A fresh Firefox install: drastic but cathartic

Following last weekend's mea culpa I thought I'd make amends this weekend with a post about how I nearly ditched Firefox but decided instead to do some housecleaning with a fresh install on my MacBookPro. The results were astonishing.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor on

Following last weekend's mea culpa I thought I'd make amends this weekend with a post about how I nearly ditched Firefox but decided instead to do some housecleaning with a fresh install on my MacBookPro. The results were astonishing. Note: some of what I say only applies to Apple kit - Windows users have a bit more of a tortuous route but the results should be the same.

Over the last few months, Firefox has been driving me nuts. Performance was the real killer. Firefox would take ages to load, sometimes it would sit there apparently doing nothing but in fact fighting to grab memory faster than it was leaking. I was at the point of giving up on the old 'fox when 'bingo' a light went on. Re-install.

Firefox instructions for deleting an existing install on Mac OSX are not well organized. If like me you've got years of cruff, It's not enough to drag the application away from the Applications folder. You have to dump the profile information that sits in the Username/Libraries/Applications Support/Firefox folder. They tell you that but only 'below the fold.' I discovered this by accident because I did as Firefox recommends above the fold for deletion, grabbed the latest version and found nothing had improved. Where to next?

Looking through the extensions I'd added over the years it struck me the only ones that matter to me are Greasemonkey, Del.icio.us buttons and Shareaholic. I don't need the Google Toolbar, I'm sure as heck not using the Mahalo Toolbar and most everything else is just accumulated cruff. But I do need my bookmarks for site logins and my most commonly visited sites.

Firefox doesn't give you an easy way to export your bookmarks so I imported them into Safari first and quickly scanned to ensure they were all there. I then deleted my Firefox profiles folder and re-installed Firefox. On initial load, it asked if I want to import from Safari which of course I did. I then re-installed Greasemonkey, Del.icio.us and Shareaholic buttons. I also re-installed a couple of FriendFeed related scripts.

Since I was having a housecleaning session, it made sense to re-organize my bookmarks which were a mess anyway. That took the most time as I needed to think about how they could be placed into appropriate folders along with pruning those I'd forgotten about.

The whole process took around an hour but the performance improvement was staggering. As a bonus, I recovered some 14GB of space on the hard drive from the millions of items that had accumulated in profile cruff.

Lessons learned and observations:

  • If you are using Firefox then be careful about what you add in. As an average power user, I don't have time to get intimate with the geeky stuff around removing things I shouldn't have in the first place or which I no longer use.
  • When browsing habits change, what's needed in the browser changes. If that's true for you then maybe a re-install is appropriate.
  • While Firefox continues to have memory leakage problems, it may not be the browser but your own accumulated cruff that's causing problems. If that's the case then consider a spring clean.
  • You're going to lose all your passwords but then it never does any harm to make a wholesale change. Until the open whatever movement comes up with a fireproof way of transporting your existing login information it makes sense to note those passwords that are business critical. For my blogs, I simple said 'forgot' and acquired new ones.
  • Sysadmins have a problem. While they can create an image for the different installs users need, it is very difficult to legislate against all the cruff users accumulate. Providing a re-install and education service might be considered a serious IT value add and help get away from the 'extinction crowd' while putting an end to all those performance support calls.
  • It's a pity that Safari is the only major browser out of Firefox, IE and itself to offer an export facility. Even though I'd prefer to use Safari for its speed, it isn't well enough supported by way of extensions for me to consider it a day to day browser. I can overcome some things by getting Safari to emulate Gresemonkey but it's a messing about job the average user doesn't want to handle - and why should they? Others will suggest browsers like Camino or Flock but I need something that is very well supported with enough options to make me keep wanting to come back. Despite its memory issues, Firefox is the only browser that addresses the need.
  • The flip side of all this Firefox goodness is that I still don't have a watertight browser from any browser developer that will give me what I need. I'm told memory issues are addressed in Firefox 3 but like most enterprisey types, I'm not a beta tester so I'll have to wait and see.

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