Upgrading to Firefox 4

27 March 2011

Firefox 4, as I mentioned in my previous review of it where I slated it against Chromium (the open-source clone of Google Chrome browser), took me by surprise with its speed and apparent improvements over its previous versions and my old browser of choice, Chromium. So much so, in fact, that I’ve now adopted Firefox as my browser of choice and have migrated all of my settings to the new browser. In the process, I discovered a few quirks that, due to the ‘newness’ of 4, will likely be fixed soon or that are Mozilla avoiding alienating some of its older users. Just to be clear, I don’t mean problems; I’ve actually had far fewer issues with Firefox 4 than I had with Chromium.

Upgrading is, as always, fairly easy. The new browser showed up in the Arch repositories shortly after its release, and was available for download to Windows and Mac users as well. Some Linux distros (such as Ubuntu) haven’t released it [yet], so they require a little tweaking to get it, which is as simple as adding Mozilla’s repository and running an upgrade.

Firefox 4 will keep the preferences from any older version of the browser that was formerly installed, as usual. However, this creates a little confusion with some of the new features, such as the “Firefox Button,” the new unified menu. Firefox gives users the option to have the classic menubar or the button; new installs will see the Firefox button, but upgraded installs will continue to see the menubar. Whichever you prefer, it’s simple to switch between the two.

The “new browser smell” (it’s like that “new car smell”) is still around, and as such, some of the Firefox add-ons aren’t compatible with 4 yet. I was very disappointed to find that Adblock Plus will not run on Firefox 4, and I had some issues with a couple others that I downloaded to play with. Over the next few weeks these are problems that will probably be fixed by the developers of the add-ons.

Coming from Chrome/Chromium, I’ve gotten accustomed to where things are, such as the bookmarks menu, refresh and home buttons and such, which are in slightly different places in Firefox. Right clicking on any empty area on the tab bar or the navigation bar opens a context menu with a “customize” option, which lets you drag your buttons to wherever you prefer them to be, as well as add or remove things as well. Migrating bookmarks is just as easy; simply export them as an html/txt file from the respective browser, then go to bookmarks -> show all bookmarks, and from there is the option to import an html file of bookmarks.

Also, particularly for computers with less memory, there is a nice option for changing the memory usage, which boosts performance significantly, at least on low-memory Linux machines. Visit about:config in the address bar, find browser.cache.disk.capacity, and lower the number associated with it. I turned it down to 10500 on the old Ubuntu laptop I have, which made it noticeably faster, and 15000 is suggested for systems with 512Mb to 1Gb of memory. Firefox 4 already has a very small memory footprint and good performance, but this helps to step it up and make it perform even better.

Care about what the web is doing to our minds? Check out my book, The Thought Trap, at book.thenaterhood.com.

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