Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Improving Firefox

I recently went on a bit of a quest to speed up Firefox, as I wasn't happy with its rendering times on my (admittedly dated) iBook at home and my (fairly decent dual core) PC at work. I love Firefox, it's my favourite browser whatever OS I'm on it, but compared to say Safari it does feel a little sluggish in its default configuration, so I did a bit of hunting around to find ways to improve the speed of the old fox.

So what follows are the steps I've taken that have given a very nice speed-boost to Firefox, as well as improve its already good security model.

  • Use a ramdisk

Now this will be a controversial point as many people will contend that putting your web cache on to a ramdisk won't give any real speed improvements because the biggest bottleneck to render web pages is the net connection. While it is true that the net connection itself is a huge bottle neck, followed by the cpu rendering time, once you have the data from the interweb it will be saved somewhere. Retrieving from that cache is much quicker when it resides in physical ram and not on the hard disk. I would recommend trying it. You might be surprised at the extra snappiness you will get from the browser by doing this.

Ramdisks have their negative side, however. On rebooting, your cache will not be saved, meaning your browser will re-download from the web again. This is fine by me though, as I do not want other people to root around my web cache, dislike cookies and don't have the browser save my passwords - so there are security benefits to this too. As an aside, I do have firefox also clear private data when the browser is closed, something else I would recommend.

  • Get Fasterfox

Fasterfox is a performance and networking tweak add-on for firefox that is available here. It will make a few changes to firefox and also contains a turbo mode, which will try and pre-fetch static pages for you into your cache ready for when you want to visit them. This makes quite a big difference to browsing with firefox.

  • Flashblock

This nifty little add-on will block flash by default and instead show you a little play icon. Clicking this will play the flash movie. This is very useful for preventing useless flash banner adverts from loading. It also has settings so you can "white list" websites for flash files that you really do want to see. This will speed up your browsing by not downloading ads that you do not wish to see.

  • Adblock

Similar to the above, but for traditional banner ads, this will remove them from web pages so you are not downloading them unnecessarily. Also similar to above there is a white list, but also a black list, so you can use generic filters to block ads from servers whatever ad they try and send you.

  • Final Tweaks

Lastly, follow the instructions here to further tweak the browser.

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