Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Pleasures of Upgrading A New PC - Firefox 4

At this point, the frenzy of installing new applications and programs is slowing.  The machine is beginning to get more complete, but there will be other tweaks down the road.

The first step was triaging all the old hardware and finding which laptops needed recycling.

The second step was installing the operating system, and the minimum software.

The third step was convincing PDF software to actually install and work.

The fourth step was installing the excellent IrfanView and beginning to get my graphics software settled

The fifth step was the install of GIMP that was surprisingly less painful than most.

In the middle of all of this, and perhaps a little out of step, I found that a web page wasn't loading quite right.  I'm not in control of it so I couldn't have fixed the page.  What happened was that I went to check if Firefox had been upgraded.

It had.

To Version 4.0.

Now many professionals have a theory - Never Upgrade to a "Dot Zero Release".  I'm usually a bit less conservative about that, and well frankly everything.  So true to my liberal leanings and my Quaker upbringing, I jumped in full force.

I threw the baby out with the bath water, got a new baby, new water and a brand spanking new bathtub.

The good news is that I'm writing this to you, now, and am quite pleased.

Firefox 4 is faster than Firefox 3.6 was.  Noticeably faster.  Blisteringly faster.  Like they tacked a turbo charger onto the old diesel and now it is blowing the doors off things.

Hyperbole aside, the upgrade was painless.  I haven't yet found a problem with this.  Granted, this is "First Day" I am writing this, and will be posted the second day, but I have already opened a lot of web sites.  I'm sure I will find things that are broken, although I never did with the Old Firefox.

It does seem to use a little more of the processor, and it can use more memory depending on what you are doing.  The old Firefox 3.6 and it's predecessors would slowly eat up memory.  It would use more and more until *POP* it would crash.  This would take a couple days of use or abuse.  I would open my morning 160 web pages, do my thing, and leave the browser up with four email accounts, Facebook, and the login pages to CareerBuilder, Monster, and Dice.  At the end of the day I'd hibernate the laptop and go through the same process "tomorrow".   Eventually Firefox would crash, the operating system would become unglued and I'd readily take the time to restart the machine.  It would normally take a week.

The new Firefox 4 seems to be better at actually returning the memory it uses to the operating system.  I have a lot open at the moment, and this is after the system has been up, hibernated, and revived.  The memory use is what I would expect with 20 plus tabs and counting.

At the moment I have open more than 160 tabs worth of web pages.  Yes, 160, and I did count.

On Firefox 3.6, I'd be around 1GB of memory used for the browser and it would be creeping along... I'd be worried that it wasn't going to work and crash with loss of work.

Now on Firefox 4 with those 160 pages, I am watching the windows task manager show me between 1.50 and 1.60 GB of memory. Substantial increase, but at this point of the morning, it is smooth.  The nice thing is that it's also using my video card (Ok, GPU for the techies out there) to do some of the work - this is why it's faster.  Your Processor and Video Card - both are being used.  Now, while 1.5 or 1.6GB sounds like a lot, keep in mind, it starts out around 120MB and grows with what you're doing.  It's shrinking it's usage as I close tabs and windows.   The old Firefox was less gentle with it's memory use, and wouldn't always return memory to the operating system.

I'm currently doing all of this on a Core2Duo SU7300 (I think) Thinkpad T60 with 4GB of Memory and a 7200rpm 500GB hard drive.  Old but not decrepit.  Midspec - after all a Netbook is much slower and they're still selling THOSE.

I may be on the trailing edge with an "old" laptop, but I'm using all of it to get a LOT of things done and apparently all at once.  The last list of 38 pages loaded while I was typing in the last three paragraphs.  It would pause very slightly as Firefox found something it needed to "think" about, but nothing nearly as bad as the old version.

I am also having to change how I work with Firefox.  Before, I'd have an excuse to slack more.  I'd launch Firefox, launch 35 tabs, and idle away until they've loaded by playing solitaire, contemplating my navel, looking for pocket change in the chair, petting the dog, making faces at people who walk by.  You know, normal stuff.   Now, I select the same 35 tabs, and they load so much faster that I only have time to do a little dawdling before coming back to the work at hand.   After all, it is limited by the speed of my WiFi connection.

There are some famous tweaks out there to make "My" firefox run faster at the expense of more hits on the web server or fewer saves.  I still have them since they weren't set back to "factory default".

The browser should act just like it did.  It has some changes in how it looks - the "User Interface" or "UI".  The biggest one was that it put the menu bar folded up into an orange button that says "Firefox" with a little downward pointing arrow.  Like the start button.  I hated that and got rid of it by going into the orange button and clicked on Options and turned on the Menu Bar again.  I also lost my weather thing because they turned off the status bar at the bottom of the browser.  To turn that all back on, right click on the area to the right of the ugly-orange-button-that-says-Firefox and check "Add On Bar" as well as your "Menu Bar".  You'll be back to the old faithful look and feel.

I am NOT a fan of "Minimalist" computing when it comes to something like that.

Ahh Much Better.   Now it looks like a Windows application with the familiar "File Edit View" menu at the top.  Yes, I'm a traditionalist that way.  I don't want to learn how to use a program simply because someone made a design decision that turns it into the "Tallest Nail" and is trying to "be slick".

How to get it?

Simple, surf and click on the green "Firefox 4" button.
Accept and save the download.
Run the file.
Close your browser windows, yes all of firefox browser windows.  IE and Chrome don't count... ever.
It updated, painlessly.
It only asked whether I want icons on the desktop and start button menu and where to put the thing. 

If you are using Firefox, I'd say upgrade now.   If you aren't because of one reason or another, I'd say you should try it.  If you're one of my clients, this is what I'll be instructing you to use.

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