Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
If Google is the best thing since bread came sliced, the ability to search Google from your browsers’ address bar is probably the best thing since the Internet. In most browsers, you can use and set up various shortcuts and codes to make searching faster and easier, but to this day I have not seen a better way to do it than InstantFox.
InstantFox is a Firefox add-on I found on our Best Firefox Add-ons page and completely fell in love with. It brings three amazing, search-enhancing features to your address bar: search shortcuts, auto-complete, and instant loading of results. And if that’s not enough, you can also use InstantFox to search for any highlighted keyword on any of your pre-configured websites. Yes, I know, auto-complete and search as you type are not new features – it’s been done before – but when these convenient features make their way to your address bar, searching becomes super quick and completely painless. Don’t believe me? Judge for yourself!
If you’re looking for Firefox shortcuts that are not necessarily search related, be sure to check out the Firefox shortcuts cheat sheet for Mac and the Firefox cheat sheet for Windows.
To be honest, there’s not all that much to configure. InstantFox is a no-restart add-on and comes pre-configured with thirteen search engines which already include a keyboard shortcut. These include Google, Google Maps, Wikipedia, IMDb, and others. There are also several websites configured that don’t come with a keyboard shortcut.
Any one of these websites can be edited: you can change the shortcut, name, URL, decide whether you want the website to load instantly when you start searching, etc. Naturally, you can also add any website you wish by clicking the “Add” button. You need to supply a name, a shortcut and the search URL. In most cases, InstantFox will automatically load a favicon for the websites as soon as you fill in the URL.
The easiest way to find the search URL is to conduct a regular search and copy the URL from the results page. Now simply substitute the search query for %q and you’re all set.
If you want to delete an engine you can do so by clicking its “edit” button. You can also choose to disable it, if you think you might want to enable it again at a later time. You can change the shortcut for each engine directly from the main add-on window. If you try using one that’s already in use, it will be highlighted in red.
InstantFox is available in approximately 30 languages, but upon switching between them using the “Choose Language” dropdown menu, you’ll find that the main effect is on the search engines – the interface itself remains in English, but your search engines are now fitted for a different country, and auto-complete suggestions are in a different language.
This is also where I encountered the first and last bug: after playing around with languages, I couldn’t get my searches to go back to google.com. For example, if I switched the language to German (which switches the default Google search to google.de), InstantFox kept using google.de even after it was set back to English. I solved this by disabling the add-on and enabling it again.
There are several key features worth noting in InstantFox. First and foremost are the keyboard shortcuts. This feature is not new and is available in Firefox without any add-ons, but it’s much easier to configure this way. To start searching, just type the shortcut for the website of your choice, and after hitting the space button, you can type in your search query.
As soon as you start typing (sometimes even before), relevant auto-complete suggestions will start appearing. If you’ve enabled instant loading, the search results will load before you can even finish typing your query. Just hovering over an option will instantly load it. Talk about time savers!
In case you’re wondering, the auto-complete suggestions are different from website to website, so they’re always relevant. For example, if you’re searching Maps, you’ll see suggestions for places; if you’re searching IMDb, you’ll see suggestions for movies. Sometimes, as in the case of IMDb, these suggestions even come with some extra information.
The last feature you should be aware of in the context-menu search. Highlight any word on any page you’re on and right click it to use it as a search query on any website. This feature is not unique to InstantFox, but is a nice addition to the mix. If you hate context-menu searches, you can disable this feature from the Advanced tab.
What Are The Other Tabs For?
If you’ve been paying extra attention, you’ve probably noticed that the add-on window sports several more tabs. The main tab, Search Engines, is the one you’ll be using most often. In the Advanced tab, you’ll find several tweaks such as a maximum number of results for the address bar, whether each search opens a new tab, etc.
In the Style tab you’ll find visual tweaks such as font size, opacity of suggestions, shadow style, etc. Not all of these created a change I could see, but it might be too subtle for me to notice.
In the About tab you’ll find more than just your usual version number and contact details. This tab includes useful FAQ links, one of which is for extra keyboard shortcuts. You’ll also find other useful tips and contact details.
Want more? You can go all out and download our free Firefox manual.
Have a favorite search add-on? Or any other tips you’d like to share? What do you think of InstantFox? Tell us everything below.