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Old November 27, 2012, 07:50   #1
Mikko Lehtinen
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Any good browsers on Debian Squeeze?

I'm having some browser problems.

I've been recently involved in an EU project about teaching elderly people to use mobile devices and cloud tools like Google Drive. Suddenly I need to start using a dozen different cloud tools that really want to have newer browsers than what Debian Squeeze has to offer.

I was really happy with the browsers before. Both Iceweasel and Chromium were fast and problem-free.

I installed a newer version of Iceweasel from Debian Backports. It's modern and only slightly buggy, but often it slows down all my other programs like the terminal emulator. I tried the latest Opera, and it's even slower and much more buggy.

I haven't dared to install a newer Chromium yet since it's my last fast browser on the system. (Not counting Links 2, which is just excellent but doesn't handle cloud tools at all.)

I'm on Thinkpad T61. Do all the latest browsers just require much more memory and processor speed? On this same computer I've designed 600-page books with lots of photos on Scribus without any problems...

EDIT: I've read that Firefox is much more memory-efficient under Windows.

Last edited by Mikko Lehtinen; November 27, 2012 at 08:04.
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Old November 27, 2012, 18:00   #2
Therem Harth
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For Firefox, you could try creating an integer called

toolkit.storage.synchronous

in about:config, and setting it to 0. IIRC most of Firefox's problems on Linux are due to repeated fsync() calls, which on Linux mean "Sync everything to the disk RIGHT NOW!"

The upshot of setting toolkit.storage.synchronous to 0 is that Firefox should be less of a wallowing pig, but if it crashes you might lose some history entries, or bookmarks added during the session that crashed.

Re Opera, some versions have issues with the GTK widget emulation. The best way around that is to use X11 widgets, by setting File Selector ->Dialog Toolkit to 4 in opera:config. X11 widgets look ugly, but are much, much faster.

That said I'm surprised that you're getting slow browser problems on a T61, since I routinely use Firefox and Opera with no issues on an Atom N270-powered EeePC. Modern browsers are piggish, but not that piggish.

Umm, some other thoughts:
- Is your Thinkpad swapping when things slow down?
- Is it possible that Firefox's hardware acceleration is causing problems? I would guess not, but it might be worth toggling that option.
- How big is Firefox's on-disk browser cache? Just a guess, this; on Windows it tends to grow without limit, but on Linux I've never seen it exceed about 50 MB. Still, default settings change...
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Old November 27, 2012, 19:21   #3
Mikko Lehtinen
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Therem Harth View Post
For Firefox, you could try creating an integer called

toolkit.storage.synchronous

in about:config, and setting it to 0. IIRC most of Firefox's problems on Linux are due to repeated fsync() calls, which on Linux mean "Sync everything to the disk RIGHT NOW!"

The upshot of setting toolkit.storage.synchronous to 0 is that Firefox should be less of a wallowing pig, but if it crashes you might lose some history entries, or bookmarks added during the session that crashed.

Re Opera, some versions have issues with the GTK widget emulation. The best way around that is to use X11 widgets, by setting File Selector ->Dialog Toolkit to 4 in opera:config. X11 widgets look ugly, but are much, much faster.
You know what? Both Opera and Firefox are cured! I couldn't have believed it was even possible to receive such a helpful answer.

Just some obscure magic words like toolkit.storage.synchronous, and voila! Problem solved.

For example, administrating a WordPress site is now about three times as fast as it was before the magic words on Firefox.
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Old November 27, 2012, 20:04   #4
Therem Harth
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Thanks.

IIRC this problem ironically exists because Linux exhibits mostly correct behavior when fsync() is called. I don't know about Windows, but I've read that on OSX, fsync() is does not guarantee that the data is actually written to the disk. I'm not certain, but I wouldn't be surprised if something similar applied to Windows.
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Old November 28, 2012, 10:38   #5
Mikko Lehtinen
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Seriously, Firefox has never felt this snappy for me on Linux. I'm reporting the issue on the Debian Backports mailing list. Even if they couldn't fix this properly, they could at least inform users about the issue. (Perhaps in Wheezy this is already solved in some way? I haven't tried.)
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Old November 28, 2012, 18:29   #6
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I believe a workaround for this pathological behavior was added in the EXT4 at some point, but I'm not 100% certain.
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Old November 28, 2012, 22:05   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AnonymousHero View Post
I believe a workaround for this pathological behavior was added in the EXT4 at some point, but I'm not 100% certain.
Interesting! Pretty soon I'm going to install Slackware with EXT4. I'll report how Firefox feels like there. My Debian machine has EXT3.
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Old November 30, 2012, 09:21   #8
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I found another way to speed up Firefox/Iceweasel on Linux. In about:config, I set “gfx.xrender.enabled” to “false”. With synchronization off and this, everything is now super fast.

A blog post about this is here.

I found some proof on the internet that EXT 3 handles fsync really, really bad.
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Old December 2, 2012, 16:10   #9
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That would probably be disabling hardware acceleration. Which might be a good idea if you have an Intel chipset... Actually it might be a good idea with any chipset on Linux, because (as I understand it) XRender is basically rubbish no matter what. 2D acceleration on Linux is and has always been in a terrible state.

Edit: I see, that only disables 2D acceleration. Cool.
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Old December 7, 2012, 17:16   #10
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Now I'm on Slackware 14/Firefox 15.0.1/XFCE 4.10/EXT4 on my new (well, second-hand) Thinkpad X200. Browsing is very fast with default settings, no need for dangerous hacks.

Installing Slack was really easy, mostly just pressing enter to accept the defaults, and so far everything seems to work out of the box. I'm so impressed with Slackware 14 that I might install it on T61 too. Might be interesting to compare the performance of Debian Squeeze and Slackware 14 on the same machine.
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