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10 Hacks to Speed Up Your Browser

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My laptop is getting had it's 2 year birthday a couple of months ago. It wasn't the fastest processor on the block to start with, but with the time it has gotten much, much slower.

I've already written about How to Speed Up Your Computer, but after you take all those steps, what do you do?

For me the answer was look at the browser. I've been using Firefox for years and years. When I got the new computer, I imported my Firefox profile so I'd have all my browsing history. I make extensive use of autocomplete in URLs, so that history is very useful to me.

When your Firefox profile has 7-8 years of history, bookmarks, and other information it takes up a lot of memory. That slows everything way, way down.

Things were going so slow, I almost bought a new computer... almost.

A couple of days ago, I decided to attack the problem. In traditional, non-Lazy, fashion, I may have taken it to the extreme. Here are some of the things I did to reclaim my browser and my computer. A lot of these will work on the browser platform of your choice, but since I use Firefox, I'll be writing specifically to that.

  1. Say Goodbye to Firefox - Say hello to Firefox's brothers and sisters. Firefox has alternative versions such as Pale Moon and Light. I'm tempted to give Light a try, but no spell checker? Ouch.
  2. Create a New Firefox Profile - This was the most obvious fix. Firefox profiles allow you silo all your data from the application itself. I can still go back to my old profile if I need something in a bookmark or auto-complete, but this gives me a fresh start. Think of it like buying a new house, and keeping the old. You move only the things you need and suddenly you have a lot more space and efficiency. To do this, you are going to want to install the Firefox Profile Switcher add-on.
  3. Disable Flash - There was a time when many websites needed Adobe Flash. Since mobile browsers don't use Flash, many developers have found new ways to do what they need to do. The Firefox add-on, Disable Flash, gives you a button in the tool bar to easily turn Flash on and off. I'd say that 99.5% of the websites I visit work fine with Flash disabled. I found that doing this sped up my browsing immensely.
  4. Use One-Tab - I'm the kind of person who has 50 browser tabs open at any given time. One-Tab allows you to move all the tabs to... you guessed it... one tab. It's far more efficient to work with 4-5 tabs at a time and have the other tabs for later reading.
  5. Use Pocket or InstaPaper - These two services take any articles that you might be reading and save them for later reading. I don't need to keep a dozen browser tabs of articles that I want to read. I simply push them to my Instapaper account and read them on my phone when I have downtime.
  6. Use Ghostery - Ghostery is an add-on that is mostly for privacy. It stops websites from loading all kinds of scripts and cookies. The result isn't just privacy protection, it is a faster browsing experience. You have to be a little careful with this as it can block some scripts that websites need to function. For these you can "Whitelist Site." When I find that a website doesn't work it was usually because Ghostery blocked a necessary script.
  7. Use a Password Manager - I'm not really sure if this makes browsing faster, but I'm going to include it anyway. Instead of storing all my passwords in Firefox, I use LastPass. It's awesome for passwords protection. Not storing passwords makes my Firefox Profile leaner, but I may give up this speed advantage in storing them in the LastPass vault.
  8. Use this Simple Trick - A couple of weeks ago Lifehacker wrote about speeding up Firefox by enabling its new HTTP cache. You don't need to understand what it means, but the instructions are there. I didn't notice a huge speed increase when I did it, but I did it after doing all the above to make my browser fast.
  9. Lie to Websites - You can get the Firefox User Agent Switcher to make websites think you are using a smartphone. Websites, including this one, often have mobile-friendly pages that have fewer bells and whistles. I switch my user agent to mobile Safari by creating a User Agent with the following string:

    Mozilla/5.0 (iPad; CPU OS 6_0 like Mac OS X) AppleWebKit/536.26 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/6.0 Mobile/10A5355d Safari/8536.25)

    and the websites think I'm using an iPad. Many websites work fairly well like this as they don't want to lose the huge iPad audience. If you go this way, be sure to customize the toolbar, and add a button for it so that you can do it quick and easy to switch back.

  10. Tweak the Heck out of Firefox - There are a number of tweaks that you can do to speed up Firefox. I found a good number of them at I'm Programmer. With all the above hacks, my Firefox is going crazy fast, so I only implemented the pipelining solution as I saw it in three other articles.

Bonus tip: Listen to the Experts - I didn't want to include this, because I don't think it qualifies as a hack. Firefox has some troubleshooting information that may help you if you have problems. Of particular interest is the "Refresh Firefox" option, which may be the solution to my Firefox profile problem.

Give these a try in your browser and let me know how they worked for you.

Posted on May 20, 2015.

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6 Responses to “10 Hacks to Speed Up Your Browser”

  1. Big-D says:

    I use the following 5 add-ons and it makes life really fast with firefox.
    * Script Safe: Stops scripts from running when you tell them from other sites (like ads, google, facebook plugins, etc.) You can tell it which ones you want and which ones you don’t
    * Ghostery: Stops giving personal information to websites.
    * Ad Block Plus: Stops ads, simple
    * FlashBlock: Stops flash from loading (and now HTML5). It leaves a space where the item was and you just double click on it and it will run it if you want to see it.
    * BarTab4: This is my favorite, it puts tabs that are not used or 30 minutes (configurable) and unloads them from memory and suspends them. This makes them not run scripts (like updating email or facebook) because the tab is suspended if you have not viewed it for 30 minutes. This clears tons of memory.

    I have over 400 tabs opened with this setup, it is using less than 1GB of RAM, and is as fast as every.

  2. Money Beagle says:

    I use Chrome and it’s even a worse memory hog, though I like it better from a presentation, usability, and integration standpoint. Chrome actually breaks out the memory usage by tab and plugin, probably so it’s a bunch of smaller numbers instead of one giant number. But, the most valuable tool I’ve found is a plugin called The Great Suspender. Essentially, if you have a tab open and don’t interact with it for a set period of time, the plugin will suspend it, cutting the active memory usage by that tab by an average of around 80-90%. Once you go back to that tab, it will reload. It’s kind of quirky but is overall pretty nifty.

  3. Lazy Man says:

    Hey, hey, hey, no reason to install Ad Block Plus ;-)

    I used to have BarTab, but I thought it wasn’t kept up any more. When I look it up, it still says that. I can’t find a “BarTab4”, but I can find a “BarTab Heavy.” Is that what you use? If not, can you provide a link to the add-on?

    Money Beagle, I love Google and use most of their products, but if I can get a great alternative without putting more my information under their roof, I’m all for it.

  4. Big-D says:

    Lazy – I don’t know if they are keeping it up, I got the file a few years ago and installed it, and just update the browser every week or so when it tells me to. It is BarTab v4 as I just checked. It has not broken yet. I have the xfi (xfv what ever) file in my “software” directory and install it when I install the browser.

    As for Ad-Block Plus .. that is my home rig .. my work rig, we cannot install any add-ons, so you are safe ;)

  5. Lazy Man says:

    Thanks Big-D.

    I installed BarTab Heavy just because it was more recently updated and it seems to work like the BarTab that I remember. The author also mentioned UnloadTabs and SuspendTab as other versions that do the same thing. Readers, these may be a couple of other options for you.

  6. […] a Firefox guy (see 10 Hacks to Speed Up Your Browser and Firefox Profiles for Increased Productivity). Google and Microsoft control enough of the tools […]

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