Sunday, December 23, 2007

"Private Label" Firefox Builds

"Here be dragons"

So while I was stumbling around the Web this morning, waiting for my cup of tea to kick in, I fell off the known Mozilla/Firefox map into places that I didn't even know existed.

This is like going on a trip to find Captain Jack Sparrow and ending up in Davy Jones' Locker.

Strange stuff lurks here.  Strange and wonderful stuff.

I'm talking about private/third party builds of Firefox.

Class One - Almost Original

This class is likely to be what most users of Firefox/Mozilla are used to finding.

John Haller has the pre-eminent website for this:

Including the previously mentioned builds of Mozilla Firefox 3 Beta 2 and Mozilla Firefox

John's work is basically to provide a standard/default build of Firefox and then provide a specialized "launcher" for it that calls to the localized files on the USB (or local hard-drive location).

It's almost entirely the same Firefox build you get from Mozilla's download page. Just bundled up to run conveniently from a single location, portably.

  • Safety Factor - 99.99% safe for most users.

Class Two - Home Brew

This is what you cook up in your own still when you want to start striking out on your own.

Build your Own: Firefox 3 (alpha/beta) Portable - Grand Stream Dreams

Using Firefox Portable to Test Nightly Releases - CyberNet News

The benefit of this technique is that you can make a class-one build, keep it portable, even use "nightly" builds, and...if you use Ryan's package...can run it at the same time as another version of Firefox is also running on your system.  Really nice for working through side-by-side comparisons of versions...and monitoring memory usage between them, real-time.

  • Safety Factor - 75% safe for most users.

Class Three - Custom Third Party Builds

Now we are going into the amazing and heady world

I dropped into it via this thread over in the MozillaZine forums: Special versions of Firefox - MozillaZine Forums

Turns out there are passionate Firefox uses who dig deep into the inner workings of Firefox and tweak it out...much like the hot-rodders of old. This isn't "Pimp-My-Ride" stuff, it more like "American Chopper" with custom parts, screaming, kicking, and tinkering.

The thought is that by optimizing it for specific hardware/software platforms, you can eke out additional performance gains.

They can come in many flavors depending on the builder. 

Digital Alchemy has a nice "getting started" look: Optimize Firefox by Getting a Custom Build

When browsing through the builds that are available, you'll see acronyms like SSE, K7, and so on. These are the instruction sets that are used by your system. SSE refers to Pentium 3 and some AMD processors. SSE2 refers to Pentium 4, Pentium M, Pentium Xeon, and some AMD processors. K7 and K8 refer to AMD processors. Other terms: trunk builds are absolutely bleeding edge Firefox releases so they may not be stable while branch builds are usually more optimized and stable. Choose the right build for your system by getting the build that matches your processor and instruction set.

You must choose carefully.

Digital Alchemy points out these popular builds:

  • mmoy: There are builds for 32- and 64-bit, Intel, AMD, and Apple processors optimized for different instruction sets (SSE, MMX, etc.).

  • bangbang023: You'll find builds for SSE2-supporting processors here.

  • Swiftfox: These builds are specifically for Linux-running AMD or Intel processors.

  • BlueFyre: These builds are optimized for Athlon XP and some Duron processors.

  • drumsticks: For Mac G5's.

Here are some other sources I located:

Class Four - "Private Label"

Most default installations of the Class Three versions will let you place the Firefox build in any folder location you want, it would seem to be safe unless you overwrite your actual Program Files installation location of Firefox.

However, they will still use your default profile, which may be something you want to avoid.

So to make your own, you have to combine a Class Two build with a Class Three product.

  1. Download Ryan's standalone Firefox builder and get it prepped.
  2. Download your Class Three choice and unpack it to a temp folder.
  3. Create the "Firefox" sub-folder where indicated in Ryan's build.
  4. Copy the unpacked files out of the sub-folder from step 2 and drop them in the "Firefox" folder you made in step 3.
  5. Now use the Firefox launcher icon to fire it up.

This keeps your hot-rodded FIrefox build from using or corrupting your stable installed version for daily driving.  You can then either copy your daily Firefox profile into the custom one, or build it fresh.

  • Safety Factor - < 25% safe for most users.

Isn't this cool to know?

If you find a particular build that works great, please share it below in the comments. Just be sure to also list your hardware platform (Intel/AMD), and any particulars that you found helpful.


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