August 12, 2007

Configurations and Portability

I've begun to worry about my browser. I've configured Firefox so much that using a fresh install is painful. The lack of my shortcut bookmarks (which, I've discovered, don't import properly) is just the beginning. I've set lots of options. I've customized my toolbars. I've installed a couple of plugins. I've installed Adblock and customized its filter list. I've used about:config to set dozens of options that aren't accessible through the Options dialog. I've installed Greasemonkey and even written my own user scripts.

In short, I couldn't recreate my configuration of Firefox if my machine died. I could recreate most of it, but something would be guaranteed to misbehave when I least expected it.

I've found a partial solution in Portable Firefox, a variant that keeps all settings, plugins, extensions, passwords, etc., in the application directory, instead of spreading them around the file system. It's designed to run on USB drives, so I can run it on a different computer without hosing my host's Firefox configuration.

Portable Apps has a whole list of applications which they've made portable. In my opinion, many of them aren't needed. Where are you going to find a computer these days that can't unzip, view images and PDFs, or play audio and video? The rarer applications, like image, audio, and video editing, or SSH and FTP clients, can always be downloaded and installed on the system you're visiting.

The portable applications I might use are Firefox (so I don't have to repeat the configuration), GAIM or Miranda (so I don't have to enter the details for accounts on several IM services) (then again, I could use meebo), and possibly a text editor (configuration again).

Some people advocate installing an OS on your USB drive, which makes portability a non-issue, since you can install all the applications you need on the OS's file system. However, until USB disk access becomes much, much faster, this will significantly slow anything you do. For now, I'm going to stick with a minimal set that I can copy onto my host's computer.


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