In the last couple of weeks the reality of a portable Firefox browser became a reality. Not so much because there were not portable versions before, but that the idea seem to be catching on and the 1.5 release seems to now be available. So what exactly is a portable Firefox browser mean?
Today, we have access to more computers and while the idea of using a ASP (application service provider) seems appealing, right now most people just want to take their browser settings with them. For example, say you have access to a computer lab, but you do not want to leave your settings on a shared computer. The solution is an inexpensive flash drive and a customized version of Firefox which allows you to keep all your settings on the flash drive. This means you can take all your cookies, password logins, bookmarks, and even use all your favorite extensions. There are also portable versions of Thunderbird, the Mozilla email client, but in the case of email most people prefer HotMail or GMail to a portable application. Here are a few places to try in case you need a portable Firefox.
Portable Firefox at PortableApps
The recently launched PortableApps.com website has a full library of all kinds of portable apps you can use on your USB flash drive. The main ones are opensource related like OpenOffice and all the Mozilla apps, including Firefox, Thunderbird, and Nvu the web editor. Most apps can be started by clicking an icon that sets up the application to run without writing data to the main hard drive. The best thing of all is that all these apps work on any portable drive, or if you want use them on a local hard drive and then just copy them to a flash drive and you have all your settings with you. It really makes me wonder why Windows does not work this way to begin with!
Some brands of USB flash drives are U3 drives. These drives come with an application launcher and special software that runs U3 applications in a special environment, so that no data is written to the main computer’s hard drive at all. The difference between Portable Apps and U3 apps is that most U3 apps are not free. U3 is essentially a platform, and software vendors can make their apps U3 apps and then sell them just like regular Windows applications. Some apps though are free, like Firefox and Thunderbird. If you do not have a flash drive yet, you might consider a U3 drive since it makes application management easier. U3.com has a Software Central area which lists all applications that are available.
Portable Firefox Re-Loaded
You will find that plenty of people are revising John Haller’s Portable Firefox version to fit certain needs, like being able to have a portable version that runs on Mac OS X. The more interesting one is Cross-platform Portable Firefox, which claims to be able to run on Windows and Mac OS X at the same time. This is done by using a script for OS X to make the profile work correctly. Confused? Wait till Mac Firefox for Intel comes out, imagine how confusing that is going to be! But if you only want a straight OS X portable version, then you can try FreeSMUG.org’s Portable Firefox OS X version.
Personally if you are not a computer wizard, your best bet is to get a U3 drive and use one of the versions off of their site. Most likely by the time you read this, most U3 drives will come prepackaged with Firefox anyway. If you prefer an empty flash drive, then John Haller’s Portable Firefox seems to be the standard.