Thursday, July 23, 2009

Focusing in on Firefox: Cleaning Edition

cc photo-credit “robomaid 02” by si_si_ay on flickr

robomaid 02It’s been quite a while since I’ve focused on Firefox…or even browsers in general.

There has been quite a lot of movement with Apple Safari 4 getting released, the steady march of Opera 10 Alpha/Beta releases, Chrome/Chromium making a Roman legion steady-march into the browser landscape.  Then there has been that whole Firefox 3.5 thing.

First a Side-Rail visit

Before I hone-in on Firefox, I want to toss these two interesting browser-related links out for feeding to the lions.

Rafael Rivera provides a method to “work-around” the EU Windows 7 “E” version that ships without a browser…answering the question of how a techie/clever user can indeed still browse the web and download a browser of choice to Windows 7 to get the ball rolling.

He actually had a 2nd post that had an even “easier” 2-step method, but quite curiously, he pulled it as it didn’t seem very elegant.  Having tried it I still believe it has some benefit for system administrators troubleshooting a system :

  1. Open the "Run” command.
  2. Type mshta.exe “whatever web-address you need”   see example below:

Now, the reason Rafael stated that he removed this is that navigation using mshta is very problematic.  I’ve tested this under XP/Vista/Win7 and it seems to work ok.

Just tossing it out there.

The other browser-related post that caught my interest was this one:

This is a very important question!

Many of the recent web-browsers are now releasing versions that have some form of a “Privacy” mode.  This mode (in theory) allows a web-surfer to browse the web without fear that the cookies, history, or cached bits will be preserved when the surfing activity is completed.

Good for some folks but probably a headache/bane for concerned parents/employers/forensics folks.

I’ve yet to find any good and thorough examinations of before/after testing of a Windows system in which Privacy mode was used.  I would suspect that some bits still could be recovered by a skilled forensic expert.  And as this post shows, depending on the browser and usage circumstances, some browsing activity does indeed remain in play…at least for a time.  This alone shows the benefit or forensics responders who are able to obtain an image of the memory while the system is running, and not just the drive itself.

From page 2 of the Betanews post linked above:

When you exit Private Browsing mode in Firefox 3.5, you cannot pick up the trail again from where you left off -- anything your browser remembered up to that point, has vanished.

Does the Incognito Window in Chrome work the same way? Surprisingly, no -- and this is where one starts evaluating the browser makers' design decisions. If you exit the Incognito Window ("Nothing, honey, wasn't doing anything…just checking statistics")re-enter it again, and then re-enter the page you were on, you'll find your shopping cart is intact, right where you left it. So exiting that window did not erase your trail.

But suppose that's what you want -- suppose you want to be able to hide the Incognito window on demand without destroying your shopping, should prying eyes happen to walk by. That actually makes this feature somewhat handy -- for the time being, Chrome is remembering something you want it to forget later.

At least, isn't that what you expect…for Chrome to forget it later? What happens when you exit Chrome altogether…does it forget your shopping cart then? No. Start up Chrome again, and your shopping cart is alive and well. And that could be a problem. This suggests that for any one Windows user account, there is a general track and an incognito track. When you exit Windows altogether, and restart Windows and Chrome, that's when you find out your shopping cart and history have been wiped clean. So the session key Chrome generates for Incognito is apparently only good for the current Windows session, and that's fine. But it still suggests that some session data is being maintained somehow while you're in Incognito mode, and that may not be what you expect.

The point of all this is to know—really know—how your browser choice’s Privacy mode works.

Extension Extravaganza

I can’t believe it but it seems like it has been just over a year since I posted by last Firefox Extension List collection.  The dependable ones have stayed and the weak have been culled.

I have only just recently added a handful of new ones.

Firefox does have a pretty-good “off-line” mode to allow basic reading of cached pages when no internet connection is available.  However sometimes it just isn’t robust enough.

Enter the Read It Later extension for Firefox.  This little guy makes it easy to power-bookmark pages for reading in their original format.  It has quite a lot of options and looks to be very useful, particularly as I am finding myself working on posts “off-line” in unusual locations of late between projects and duties.

Also check out the Multirow Bookmarks Toolbar.  As if cramming a ton of book-marked links on my Firefox toolbar isn’t enough, now I can expand that toolbar into additional rows if needed!  While I don’t use or recommend this much as an organization method, at work I have quite a few web-sites I frequently access for production work.  Having the ability to place them on the toolbar means faster access and less digging through my bookmarks structure to get to their original location.

El Guru shares a great (to us) extension to Disable Tab Tearing.  This has been a long-time frustration leading up to the final Firefox 3.5 release.  Fortunately the Firefox Extension Guru now has easily led us to the power to nip this one in the bud.  Thank you!

