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Reducing Firefox’s memory footprint

0550. KoRn – [life is peachy #10] A.D.I.D.A.S. [2:33]

There’s a lot of articles floating about the interspacegeekweb on how to reduce Firefox’s memory usage, how to improve its responsiveness etc, and they do go on for a bit. I have a much simpler solution: Install Opera

Opera is the quiet achiever of browsers, the NetBSD if you will, and when you initially install it you tend to have a “so what?” attitude towards it. It’s just another browser, right? And then you use it, and it grows on you. It’s not until you’re forced to use IE7 at work, or Firefox because Opera isn’t supplied in the base build of your OS, that you realise just how good Opera is. And it’s not because it’s got some big killer feature, like Firefox’s “simply not being IE”, it’s the little things that are so transparent that you’re put into a “don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” position.

So let me touch on a few of those features, starting with Mouse Gestures. When I first read about Mouse Gestures, I thought it was a silly little fad that would fade away, back to insignificance from whence it came. And when I installed Opera it was not the first thing that came to mind for me to try, and I happened upon it by accident. For whatever reason, my right mouse button was pressed as I moved my mouse left (again, for no particular reason) and Opera spat a prompt in my face – You’ve just done a mouse gesture, would you like to turn this feature on?

“Sure, why not?” I figured. And I moved to a tab with a bit of browsing under its belt. Right Mouse button and a swift flick of the mouse leftwards took me back. Right Mouse button and a swift flick of the mouse rightwards took me forward. Fuuuuunnnnnn I sarcastically thought. It wasnt until two days later when I arrived at work and while enduring the pain of an IE7 beta that I held down the Right Mouse button and flicked leftwards, as if by instinct, that I realised:
1) IE7 don’t play that
2) Mouse Gestures, especially for someone with recurring gradual onset RSI like myself, are really cool with the right mix of form and function

WAND is another one that is so transparent that you find yourself habitually attempting to use it in other browsers, as if expecting that functionality to be there by default. Let’s say you have a website that you regularly log in to, say a forum, or a webmail page. WAND will automatically fill in the details and go. I’ll give you an example: DesktopBSD’s forums don’t play the good kind of cookie monster – for some reason it never seems to pay attention to me selecting to be remembered. In IE7 I’d be pissed: Having to enter my password at each and every unique visit. For Internet Banking, sure, but for a forum?

WAND has got your back though. If it’s saved a password, it’s this easy to use:

1. You see some fields with the glow of goodness. You press ctrl + enter

2. Opera fills in the fields and invokes Enter. You don’t need to click on Log In, Opera does it for you.

So I could type in my username and password, some dozen characters and mouse movement, or I could just press ctrl + enter and be done with it. That’s smart, that’s useful, you can move your WAND file with you.

A recent addition to Opera is the Speed Dial. Again, this is something I just happened upon and it’s still growing on me, but it’s really cool – it’s one of those “duh! why didn’t *I* think of that?” features. When you open a blank tab, you are met with 9 configurable buttons where you can shortcut to sites that you regularly visit:


It just speaks for itself. Altogether now: “duh! why didn’t *I* think of that?” I still havent figured out how to get it to default to google though, not that that matters, because you can properly search from the address bar, just like in Firefox. IE7 still hasn’t got this figured out properly though – it throws the word “Search” in front of your keywords, and this DOES affect the results. Try it, if you’re unfortunate enough to have to use IE7.

/UPDATE: Tools->Preferences->Search, choose Google->Edit->Details->Use on speed dial page

And while I’m hating on Microsoft, one of the features of Vista’s UI that I hear most about is the Tab Previews. Colleagues will arrive at work all starry eyed in wonder at this, and I’m all like “SO? Opera’s been doing that for ay-hay-jez” Totally.


There’s plenty more to Opera, too. You know, the usual guff: standards compliance, cross platform, security etc and it has a swathe of features built in that you can get in Firefox, sure, but only as unsupported extensions. Opera will also take care of your torrent downloads natively.

And it remembers things, our Opera. I recently had my DBSD system uncharacteristically crash while I was trying to install the nvidia drivers. I had to do a repair install, overwriting the OS and application base and losing Opera in the process. I reinstalled Opera, fired it up and it picked up my pre-crash session from my profile path and voila – I was straight into the tabs I was in pre-crash.

Before writing this, I upgraded 9.01 to 9.2 on my WinXP workstation, fired up Opera and I was given a treat – this hilarious thread that I happened upon on Digg months ago. Unfortunately we’re forced to use an IE-only web-application at work, and so I foolishly stopped using Opera on my workstation. Never again.

But it was great that Opera had remembered what I was browsing months ago when I last used it on my workstation. So you can see what I mean? It’s the little things; it’s all about the finer details that show people that you were paying attention. Opera pays attention. And doesn’t chew through as much memory while it’s doing so.

Categories: opinion Technology


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