Firefox for Dummies, by Blake Ross, ISBN: 0-471-74899-4

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, July 2006
Published by: For Dummies, by Wiley
Requires: Firefox web browser
MSRP: US$21.99, CAN$28.99, UK£14.99

The 'Dummies' series from Wiley is renowned because of the vast number of people who have been well instructed by so many of the books. 'Dummies' authors come from all over and the actual number of books in the series runs into the hundreds, covering subjects ranging from philosophy to auto mechanics, pottery to electronics, and computing of all kinds to you-name-it. The rarity amongst the 'Dummies' books is the one that is written by the originator of the product being explained. That's the case with Firefox for Dummies—it's written by none other than Blake Ross, one of the co-creators of Firefox.

The trick with writing any Dummies book is not to actually base it on the assumption that readers are dumb. The Dummies title word is a joke, an effective marketing and merchandising tool and consumers get a kick out of it. In fact, the best technical Dummies books are written by authors who understand the need to provide normal people with understandable explanations that help make effective use of the product at hand. Ross understands this, and best of all is better positioned than anyone else in the world to explain Firefox. The first thing you'll notice when reading the book is that he hasn't fallen into any obvious traps set by his deep knowledge of the software. In fact, Ross seems to revel in explaining things carefully, assuming nothing about a reader's knowledge of computing and web browsers, but at the same time finding effective and literate ways of teaching everything there is to know about Firefox and clearly explaining all the major technical issues, traps, pitfalls, psychological snares, and unique web features & functions which exist throughout the internet. For the record, during the past two years I've been using two browsers: Firefox and Maxthon—which is a powerful, tabbed shell for Internet Explorer 6).


First and foremost, Firefox is a terrific product. It is only the second substantial browser to come along for Windows, Mac and Linux simultaneously (the first was Opera, which is also available in a smaller format for mobile operating systems such as Palm OS, Windows Mobile, Blackberry and Symbian). Firefox currently also stands as the greatest challenge to Microsoft's Internet Explorer which remains the dominant browser on the PC. A 'Dummies' book needs traction in the marketplace and traction in this case translates into raw numbers. If there weren't millions of Firefox users, there would be no reason for this book to exist. So its appearance, following Firefox's rapid uptake by users around the world, should be of great benefit to anyone who really wants to squeeze every drop of usefulness out of the browser.

The book opens, as do all Dummies software books, with a tear-off "Cheat Sheet" containing a list of important keyboard shortcuts, mouse shortcuts, usage tips and references. The extensive table of contents allows you to jump ahead to any topic or sub-topic of interest. If you're really hesitant about using new software or you're unfamiliar with software in general and choose to read the book from cover to cover, it's well organized and will help you get up and running very quickly. It's likely that even the most hesitant novice can be up and running with Firefox in under an hour. More experienced people will naturally have the browser installed and running in the time it takes to install and run any similar software on their computer. But even those people will benefit from chapter 1 because it provides explanations about the specific ways in which Firefox stores downloads, updates itself and records bookmarks. The rest of the book cracks open every single detail in the current version of the software (v1.5.x as of this writing). Ross has organized the book in a way that allows him to talk about all of the Firefox features and functions while you're actually surfing the web.

Curiously, downloading and installing Firefox, setting it up, the system requirements, importing Favorites or Bookmarks from competing browsers, switching from other browsers and a lot of other startup details don't appear until chapter 3 (pg. 27). This is also typical of many Dummies books, the theory being to involve readers in the product before boring them with the mundanity of downloads, installations and so on. I disagree with the approach.

Chapter 5: Bookmarking Great Sites, is one of the highlights. More than anything else, Firefox and all other web browsers allow you to funnel through your computer monitor enormous amounts of information found throughout the world. Organizing all of the individual web sites and specific web pages of particular interest to you can variously be a nightmare, a pleasure, a pain in the butt, a chore, a necessary evil or a pleasant experience. Ross thoroughly explains Firefox's bookmarking feature, providing you with a clear understanding of its use and benefits (and I'm now using the Bookmark All Tabs function on a regular basis—thank you Mr. Ross), and better overall experience when collection information online.

The book consists of the Cheat Sheet, an introduction, 22 chapters organized into 5 parts, a closing section of 3 appendices, and a reasonably extensive index; a total of 364 pages including some promotional Dummies book lists on the last two pages.

Cons: Dare I say we'd be struck down by bolts of lightning for criticizing a Firefox book written by one of the co-creators of the software? Forsooth! In some respects Firefox is an incomplete browser compared to Internet Explorer, mainly because e-mail (via a companion operating system program such as Outlook Express) is not 'integrated' within Firefox as it is in IE. That means Ross has to spend some time explaining and orienting Firefox users about the excellent, albeit less well known, Thunderbird e-mail program, the (again less well known) boatload of extension utilities which can be plugged into Firefox and some other niceties. It's not much of a 'Con', is it? There's actually nothing wrong with the book. There's not much wrong with Firefox either.

Pros: A few software and hardware creators have taken the time to write books about their creations. Some of those books aren't very good. Blake Ross is no ordinary programmer however, and it turns out that he's a capable and entertaining writer. If you're a daily or otherwise regular user of Firefox and you're still wondering what all the fuss surrounding the browser is all about, you need this book. If you're thinking of switching to Firefox from some other browser, you need this book. If you've just started using Firefox and you want to squeeze every last drop of productivity out of it, you need this book. In a series of well organized topics, you'll be walked through the software and taught to make easy use of a tremendous amount of power. There are lots of instructive screenshots, well written "Technical Stuff" sidebars and highlighted explanations throughout the book which delve into general interest subjects such as hacking, netiquette, the origin of the Firefox name, practical applications for browsing, and so on. During the review period, I learned at least half a dozen Firefox shortcuts which I now use regularly. Your web browsing will never be the same after you absorb this book. It will be much, much better. Excellent book. Highly recommended and we give it our highest rating.

KSN Product Rating:

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