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With Vimperator it almost feels as if I can control Firefox

Wednesday, after returning to Groningen from Barcelona, I saw Ying using Vimperator. I was sold immediately.

I like to use the keyboard. Point and click is not really my cup of tea. It just doesn’t work without a touch screen. (A while ago I had the opportunity to see an expensive tilt-able touch screen in action and I was quite impressed by how suddenly a GUI became less of a disaster.) I’m an avid VIM user. Although I’ve tried training myself to Emacs, I’ve never made the switch. Even if I would have, this wouldn’t have changed the fact that I’m a shell person, not a desktop person.

Editing in an external editor

I do a lot of writing from my web browser (Firefox). This is not the most enjoyable activity imaginable using the typical <textarea>. It’s not that HTML textareas are so bad, it’s just that I don’t like typing anything extensive without using VIM.

The It’s All Text! Firefox add-on is one way to solve this problem. It adds a small “edit” button to the bottom right of all textareas. (It also adds a context submenu, but this can only be used to edit the whole page’s source (which I found to be a little bit disappointing as I’d rather seen that this acted on just the textarea when going there from a textarea).) The button executes an external editor of choiseGVIM.

Using Vimperator, when in insert mode (inside a textarea), I just have to press Ctrl-i to execute GVIM. The It’s All Text! add-on has thus been deprecated.

Better WindowMaker integration

Due to my reluctance to switch to a tiling window manager, I’m still using WindowMaker. Starting Firefox in WindowMaker is a bit of a nuisance because the main window opens too far out beyond the top left of my workspace. The only way to change this is to tell it to start maximized. However, the main window and the dialogs have the same WM_CLASS and I was somehow annoyed with getting all the popups maximized as well.

Vimperator starts these windows within the browser tabs, so there’s no longer a good reason not to start Firefox maximized. This saves me another keystroke whenever I begin a new browsing session.


Normal mode
In normal mode, I can perform all navigational tasks quickly an concisely. Especially identifying and following links is revolutionary. No more remembering access keys for every web app. I can just press f and type a number. The View Access Keys extension is no longer necessary.
Insert mode
I had never considered how much a seperate insert mode would have made me feel more in control of Firefox. The fact that I can escape it and scroll a bit or follow a link before continuing to type is priceless.
Pass-through mode
There are many modern web applications such as Gmail that have keystrokes conflicting with Vimperator. The great thing about Vimperator is that it wins. But, by pressing Ctrl-z, you can make the web page win until you escape the mode.

There are more modes, but I’m not here to write a tutorial. 🙂


I have many of the scrolling options that I’m used to in VIM. Most importantly, I can scroll half a page instead of a whole page! Before, I’ve spent a lot of time mucking around trying to find out how to make Firefox do this and the only extension that seemed to be able to deliver was Firemacs which I shied away because it did away with many of Firefox’s default key bindings, which is ironic because Vimperator seems much more extreme in this regard. 😛

Flash focus

On thing that I would really like Vimperator to do is to disable Flash content from stealing focus. That would remedy the last type of situation where I simply don’t feel in control of my web browser.

    4 Comments ( Add comment / trackback )

    1. (permalink)
      Comment by halfgaar
      On June 9, 2009 at 09:55

      Be 1337 and donate to the project 🙂

    2. (permalink)
      Comment by Jay
      On September 12, 2009 at 03:50

      It won’t help to click Flash “buttons” or anything, but I have set up a way to reclaim control from Flash, Acrobat Reader, etc., which is to employ an AutoHotkey script. You can set a hotkey that will click on your Vimperator command line, thereby allowing you to get focus back to Vimperator using the keyboard.

    3. (permalink)
      Comment by Rowan Rodrik
      On September 20, 2009 at 15:14

      I saw this link to Uzbl, a browser that seems to take the idea of Vimperator even further, far into the Unix philosophy.

    4. (permalink)
      Comment by Rowan Rodrik
      On June 29, 2010 at 22:55

      Hi Jay,

      I never properly thanked you for your tip. I’d still like to do so. thanks!