Firefox 4 first impressions / fix your old extensions to work on newer Firefox

Skip downwards if you don’t want to read geek stuff 🙂

I found out the beta of Firefox 4 came out today so I thought I would try it.

Where as Google’s Chrome is getting more and more popular, Firefox is stil popular choice for domestic web browsing, and contrary to stuffy IT managers I have seen that force everyone to stick to IE6 because of compatibility concerns, despite being dangerously flawed could be negligent to their customer’s data, it can be configured for performance, security and compatibility for any business.  Awkward web based apps that rely on Internet Explorer can be run using the IE Tab extension which makes setting up scripts for just those troublesome sites a breeze.  Generally users take to it and the user interface is close enough to IE for the adapt without too much trouble.  Sometimes I have to explain to users how tabs work but they are normally pretty happy.   The other reason for me why Firefox is king is how the Windows, Linux and Mac versions are similar enough to provide consistency in use and many of the extension work on all three environments, add to that this application is available in numerous languages, and you have a really stellar example how open source software can give you the freedom to make applications work the way you want.

I have to say, the Mozilla do tend to market Firefox like a bunch of hippies in a VW van selling organic soup or something, great but the stuffy IT managers of big businesses are not going to be convinced by it.  They really need an extra separate marketing campaign to get ordinary businesses using it for general browsing, and highlight the dangers of Internet Explorer’s dangerously flawed ActiveX system where uninvited nasties are free to get on a PC even if the user doesn’t have administrator rights nor are on web sites over a dubious nature.  Where as techs like me are always having to reimage PCs messed up by viruses and malware from an outdated browser.

So far I have only had about 2 hours worth of time to test drive Firefox 4, because it is a Beta, a mostly complete prototype not ready for primetime, you will find none of your extensions will work.  If you are a developer or just plain impatient, heres some tricks for you to get up and running.

New features on FF4 (I am doing this without cheating and looking on the web, just from obvious things I can see from the browser installing on my machine)
Aesthetics – the user interface has changed so the tabs are at the top, similar style to Chrome.  Gone are the odd shaped green circular back/forward buttons, and more neater buttons take their place.  Actually the newer animated clock things for waiting for a page to redraw look naff, please bring the 3.6 ones!!
Extensions/Add ons system appears to be completely revamped.
Inspect and Heads up display – seems to be diagnostic tools for developers to see the HTML code that makes up a web browser.
So far that is all I can see, but I expect there’s a lot of fine tuning for performance and stability below the skin.

Of course, as I am support and network administrator guy, I look at things from a different angle that my fellow IT peers who are web developers, so there is plenty of other features I am missing out here.

Running Firefox in commercial environment really is pretty simple and hassle free, security is good and users are warned if security certificates seem inconsistent.   As always I would refrain from rolling out the major updates, so not to break any extensions you may have, but when the browser updates itself from say, 3.6.4 to 3.6.6 as it did for my users, this is always done discretely in the background and doesn’t interfere with users work.  Compare that how horribly clumsy and awkward another application like Adobe Acrobat screams at you to do updates when you just want to view a darn PDF in a hurry.   I don’t know if Firefox can be forced out in a business environment using Active Directory type tools, this would be worth thinking about if anyone in Mozilla is reading this.

Some critics say Firefox is bloated and eats lots of memory, all I can say is that I have installed it on lots of different machines and rarely get into this problem.  Excessive memory consumption is likely to be down to lots of extensions loaded or stuck bits Java or flash residing in memory.  I would recommend you get the excellent free Ccleaner registry clean up tool and run it every now and then.  If your PC is never rebooted and runs 24/7 like a lot of other apps you will run out of memory every now and then.  Heck I was using an ancient 1999 model Toshiba Satellite 4090 laptop until 2007 running Firefox 2 on only 192Mb of RAM and with more than 3 tabs it would choke every now and then and wasn’t fast, but generally Firefox copes with elderly PCs quite well if the machine is properly configured.

Anyway my other talk here was I learnt from a while back how to trick Firefox into making your extensions work if they refused to load as they intended for an older version of Firefox, perhaps the main moan point for me, as third party developers are a bit slow in keeping up with the new versions for this browser.

These are my favourite extensions
IE Tab 2 – renders sites in Internet Explorer, great for poorly maintained web sites written for specific browsers
British English Dictionary – spell checker (works the same as MS Word) that underlines unrecognised words whilst you are writing text on a blog/twitter/facebook/forum or some kind.
Foxytunes – remote control to use iTunes/Windows Media Player/Youtube/VLC player at the bottom of your browser – Note I was surprised to have found out tonight Foxytunes is written by Israeli developers and now owned by Yahoo.
Resurrect pages – Finds cached copies of deleted web pages on a server.  Seen a blog with something interesting but controversial that got taken down?  Normally you can use this to find it again.

Warning, using Beta test software should not be done in a live commercial environment as the software is not fully tested.  Add on the fact I have interfered with the extensions to ‘force’ them to work, that is, remove a compatibility safety feature that will make the browser refuse to load on preventing a possible crash.   I am using standard old Windows XP SP3, but this should be the same for Windows or Linux users with equivalent tools.  Do this at your own risk.

1. Download the required extension you want, but you need to right click and choose ‘save as’ as we want to save it as a normal file with the extension XPI to change something.  Notice here this app is labelled as only compatible with upto version 3.6 of Firefox. (the most newest stable version today July 2010)

2. Once this is done, you then need to drag and drop the XPI file onto Winzip.   I am not a fan of Winzip as its bloated and awkward, but the equivalent apps don’t work so well for this type of job, Winzip isn’t free of course but the trial version is good enough for what we want to do.

3. Drag out one of the files off Winzip which is embedded in the XPI file, one should be called ‘install.rdf’ save this somewhere safe.

4. Next, drag and drop this file into a text editor like Notepad.

5. This looks like a lot of meaningless script only understandable by a programmer, but where it says ‘max version’ and 3.6.* change this to 4.0.* and then save the file.

6. Put this file back in the Zip file.    This hack XPI extension can now be dragged over onto your Firefox browser main window, and restart the browser when prompted to.

If something goes wrong? Firefox not starting?   If Firefox then crashes, you will have to start it in safe mode [start > all programs > Mozilla Firefox > Firefox (safe mode)]  will get you out of trouble, then disable the last extension you installed.   So far, all of the above four extensions were hacked by me this way and all work fine.

If you are having some problems with a favourite Firefox extension and need some support, I will gladly offer some help and maybe adjust your extension for you, contact me on my normal contact form.   A small donation would appreciated as I am a volunteer IT tech just blogging on IT and places I see at a charity in Israel.


2 comments on “Firefox 4 first impressions / fix your old extensions to work on newer Firefox

  1. Pingback: Firefox 4 first impressions / fix your old extensions to work on … | Firefox Blog

  2. Pingback: Usar complementos antiguos en Firefox 4.0 || El Historias

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