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  • Out of the Fire, into the Water: Checking out the 64-bit browser Waterfox

    After checking my java versions yesterday and noticing that my 32-bit was updated, but not my 64-bit, I asked myself "why"? Some of you on the other hand might be asking, why in God's name are you running 32 and 64-bit versions of the same program?

    To answer your question, I'm running Windows 7 64-bit and installed the 64-bit java to take advantage of some of the applications and games out there currently offering 64-bit. If you're curious what's out there, check the Windows compatibility option in Control Panel. Warning: if you're like me, you'll get sidetracked and end up spending hours looking into all the possibilities. You have been warned.

    However, for those of you not so easily distracted by shinies, let's move on.

    Me being me, and everything working just fine, I decided to fix that. I updated the 64-bit version while maintaining a copy of the 32-bit one. Which got me thinking. Why am I still using a 32-bit browser?

    As most of you know, Firefox has been hinting at implementing a 64-bit version in a subsequent release since approximately version 4 (as of writing this, the current version is 15.0.1). In the meantime, users with 64-bit systems were required to download the 32-bit java version in order to keep our browsers running smoothly.

    I'd been hearing rumours of 64-bit browsers out there, such as Palemoon and Waterfox, and decided last night to look into Waterfox a little more in-depth. I'll try Palemoon out too at some point as it's getting a good reputation; but as I intend to stick with Firefox after the dust settles, I thought Waterfox would be the way to go.

    Before reading further, keep in mind that eventually Waterfox will become redundant as it is, after all, just a 64-bit copy of Firefox tweaked for performance. Once Firefox successfully implements 64-bit handling into its code, Waterfox will probably fall by the wayside. While the community effort to offer this 64-bit option is commendable, Waterfox doesn't have the same support, bug reporting, etc. that we're used to with Firefox. Palemoon, on the other hand, offers additional features other than just the 64-bit and will more than likely continue on with a separate agenda and set of goals. That being said, let's take a look at Waterfox.

    There are a lot of decent articles out there for the resident geek (some of which I've shared near the bottom of this article), outlining the browser's code structure, compilation, yadda yadda, but let's focus for now on some of the benefits of Waterfox (as well as some of the drawbacks) and how easy it is to get up and running.

    As described on their FAQ page "Waterfox is a high performance browser based on the Mozilla Firefox source code. Made specifically for 64-Bit systems, Waterfox has one thing in mind: speed." As someone who suffers from the vicarious trauma of delayed processing ("I clicked it 2 seconds ago why is nothing happening!!??"), this was good enough for me.

    Waterfox can be downloaded from http://waterfoxproject.org/downloads/. You'll see a warning that "Waterfox shares the same profile data that Firefox does. Make sure not to tick the remove personal data box when uninstalling older version of Waterfox." You'll also notice that on this same page, they conveniently offer the updated 64-bit plugins for Adobe Flash Player, Oracle Java and Microsoft Silveright. Don't download these plugins using Firefox as they may interfere with the 32-bit versions you still require for using Firefox. Wait until you have Waterfox installed, then download them from there.

    While Waterfox uses your Firefox profile, some plugins and add-ons are installed/updated separately in your Waterfox profile. But how cool is that though? You don't have to migrate anything from Firefox to Waterfox to enjoy all your previous settings, bookmarks, and even add-ons! Now I've heard some claims that all Firefox Add-ons work with Waterfox, and even though I haven't had any problems with the abundance of add-ons I use, there have been some reports that not all add-ons are compatible. You might want to check ahead of time that some of your most desirable add-ons are going to work with Waterfox (i.e. that they offer the 64-bit compatibility) before you install it. Or you can live dangerously like me and just install it and assess the damage afterwards. In this case, I was lucky. Worst case scenario, I would have simply reverted back to using Firefox. You see, you can have Firefox and Waterfox installed at the same time -- you don't have to choose one over the other. However, if you decide to uninstall either browser, pay heed to the warning of not ticking the "remove personal data" when doing so. Also, since both browsers are sharing your profile, you can only run one of them at a time. I wouldn't recommend trying to run both at the same time, but you know me, once I have everything running smoothly, I'll have to give it a go just to see what happens -- creating a Restore point before I do so, of course.

    There's also a suggestion out there that you should set Waterfox as your default browser, but I saw no compelling reason to do so, so I caved into my paranoiac-tinged optimism and kept Firefox as my default... for now. Let's see how things progress.

