September 06, 2009, 9:33 PM — As is true of most good software, both Firefox and Thunderbird work pretty well installed with default options. But like most complex tools, a bit of learning and tweaking pays off.
While options tabs define logical functional groupings (Main, Tabs, Content, Applications, Privacy, etc. for Firefox and General, Display, Composition, Privacy, etc. for Thunderbird), it's helpful to think of them regrouped by user concerns such as what's displayed, keyboard and mouse interactions, what goes on behind the scenes, etc.
So it's occasionally -- especially after installing new versions -- worth a tab-by-tab options tour. Settings and facilities evolve and even long-available choices can be suddenly discovered to improve the browsing or emailing experience. Exploring often reveals pleasant surprises, turning WIBNI (Wouldn't it be nice if...) wishes into realities through simple settings changes.
While some tabs and boxes are obscure, most are self-explanatory. The Mozilla siblings differ in Help information provided: Firefox options tabs provide context-sensitive details while more generic Thunderbird Help is accessed via the standard pull-down menu.
In either program's Help, search for "keyboard shortcuts" and print the resulting table. You'll have a mind-boggling list of ways to keep your hands on the keyboard, avoiding many mousing operations. For example, in Firefox, Ctrl-digit selects tabs 1 through 8 or the last tab and Ctrl-J opens the Downloads history, handy if you've misplaced a file. In Thunderbird, Ctrl-Enter sends the current message while Ctrl-Shift-Enter sends it later.
While in the Help neighborhood, look around for general resources. For Firefox, there's a Tweak Guide, Customizing Firefox, Speed Tips, and more. Thunderbird offers Mouse Shortcuts, Menu Reference, Editing Config. Files, and the usual "more".
With all browsers now offering tabbed browsing, it's easy to forget the tedium of having each Web page being viewed occupying a separate Window.
Two tab options speed browsing
But default Firefox tab processing may not be the most efficient. Two tab options speed my browsing and avoid windows sprawl: "Open new windows in a new tab instead", and "When I open a link in a new tab, switch to it immediately". The first opens links clicked in other applications, such as Thunderbird, in tabs rather than windows; the second specifies that links middle- or Ctrl-clicked display immediately rather than loading in a background tab.
While Ctrl-F summons Firefox's decent Find facility, enabling "Search for text when I start typing" on the Advanced/General options tab finds the text's first occurrence and then disappears -- handy for finding a nugget buried on a Web page.