Replacing Firefox

I am a heavy web user.  Everything from webmail to banking, if I can do it on-line I will.

So when I’m away from home (which is common) I like to have connectivity.  With WiFi access and mobile broadband what to connect to is straightforward.  As I like to travel light, I prefer to use a netbook and as they are typically lower specification, you quickly become aware of software bloat.

For years I have used Firefox.  I like its extensibility, security and reliability.  Sadly on smaller platforms, its starting to appear in need of a regular appearance at the gym.  Routinely sitting between 500 and 600 Mb with one or two tabs, the paging is noticable on a 512Mb Acer Aspire One (AOA 110-Ab) running Arch Linux.  This combined with the slower write access to an SSD makes for an irritating stuttering affect.

There are other issues to.  Since version two of Firefox went, sqlite databases are the order of the day.  Some of these grow to quite surprising sizes in a short space of time, noticeably urlclassifier3.sqlite (currently ~34Mb).  Disabling this protection seems a step backwards so I went as far as using tmpfs mounted profiles using rsync on a cron job to back it up to a tarball.

None of this really helped and the crux of the matter is still memory footprint.  So, on my mobile platform at least, Firefox must be replaced with a smaller alternative.

It must have a small footprint, fast page rendering and support Adobe Flash.  Niceties would be GTK (as I’m on Gnome) and a full screen mode.

After much trial and error with everything from Epiphany to Opera, I decided to use Webkit.  With footprint in mind it came down to two contenders – Midori and Arora.  Midori is impressive but not mature enough so I chose Arora, version 0.8.0.  Having just checked the Jaunty repository, it appears Ubuntu users have a much older release – 0.5.0.

Arora seems to render pages much quicker and it certainly loads quicker.  There is a sizable decrease in memory footprint – averaging at around 150 Mb.  I’ve browsed for a few hours with several tabs open and not seen it go over 200Mb.

Netscape plugins are supported so Flash works just fine and even surpasses Firefox, where I have an issue with scroll bars not being rendered.  JavaScript too is not noticably slower, I’m sure with quantifiable tests Firefox would be quicker as a lot of work has been put into this recently.

Although QT based, it fits in well with the Caramello theme.  On the downside, its full screen mode is poor in comparison to Firefox, leaving the bookmarks bar in site taking up screen real estate – always a consideration on a small screen.

It’s a great shame that the version in our repositories is so old.  Since I started writing the system documentation for Ubuntu Netbook Remix I have moved to using an image in VirtualBox as I prefer a more tailored system provided by Arch.  Arora fits in well with this approach and is certainly lightweight enough to allow me to run a couple of applications on startup – Dropbox client, Skype client and Gwibber.  This gives accessibilty with fast booting and I can’t recommend it highly enough.  I also hope we can package a more recent version, especially for use with UNR.

Update: as Leonel pointed out, Arora 0.8 is available in Jaunty Backports.

37 Replies to “Replacing Firefox”

  1. Yeah !

    Good choice man !!!

    I’ve used Midori during a few month (4 or 5), but it was too many unstable (many crashes), but some amazing features (in last version, 1.9.1, it have a kind of speedial page, and page loading is a little bit speeder than arora). But cause of these crashes and too, cause it has no password saving, no download manager … I used too come back on Firefox very often.

    And 3 months ago, I found Arora (in 0.6.0 version, actually in 0.8.1), I instantly loved it : Qt (really powerfull) interface, many fonctions that midori doesn’t have, even some functions that firefox have with plugin (flashblock …).

    With it, i dont’ have no more to use firefox.

    So i think that midori have 2 or 3 interesting features that must be merged in arora : user agent switching, speeddial, possibility to use another download manager and text editor, and extensions support, and faster page loading , better Javascript execution speed (midori is just behind Chromium, the fastest JS engine, and arora is third with a really worse score : chromium 4936, midori 2915, arora 1942 , firefox 3.5 359, firefox 3.0 156 …).

