[note: since the original publication of this column, at least two minor updates of Firefox have been released. As of March 15, 2007, the current version of Firefox is 126.96.36.199. The information contained in this column is still completely applicable.]
Readers of this space know that we've been proponents of the open-source browser, Mozilla Firefox, for some time now. But like many folks, we experienced problems with Firefox crashing, seemingly at an increasing pace. So it was with bated breath that we anticipated the release of Firefox 2.0. After all, while version 1.0 means the software developer never having to say "I'm sorry," version 2.0 often means "yeah, I was sorry all along, please forgive me."
When version 2.0 was released back in October of 2006, however, we were disappointed that the crashing problems were apparently not fixed. Furthermore, a feature of Firefox 2.0 is the ability to restart a browser session that was terminated abnormally. So if Firefox crashes, the next time you start it, you are prompted with a message asking if you want to restore your old session, or start a new one. Restoring your old session is only semi-useful, because you will be logged off of any site that you were on that required a login.
If this isn't an admission of a problem, we don't know what is. After all, why would you need such a feature if users weren't reporting problems of crashing? Software developers of open-source and commercial software alike don't add in features that aren't requested or likely to be used.
As usual, some users claim that Microsoft is at the root of the problem. Most of these folks however, see black helicopters over the Koolau and keep a close eye on Masons and the Trilateral Commission. Actually, with Firefox 2.0, many of the crashing problems go away with a few simple steps.
First, update your plug-ins. Plug-ins are mini-programs that work within Firefox to provide an enhanced browser experience. The most probable plug-in suspects include Macromedia Flash, Real Player, and Java. We've had reports that updated plug-ins solve a lot of the problems with Firefox.
If updating your plug-ins doesn't work, check out extensions next. Extensions are similar to plug-ins, in that they are add-ons that provide additional features to the basic Firefox browser. Check out this website that lists problematic extensions to see if any of your extensions are listed.
Furthermore, make sure your extensions are up to date. In Firefox 2.0, open up the "Tools" menu and choose "Options." In the Options window, switch to the "Advanced" panel, click the Update tab and make sure "Installed Add-ons" checkbox is checked.
Not all extension updates will be available through the update system. You may have to go to the developer of the extension to get an update. If this sounds too complicated for you, don't worry, it probably means that you don't have any such extensions.
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Actually, saving your browser session is useful for quite a lot of things... For instance, you can have a session for each project that you're working on, or a session for your morning coffee. To John's suggestions I'd add: Keep it lean-n-mean -- remove those extensions which you aren't using, especially if one or more of them provides similar functionality to another extension. Firefox extensions have no reliable mechanism for determining how their changes will affect other extensions.