On the Windows platform there is a memory wall that many people are experiencing. Namely, that Windows does not utilize all of your physical memory once you have 4GB or more of RAM, unless you are using Windows XP 64-bit or Vista 64. Instead of letting that extra memory go to waste, I thought why not utilize it in some other way. A long time ago we had the opposite problem with computers, where processors were slow and we tried to speed things up in any way possible. Today, we have a lot of processing power and abundant memory and now it is the software that needs to catch up to the hardware. Given this, I thought why not use a some of that extra memory and load it as a RAM disk. Then if you think about it, the most often used application in today’s computing is the web browser, which uses your hard drive to cache content. This sounds like a perfect opportunity to use a RAM disk and speed up your browser’s disk caching. IE and Firefox both make it easy to modify your disk cache directory too, so the biggest problem seems to be trying to setup the RAM disk in Windows. There are multiple commercial solutions, but only one free solution that I could find that works well.
First thing to do is setup the RAM disk. If you do not want to purchase a commercial RAM disk driver, you can implement this free RAM disk driver for Windows Vista, XP, 2000 and 2003 Server. You will want to have a RAM disk that is slightly larger than both IE and Firefox disk cache sizes put together.
- Type about:config in Firefox’s address bar and enter
- Right-click and choose New – Integer
- Input the following in the dialog box: browser.cache.memory.capacity
- Input a value in the next dialog box, such as 24000, which means 24MB
- Then in the Filter: bar enter browser.cache.disk.parent_directory
- If this setting does not appear, then you will have to create a New – String with the above name
- The value should be a drive path to your RAM disk, such as M:\Firefox
- Once you have both settings, close out of Firefox and start it back up again.
- In Internet Explorer, click Tools – Internet Options
- Locate Temporary Internet Files and click the Settings… button
- Change the Amount of disk space to use: to the appropriate size you want
- Click the Move Folder… button to select a folder on your RAM Disk. If you used the free RAM Disk, your RAM disk should have a TEMP folder at the root, just choose this folder.
- Click OK and close out of IE
Depending on your computer, your experience may vary. On my Windows laptop and desktop, the speed with which Firefox 3.5 launches is vastly improved. I do not use IE much, so it is hard for me to evaluate the differences there.
If you installed Firefox 3 and are using Windows, you might run into a problem where Firefox does not allow you to download exe files from the Internet due to a Windows setting. You will get the message: This download has been blocked by your Security Zone Policy and your download file will never download. To fix this problem you must modify Internet Explorer settings!
- Open Internet Explorer.
- Choose Tools menu – Internet Options.
- Click the Security tab and click on the Internet icon.
- Click the Default Level button if it is clickable
- Then click Custom Level… and navigate to Miscellaneous.
- Under this section find the option: Launching applications and unsafe files.
- Change it from Disable to Prompt (Recommended).
- Click OK, Apply, then OK.
- Startup Firefox again and test it to see if it works now.
IE 8 Browsers
If you are using IE 8, you should probably look at modifying these settings as well:
- Click on Tools – Internet Options.
- Click on the Security tab.
- Click on the Sites button and verify that the website URL is in the list of trusted sites.
- Back on the Security tab, click Custom Level…
- Locate the Automatic prompting for file downloads sub-category immediately under the Downloads category. Set the radial button to Enable.
- Locate the File download sub-category immediately under the Downloads category and set the radial button to Enable.
- Click OK to save the changes and Yes when prompted to confirm the changes.
- Exit completely out of all IE windows and then try it again
Although I like to say that Safari is my favorite browser, my actual default browser for most of the day is Firefox and not Safari. My work day consists of working mostly with Firefox and IE 6. I haven’t gotten around to even working much with IE 7 at all. Luckily Firefox is very adaptable and I’ve managed to piece together a very nice setup of Firefox. It’s not quite perfect, but it is better than IE, and while I do like Safari, one of my pet peeves with it, is that it does not have as many add on features as Firefox. It’s greatest sin though is that the basic setup of Safari does not even have tab browsing enabled!
My favorite add-on to Firefox has to be adding a new theme. While the choices in add-on themes seems almost infinite nowadays, I still think that very few themes actually improve on the default Firefox 2.0 theme. I usually switch between Saferfox and Qute. Of late though I’ve chosen a modified version of Qute, named BlueQute. Somehow, when it comes to computers, other than gray, blue seems to be the most pleasant of neutral colors. If you search for Qute on Mozilla’s Addons site you should find a couple of versions. Qute versions look equally well on Mac OS X, as they do on Windows, so if you work on both systems, it is kind of nice to have one browser look the same across multiple platforms.
One of my daily annoyances is having to OK pass Firefox’s Mismatched Domain Warning box. This comes up any time I connect via SSL (otherwise known as https://) to any of my hosted sites. This warning comes up because the certificate being used to provide the SSL encryption is a wildcard certificate for the actual server and not the domain I am connecting to. There is no effective way in Firefox to turn this feature off, unless you install Andrew Lucking’s Remember Mismatched Domains extension.
With RMD installed, you will get an option that states Donâ€™t warn me again about this certificate for this domain. Checking the option box, will make the warning dialog go away the next time you visit the same url.
It may not seem like much, but after a while all those extra OK clicks add up and so I consider Remember Mismatched Domains a real time saver.
It’s still early, but by this fall, Firefox 2.0 should be out. Right now you can download the alpha release, known as Bon Echo. Not to be outdone though, Microsoft has their most anticipated IE 7 beta release available for download. I decided to download and setup both on my WindowsXP laptop which is only an 850MHz machine with 256MB of memory.
Although both IE7 and Bon Echo have new rendering engine changes, primarily the most apparant feature that you will notice is the interface changes. Bon Echo which will become Firefox 2.0, has a much cleaner interface. For example the Tools menu no longer lists Extensions and Themes, but uses the term Add-ons for both. Bringing up the Add-ons option shows a new multi-tab interface for installing and managing Themes and Extensions. IE7 changes are evident right away, in that Microsoft has changed the toolbar and enlarged icons, which is reminiscent of Apple’s iTunes interface.
Although I use Firefox and Safari about 65% of the day, I still use IE6 for at least a third of my daily browsing. Initial impressions were that Bon Echo felt faster and nicer to use than Firefox 1.5. Even if the improvements are not much, the experience was overall better than the current release. For IE7, the results were a bit mixed. I found the interface hard to get use to and initially I kept wanting to re-enable missing icons that I seem to remember using in IE6. After a while, I got used to the IE7 interface and it did not bother me as much. The anti-phishing features of both browsers are a good idea for everyone, so definitely upgrading to these browsers in the future will be a must.
I still think that robust password management should be added to all browsers. Right now Firefox does a good job of storing your information for sites, but what we really need is a universal secure management system. Like most people, I seriously have too many passwords, security phrases, and numbers to remember. Apple’s Keychain is perhaps the best OS level answer to secure password management, but I have to actually open it up and use it for when I want to save something directly. It would be nice if browsers featured a secure information storage system that would allow you to save anything from the browser. Perhaps a popup that would allow you to enter three fields of criteria and let you save to an encrypted database. Lastly it would be great if it was open platform, so any computer could open the file from the browser, as long as you knew the master password. Like I said Keychain, but with a better interface.
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.