    But a very good browser (actually the best for me !) <3

    And it is actively developped so it must progress quickly.


  2. have you tried firefox 3.5 ? it has a sizable decrease in memory footprint.i am opening 9 tabs here and its only using 94mb of my ram.flash video playback is also much better on firefox 3.5.

  3. Not that I’d noticed – I should have mentioned it was Firefox 3.5 that was previously installed.

  4. This my suggestion:-

    I have a old machine that I recently had to use for a week when my previous main system died.

    Celeron 433 Mhz
    192 MB ram

    Ubuntu was pretty much unusable – it did install and work just very very slowly.

    I found that using Arch linux (686) using LXDE as the desktop I did have usable system (it wasn’t fast or anythig but I could work access pages, etc)

  5. Thanks, I already have Arch installed and have sufficient resources to run most anything. The problem is in that Firefox appears to be too resource hungry and that because web browsing is the primary function of this device this is more noticeable.

    I’ve installed Damn Small Linux on lower specifications and it is usable. I put it on a Pentium 100 with 32 Mb of RAM (because someone said it couldn’t be done, which I knew to be nonsense as I ran Slackware on a DX33 in ’96). The biggest hurdle was getting X up in running, it required a massive (comparatively) swap partition but it will run Dillo comfortably.

  6. If you don’t mind compiling code, you should try to get the latest qt (the master branch of the gitorious repository), it comes with a webkit snapshot that is only a couple of days old, and when compiled, Arora will take advantages of these features. 🙂

    The javascript engine coming with WebKit is quite fast, so you shouldn’t be able to feel any difference, actually I believe it to be faster. Our Qt webkit port still has a few issues with performance and memory usage though, but we are working on that.

    The Arora guys also have some patches in our review queue for adding a plugin database, so that it is possible to disable plugins, decide which plugin to use for each mimetype etc. Cool stuff.


  7. You know, oddly I didn’t try it under Arch and I’ve no idea why as I use it under Windows by default.

    Admittedly I don’t spend a tremendous amount of time on Windows outside of work but I do rather like Chrome – especially the segregation of individual tabs and the ability to turn pages into little applications (particularly as I like Google Mail).

    I’ll give it a try.

  8. I don’t mind compiling but it’s a chore on an Atom based system so I’ll give it a bash (no pun intended) on a desktop.

    There was a time when I was keen to stay with either QT or GTK but I have to say this is no longer true – QT does seem to be widely used with many of the applications I actually want to use, such as Arora, Skype Client and Firstclass Client.

    Quite looking forward to those patches appearing – thanks for letting us know!

  9. Thanks for the tip! I haven’t tried Arora yet but I plan to now. Also, thanks for pointing out that theme – I like it. I find it kind of funny though that you’re so concerned with memory but waste roughly 3MB on eyeballs in your panel. ;-p

  10. That’s a fair point, I don’t think there is anything like Adblock available. I guess you could block them using your hosts.deny file but I don’t find adverts that intrusive on the majority of sites I visit and if they are then I wont visit it again in a hurry!

  11. I’ve been using Chromium from the Ubuntu PPA for a while now on my Asus EeePC 900 (1 GB RAM, slow SSD, slow 900 MHz Celeron CPU). It works quite well. You have to enable plugins explicitly on the command line (chromium-browser –enable-plugins), but despite the warnings about incomplete plugin support, Flash works better than it does in Firefox 3.0 on my laptop.

    The user interface is nice (although the look doesn’t mesh well with the Compiz window decorations) and it feels snappier than Firefox. I miss AdBlock somewhat, but most of the sites I browse don’t have obnoxious of

  12. Oh wow, I used Midori and Epiphany, but I didn’t know of Arora before! Thanks a ton!

    Webkit Epiphany will be the best, eventually.

