according to my server logs. That’s up from only 10.9% as recently as January 2004.

With all this momentum, it’s fascinating to find that many powerful capabilities of Firefox 1.0 are still difficult to find and little known. For example, typing the following strings into Firefox’s Address Bar (which the new browser calls the Location Bar) and pressing Enter brings up a wide variety of novel applets:

  • about: shows info on Firefox’s version number, copyright, etc.;
  • about:config reveals the Configuration Console, a repository brimming over with scores of customizable settings;
  • about:cache displays a summary of both your memory and file cache, with a link to full file listings;
  • about:buildconfig lists the compiler options that were used to create your version of Firefox (and, since it’s open source, anyone can compile a customized version);
  • about:plugins enumerates your installed add-ons, which can be quite numerous since Firefox is designed to be modular and extensible; and
  • about:credits is an “Easter egg” that includes the names of hundreds of developers and testers who worked on the product.
Today’s article focuses on about:config, the beating heart of Firefox, which controls almost every aspect of tuning and tweaking the browser. 

What about:config is and isn’t good for

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2004-12-02: