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Firefox Tips

Mozilla Firefox has been outperforming Internet Explorer for a number of years, and its latest version is even faster than ever. However, there is a new, lean, free web browser on the block which runs web pages at lightning speed. It goes by the name of Google Chrome. Google released the source code of Chrome, including its custom JavaScript engine as an open source project entitled Chromium.

Tweak the right settings and with some experimentation, Firefox can keep pace with Google Chrome. Unknown to many of its users, Firefox has a raft of options that can unleash the browser's true potential. With just a few minutes of your time, you can make your daily web browsing more enjoyable. Even if your system has a state of the art Intel Core i7, AMD Opteron, or AMD Phenom processor, optimization is still worth exploring.

Many of the following tips are not Linux specific. So this article will hopefully be of interest to users of a wide variety of operating systems including Sun Microsystems' Solaris, Microsoft's XP, Vista and 7, as well as Apple's Mac OS X, and other UNIX clones.

We would recommend you backup your Firefox settings (stored in the prefs.js file) before experimenting with the tips set out in this three page article.

Install BleachBit

The first tip involves installing BleachBit. This software is included in Ubuntu and Debian repositories, and there is also an installation package available for Windows.

BleachBit deletes junk to recover disk space, improves start up times and maintain privacy. It offers both a simple PyGTK GUI and a command line interface for automation.

The software eliminates old junk from your system including cache, Internet history, temporary files, unused locale files (better than localepurge), logs, and cookies. It wipes clean 50 applications including Firefox (as well as, Opera, Real Player, Skype, Adobe Reader, Google Chrome and Chromium, Google Toolbar, Sun Java, and more). Besides improving Firefox's responsiveness it also shreds files so that they cannot be recovered, wipes free disk space to hide insecurely deleted files.

It is a handy utility that performs a number of different tasks for Firefox. In particular:

Cache: Web cache reduces time to display revisited pages.

Cookies: HTTP cookies contain information such as web site prefereneces, authentication, and tracking identification

Download history: List of files downloaded

Form history: A history of forms entered in web sites and in the Search bar

Passwords: A database of usernames and passwords as well as a list of sites that should not store passwords

Places: A database of URLs including bookmarks and a history of visited web sites

Session restore: Loads the initial session after the browser closes or crashes

URL history: List of visited web pages

Vacuum: Clean database fragmentation to reduce space and improve speed without removing any data. Since Firefox 3.0, bookmarks, history and most storage is kept in SQLite databases. As any other database, SQLite databases become fragmented over time and empty spaces appear. Over time the fragmentation causes a performance hit.

Render pages faster

Here we have a really simple tip that gives an immediate improvement in how quickly web pages are displayed.

In Firefox each setting, or preference, is given a name and stored as a string (text), integer (number) or Boolean (true/false) value. Firefox stores these preferences in a file called prefs.js. The easiest way to edit prefs.js is by entering about:config in Firefox's address bar and press Enter. The settings are then listed in alphabetical order.

New integer values are created by right clicking in the listing, and then click New > Integer.

To improve page rendering, enter about:config in the address bar (accept the warning that comes up) and perform the following:

Create a new integer value named content.notify.backoffcount and set the value to 5

Create a value named nglayout.initialpaint.delay and set its value to 0

The first line stops Firefox waiting for the entire page to download before rendering. The second improves speed rendering further by making sure Firefox does not wait for the page layout information to be fully downloaded before displaying the page.

When you restart Firefox, you should notice an instant improvement.

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Last Updated Sunday, October 04 2009 @ 09:51 AM EDT

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