  13. Hey! Kudos to you for discussing Archlinux and Midori. I have an older laptop (1.4GHz Pentium M I think) with about 1.5Gb of RAM. I use Ubuntu on my desktop and also on this laptop for a long time, but I started dual booting it with Arch for fun. With each release Ubuntu seems to get a bit heavier and I do get to love my Openbox setup more (I use PCManFM, Tint2 and Conky). After boot to desktop it’s using about 70MB of RAM, and it boots fast! It’s noticeably quicker on most things. I have to use Visual Studio so I use VirtualBox with WinXP, and that is measurably much quicker in Arch than in Ubuntu for some reason. I use FF but I also have Midori installed and find myself using it more and more as it gets faster and more stable and capable. I think it will turn out to be a great browser. Thanks for the pointer to Arora though – I’ll definitely check it out.

    I should probably try Crunchbang on it some time too for comparison, but the Arch just works so well for me.

  14. noticeably urlclassifier3.sqlite (currently ~34Mb). Disabling this protection seems a step backwards

    I take it that Arora has something comparable?

  15. I don’t know to be honest, so it might seem a spurious comment on my part but it seems silly to have to disable a feature.

  16. I would recommend Chromium, because it’s one of the few webkit browsers that have an usable ad blocker ( For Ubuntu there is a PPA, for Arch linux, I don’t know if there is a repo or something.
    It’s at least even faster than Arora/Midori that use vanilla webkit.

  17. If you run benchmarks, you’ll see that Firefox (even 3.5) is between 1.5 and 15 times slower than a recent webkit or v8 and still uses more memory.

    You might want to try QGtkStyle, it picks up the GTK theme.

  18. Have you had a look at Fennec? While designed for mobiles, (from mozilla) it can be quite usable on normal distros, and of course is very fast. However, Ive no idea on the usability state of it, as it has been sometime since I tested it.

  19. Out of curiosity did you try the current webkit version of epiphany? It is fast sleek and looks like a gnome app. You might want to give it a try if you haven’t, I was very impressed with it’s progress over the last version that got released as a proof of concept. It’s not that heavy either and runs nicely on my AAO with 1.5gig of ram.

  20. I agree that Arora is a great, fast, lightweight browser, but I miss one thing : it doesn’t remember my passwords. And in our internet-world full of passwords, it’s annoying.

  21. I don’t get it. 500-600Mb? I’m a web developer. Have been for years. So I’ve been using Firefox since 1.0 and am a heavy web user. I have NEVER seen FF go over 300Mb, and that was a couple years ago on a Windows machine. I use FreeBSD, Ubuntu and CentOS exclusively and have NEVER seen it go over 180Mb, typically as it is right now, 10 tabs open and 148Mb.

    I just went to my wife’s and son’s computers, both on Windows. Both are sitting at around 200Mb with a number of tabs open. Since I’m the computer guy, I also maintain about 10 boxes for friends/family. I have NEVER seen such huge memory usage on any of them for all these years.

    And I don’t tweak anything. I don’t have time. They get what they get out of the box in a plain vanilla install.

    So, I don’t get what the problem is. I do seriously question why anyone says there are such problems, though.

  22. Firefox runs just fine on Windows, that was never in question. It has a large memory footprint on my Aspire One, as to why I don’t know but feel free to question whatever you like – YMMV. Comparisons to Windows boxes aren’t an accurate reference though, are they?

    Even at 200Mb that’s a sizable proportion of memory on a 512Mb device but if you have doubts feel free to Google it, there are plenty of others experiencing the issue.

  23. Me too. I have a quad core machine, 4 gig of ram and FF has always felt a little sluggish compared to other apps. I’ve been using Chromium for a while now and have had no problems (with the exception of Flash) but even this seems to be sorted now by enabling plugins in the launcher call.

    The difference in speed is huge. If only it had a side bar for bookmarks and a firebug type extension.

  24. I have been using Chromium more, I don’t mind there not being a sidebar and am getting used to typing what I want in the bar.

    On the build I’m using (, right clicking and choosing inspect element does everything I need from Firebug.

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