Fun with Firefox

Firefox is my browser of choice. The biggest reason, to start with, is that it’s not Internet Explorer; partly that’s a small vote against permanent Microsoft hegemony, partly it’s to escape the security problems that come bundled with Microsoft products on the Windows platform.

On a practical level, I’m not sure there’s a lot of difference between Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari (the Mac browser), Opera (the browser from Norway), or others. I have a feeling most people use a narrow range of functionality. As long as you can get to the things you want, I don’t a few bells and whistles (liked tabbed browsing, which I love because it allows me to navigate the 10 windows I like to keep open) add up to a startlingly different user experience.

But still. Some things are kind of neat to stumble upon. Such as: I noticed over the past few weeks that if I put the single letter “w” into the Firefox address bar when I’m typing in a site name — just “w,” nothing else — and hit return, the page that comes up is the White House. Other finds: “a” gets you the Apple home page; “c” brings up C-SPAN; “brekke” brings up Brekke Tours & Travel of Grand Forks, North Dakota. And so on.

I knew this was something that was programmed in. Was Mozilla (the organization behind Firefox) selling advertising this way? I noticed that typing in “failure” in the address bar took me to George W. Bush’s biography. That was a hint about what’s going on.

It turns out that, as usual when you’re looking something up online, this road leads to Google. Looking at Mozilla’s “Firefox Tips & Tricks” page, I found this: “By default, if you enter a search term in the address field and press Enter, a Google ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ search is performed, and you’re taken to the first result of that search directly.”

(For those who haven’t tried it, Google’s “I’m Feeling Lucky” option takes you to the page listed first in the Google search of any term. So if you do the standard Google search on “w,” you’ll see the standard long list of results, with www.whitehouse.gov at the top; if you plug in “w” in the Google search blank and hit “I’m Feeling Lucky,” then you’re taken directly to the page listed at the top — so the White House home page at www.whitehouse.gov comes up.)

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