I’ve known about the ability to delete a website folder in the “history” view for some time to remove all linked references to visiting that particular website.  However, was was news to me was that Firefox 3.5 now has enhanced this power with a “Forget about this Site” option.  Make Firefox forget about a site, 3.5 style - Mozilla Links.  However, Mozilla Links then passes on a tip to the Close’n forget add-on.  Not only does this one dump the target website from your history, but also can be set to nuke the related cookies as well.

I suppose one could also just pop into the Firefox Privacy mode, but sometimes when you are browsing, you don’t realize you need to drop these things until you have actually landed and are browsing about the website…and by then it’s too late to shift into Privacy mode.

My fave Firefox RSS reader Newsfox got an update.  Minor release: NewsFox  Nothing spectacular, just a series of micro-refinements.  It isn’t planned to be released to Add-ons proper so hop over to this link, - newsfox: installation and get the NEXT version.

Finally, I bit the bullet and installed the Add-on Collector from Mozilla and uploaded my “home” collection of Firefox extensions to the community.

I’ll do one for my work-system profile as well later.

Optimizing Firefox

For the first time in quite a while, there has been a minor Firefox meme making the rounds that is wonderfully beneficial when it comes to speeding up the launch-time performance of Firefox.

Both of these post point out that one of the “features” of Firefox 3.5 that it generates a “randomness” factor at launch by probing various directories on Windows.  Depending on the volume of contents in these locations, the scanning process can take a while to complete, thereby delaying the “start-up” time of Firefox.  Both posts point out where to go to clean house of these files, thereby reducing the lag-time in launching Firefox.  Indications are that this is to be improved in upcoming release versions of Firefox so it behaves better.

El Guru opened his post Speed Up Firefox 3.5 Startup « The Firefox Extension Guru’s Blog with this tip as well then proceeded to expand it with another Firefox performance tip; vacuuming the SQL databases that Firefox now uses.

For more details of this check out these posts:

Basically, Firefox places items saved or accessed by the user in SQL database stores.  Not a problem, but when these items are deleted, the spaces left behind aren’t reclaimed and all these spaces add up considerably after a while.  Vacuuming is a legitimate SQL maintenance command that strips out those spaces and compacts everything together; thereby improving launch-time performance.

So how do you apply this fix?

Well, for the hands-on method, check out this post. Increase Firefox 3.* Performance by Optimizing the SQLite Databases [Windows, Linux and Mac OSX] ~ Web Upd8

Even if you go with one of the “automated” methods below, this should give you a basic understand of what the automated-routines are doing.  But that’s just me.

If you want to skip all that and just click something and let it work to speed up your Firefox launch times then check out either of these two freeware utilities:

BleachBit is still “developmental” but after checking it out, I ran it against my work Firefox system and it operated without any issues or detriment.

It does a whole-lot of other “cleaning” operations as well, but I’m just interested in the Firefox vacuuming.

  1. Download – BleachBit and run the installer. Note: I’ve not yet tested if it can be made “portable”.
  2. Ensure Firefox is not running.
  3. Run the BleachBit application.
  4. Select the Firefox –> Vacuum tic-box
  5. Hit the “Delete” button.

The operation will run and then you will be quickly cleaned and in business!

The other application noted is from the InfoSpyware site (in Spanish) created by Marcelo Rivero a Uruguaian who is living in Miami, Florida.

Download and unzip from the following main-utility page location:

  • IniFox - InfoSpyware

  • IniFox - Infospyware - Google Translate

The tool hasn’t been translated with an English version yet but it is pretty easy to use:

  1. Close out Firefox.
  2. Launch IniFox.exe
  3. Select “Aceptar” to accept the “EULA”
  4. Select the “Examinar..” to browser to the location of your Firefox user profile folder location.
  5. Select the “Instalar” button
  6. It will install the squlite3.exe file needed to do the vacuuming work.  If it already exists, you can reinstall it (Si), not reinstall it (No) or do so always/never, or rename.  I like that Marcelo provides all these options.  Select the one you wish.
  7. Same thing for the file “iniFox_by_infospyware.exe”.
  8. Then a “DOS” box will open (red with yellow lettering on my systems).
  9. At “Presione cualquier tecla para ejecutar IniFox y espere……” just “Press any key to launch IniFox and wait….”
  10. Depending on how much “vacuuming” work is required, this can take anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes.  Just be patient.
  11. When done you will be presented with “IniFox a terminado con exito. Pulse cualquier tecla para salir."  so “IniFox completed successfully. Press any key to exit.”  Do so.
  12. Relaunch Firefox and hopefully you will see an improvement in the launching speed.


--Claus V.

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