Saturday, August 13, 2005

Using Firefox

I'm now using Firefox as my browser.  Before today I simply had no compelling reason to use it, especially since Microsoft Internet Explorer was simply "good enough."  Unfortunately, I discovered the IE is *not* good enough, for me, right now.

I had noticed over the past few weeks that my new notebook PC with 100GB disk and 512MB RAM running Windows XP SP2 seemed to be running out of memory by later in the afternoon.  That seemed to be ridiculous, but it also seemed to be true.  A simple reboot always "fixed" the problem, but it worried me a little, especially since I was running all the latest Microsoft software, including downloaded updates.

The primary symptoms were that when I hit control-N to open a new browser window, either nothing would happen, or I'd get a browser window without a menu bar, or the window looked okay but no web page was displayed.

The problem would sometimes be so extreme that even Ctrl+Alt+Del would not bring up the Windows Task Manager.

Closing all IE windows would in fact make the "problem" go away, but I wasn't confident that it was that simple.  The problem still concerned me.

Most of my opening of IE windows is to read news items and blog posts as well.  I do a lot of this.  I do try to reuse existing windows when it makes sense and is convenient, but so many times it's just easier to press Shift+Click to open a link in a new window.

Finally, this morning I had the time and patience and motivation to do some experiments.  I brought up the Windows Task Manager (Ctrl+Alt+Del) and looked at the available physical memory before running IE, after typing Ctrl+N, and after closing an IE window.

I found two things: 1) IE used about 6MB of physical memory to open a new window, and 2) 3MB of that physical memory was still unavailable after closing the window.

In fact, it didn't take more than a few minutes of opening and closing IE windows before I got down to 20MB available and the missing menu problem cropped up.

Closing the last IE window did cause 300MB of physical memory to instantly become available again.

Granted, I knew that IE was a hog, but I hadn't realized that it was this bad.

The real kicker is that I hadn't run into this problem on my old notebook PC with 15GB disk and 256MB RAM running Windows ME and the latest downloaded version of IE.  File this under "Go Figure."

Now, maybe there is an IE setting that is causing some kind of bizarre caching issue here, but I'll leave that for someone else to discover.  Or, maybe after I abandon blogging on Thursday, I'll have the time and motivation to track this issue down.  Of course, then I won't be able to blog about it.  Doh!

As depressing as this issue is, the mere fact that I had narrowed it down to IE and eliminated the operating system, anti-virus software, or any spyware or malware as the culprit was quite a relief.

At that point it occurred to me that maybe Firefox doesn't have that issue.  I hade previously downloaded and installed Firefox since there are some rare occasions when it is useful to test things under Firefox, as opposed to (or in addition to) IE, so running an experiment had essentially zero cost.

Thinking about control-N reminded me about one of the main reasons that I had not used Netscape years ago:  they didn't use standard keys for simple functions.  In particular, they *swapped* the meaning of alt and control keys.  That really bugged me, so I never used Netscape.  I was concerned that Firefox may have kept that same lame, brain-damaged behavior, but a simple check verified that the Firefox guys really had learned a few things over the years and eliminated that one impediment to my use of Firefox.

I did a subset of my opening and closing test case and Firefox used less memory and seemed to give most of it back when each window was closed.  The test case was to hit Ctrl+N ten times and then Alt+F4 ten times to close the windows.  This was quite a relief.

I used the FF bookmark manager to import my IE "Favorites" and then mvoed them to the top level of the bookmark list.

I do have to manually re-enter user id and password info for various web sites (such as NewsGator), but that's bearable.  There was an installation option to carry over all of this info from IE, but I skipped it since I figured the info would probably be outdated by the time I got back to Firefox anyway.

I may not stay with Firefox, but at least I'll be giving it a shot.

Hopefully my publication of this issue and its resolution will save at least a few people a lot of grief.

Parting shot at Firefox:  The good news is that it looks enough like IE that it's easy to hop back and forth, and that's very important to some people, like me.

Incidentally, please leave comments and feedback on this post so that other bloggers can get a sense of how good or bad it was done.

[Note: This post may not "belong" in this blog, but I have no other blog that suits it any better and this is my default "catch all" blog anyway.]

-- Jack Krupansky


At 4:59 PM EDT , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just came across your blog about notebook memory and wanted to drop you a note telling you how impressed I was with the information you have posted here. I also have a web site about notebook memory so I know what I'm talking about when I say your site is top-notch! Keep up the great work, you are providing a great resource on the Internet here! If you get a chance, please stop by

At 1:21 AM EST , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greetings from North Cack-A-Lacky! I enjoyed your thoughts, although I give Firefox even a little more credit than you do, I think ;) See what I mean here: internet explorer tool


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