    My husband and partner in crime, OzDragon, decided to install Waterfox first before I had a chance to investigate it a little further. What can I say, he's more of a hands-on sorta man, and that's one of the many things I love about him. And I know many of you reading this will want less reading, more action, so let's see how this worked out for him. While the installation and set-up ran flawlessly for him, once up and running, the browser kept restarting every 30 seconds or so, give or take. So as soon as I finished lmao (I'm evil) I quickly looked into possible reasons why this was occurring. One of the obvious culprits that I warned him about in advance -- and had he not activated his ignore_wife_speaking filter, he would have paid attention to the fact that you have to make sure you have the 64-bit versions of the plugins installed. What was causing the restarts, however, was that the memory use quickly soared past the user-specified threshold set in a Firefox Add-on we use called "Memory Restart". For more information on this handy little add-on, click on the link. In short, it "gives you a quick way to restart if memory usage is too high".

    So first things first, he needed to update his plugins. In particular, I was eager to see whether or not the Adobe Flash plug-in would update in Waterfox to the latest version, while retaining the previous version in Firefox. Why, you may ask? Well let's just say that a few weeks ago I spent more time than I would have liked trying to revert back to a previous version of Flash when I discovered that 11.3 messed my stuff up. There are plenty of comments about this issue out there in Google Land if you want more details. Suffice it to say, to run my Flash-intensive Facebook games, I needed to get 11.2 back up and running. The process wasn't as easy as simply finding a copy of the previous version and installing it over the latest one. But, I digress. I just didn't want to have to go through this again.

    But before I could convince my illustrious partner to be my guinea pig... I mean to test this out for me, he had uninstalled Waterfox. He was uncomfortable with the fact that Waterfox is a 3rd party project and not fully supported by Mozilla. I say "fully" because even though the updates for both Firefox and Waterfox are released concurrently (although I did notice that a few versions ago Waterfox released their version the night before Firefox did), Waterfox does not have the support we've come to know and love such as mozillaZine (forums), Bugzilla, etc. He also didnít feel that it was prudent to leave Waterfox sitting dormant on his system until he has more time to take a better look at in Ė which he plans to do in the near future.

    I also found it interesting that even though Waterfox is offered as a download on the highly-reputable, geek-infested sourceforge.net site, someone pointed out back in July that the source code was not offered up there. This is something Mozilla is well-known for -- a community-based project where the source code is shared and worked on. I haven't checked to see if this was accurate or if the situation has changed, just thought it was worth noting.

    All things considered, Waterfox is still technically a version of Firefox. Good enough for me.

    My next test for Waterfox is to see how it handles using multiple profiles. Multiple profiles, you say? Yes. I use separate Firefox profiles for Work, Gaming and Testing. One of them acts as a backup in case my main profile decides to self-combust (files get corrupted). While we are told not to run Firefox and Waterfox at the same time with the same profiles, how will it handle me running Waterfox as well as alternate profiles in Firefox? How well can my system handle running a 32-bit based browser and a 64-bit one at the same time? Oh this should be fun. Hopefully I won't do something silly that will require a full-out system reformat. That would so suck.

    Now for those of you running Vista 64-bit, I haven't looked into any separate related issues that might arise as I'm using Windows 7 64-bit. My other computers (yes I am a geek thank you) run Vista 32-bit -- one of which is soon to be updated to Windows 7, as soon as I once again relocate the Windows 7 update CD that I continually misplace under mounting piles of paperwork. I really should see to that. If Firefox doesn't release a 64-bit version in the very near future, and I update my laptop to Windows 7 64-bit... which... come to think about it, I better look for that CD and ensure it's 64-bit and not 32-bit before I go any further. But if it is Windows 7 64-bit, then I'll also install Waterfox on my laptop and see if the conversion from a 32-bit OS to a 64-bit poses any trouble when using Waterfox. Now where did that gremlin hide my CD?

    Here's a list of some interesting articles and forum discussions I enjoyed during my research -- some of which offer a more technical comparative view of the 64-bit browsers out there.

    Waterfox a 64-Bit Windows "Firefox"

    WaterFox: A 64-bit Performance-Focused Version of Firefox

    Waterfox (64-Bit) User Reviews

    Waiting for Official Firefox 64-Bit? Try Waterfox, A Faster Variant of Firefox

    Differences between Pale Moon and Firefox

    If you give Waterfox a go (or Palemoon, for that matter), feel free to share your experiences here.

    Disclaimer: I've been feeling a little off lately and should know better than to go mucking about with such things as this, but it provides a nice little distraction to some unpleasant physical discomforts I'm currently experiencing. You'll probably notice that my wording in some cases is a wee bit technically incorrect, and I'd appreciate any comments or suggestions to tweak it back into true geekdom. This article was aimed at the casual user, however, and as such I've tried to use terms that are a little more generic and easy-to-understand.

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