Swiftfox: a fast Firefox alternative for Linux users only

In my ongoing search to find the perfect browser, I’ve generally stuck to Opera for the past several years, on Windows and on Linux.

I’ve used Firefox of course, but I’ve discussed a number of issues that I’ve had with Firefox over the years, and in my hunt for a great browser, I’ve always found myself going back to Opera.

Well, today, I’m here to report that this situation might well have changed, due to something called Swiftfox.

What is Swiftfox?

Swiftfox, according to the project’s homepage, is “an optimized build of Mozilla Firefox” that is compiled for Linux only.

Most of you out there using Firefox on Linux aren’t actually using anything that’s “installed” or “compiled” for your particular platform. Indeed, unless you’re installing Firefox via APT or compiling Firefox from source on your own, when you download Firefox and extract it, there isn’t anything to do but run the program from the directory that comes out of the compressed download.

What the Swiftfox folks have done, by contrast, is an optimized compile of Firefox on a number of different hardware platforms and offer these as an alternative.

In theory, this means that whichever build of Swiftfox you use appropriate to your CPU is potentially going to be significantly faster than the default, out-of-the-box Firefox.

Why Swiftfox?

Since one of my complaints about Firefox has always been performance, particularly as compared to other browsers on the same hardware, I figured I’d give Swiftfox a try. I wasn’t expecting much, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

I have to admit, I was skeptical, but this really blew me away. In fact, despite my laundry list of issues I’ve always had with Firefox, it was never as clear as now how much my opinion of Firefox has been colored by its lackluster performance on Linux.

Compared to Opera, Konqueror, Google Chrome, even Epiphany and Galeon and Seamonkey, Firefox has always been a memory hog, slow to respond, and slow at rendering webpages for me, especially on older hardware.

This kind of thing makes me cranky, and when I’m cranky, I’m likely to find other faults too, because they then stick out like sore thumbs.

However, I’ve been running Swiftfox over the last three weeks, and I haven’t gone back to Opera yet. It’s actually been faster than Opera. It starts up faster, it loads webpages faster, opens new tabs faster, and uses less memory than Opera under the usual levels of activity on my desktop.

The user experience is otherwise 100% identical to Firefox 3.6. It looks the same, behaves the same, and as far as I can tell, the only thing different at all is the noticably faster performance on all of the machines on which I’ve installed it.

All of my addons work, as well as my themes, and so far it’s been extremely stable. I have not managed to actually crash Swiftfox even once over the past three weeks, and that’s saying something — I can usually manage to somehow crash vanilla Firefox at least once a day, and Opera sometimes more often than that.

Conclusion

As I mentioned above, I was amazed to find that my opinion of Firefox all these years has been so strongly affected by its performance. I have found that when you fix the performance problems the way Swiftfox has, suddenly all my other quibbles with Firefox become significantly less important and don’t bug me anywhere NEAR as much as they used to.

This is really saying something, because when it comes to software, browsers in particular, I’m extremely picky and, well, critical.

As a result, I think I may have found myself a new favorite browser. Download Swiftfox for your platform and give it a try. You won’t be sorry!

- Trent

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24 thoughts on “Swiftfox: a fast Firefox alternative for Linux users only

  1. Nice article. Have you ever tried the Firefox nightly builds (currently 3.7aplha3)? When Swiftfox performance is good in you opinion, ff-nightly will blow you away. :)

    • I have played with some Firefox nightly builds in the past, but not recently. They’ve always been really flaky, so it’s not something I’m really that into. :)

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  3. The binaries for Swiftfox are proprietary and I therefore don’t think you should be promoting it here. You could always try Swiftweasel as an alternative or simply compile your own Firefox with pgo.

    • First of all, I’ll promote whatever I want on my own blog. If you read around a bit, I also promote Opera, and that’s a closed source application.

      Secondly, even if the binaries for Swiftfox are proprietary, so what? It’s based on freely available GPL’d source code, it’s specifically for Linux, this is a Linux blog, and I’ve been impressed with its performance.

      Swiftweasel is another one I’ve been meaning to try as well, but I haven’t gotten there yet.

      • Of course you’re free to promote whatever you like. I expressed an opinion and didn’t ‘issue a command’. From your ‘About the Linux critic’ section

        “I’m more technical than the “average user” by quite a ways, but I like to think that there’s no reason why Linux and [b]Free/Open Source[/b] Software can’t find a home on the average user’s desktop as a part of their everyday computing life. ”

        So you’ll forgive me for thinking this was a blog about FOSS and Linux.

        • “Free” can mean “free as in beer”, too.

          From the GetSwiftfox.com site:


          Please also note that the licensing restrictions were put in place to safeguard Swiftfox users against the possibility of obtaining tainted versions from anyone who may wish to maliciously alter the binary and redistribute it. Yes, that makes Swiftfox “non-free” in the Debian sense but it will always be free of charge to all users. If anyone has a better solution I would be glad to hear it.

          I guess I just didn’t find that objectionable in the “proprietary” sense, particularly considering that he’s still freely distributing the source code from which he makes those non-redistributable binaries. There are far worse things out there.

          For example, have you used Youtube.com? That, and a whole mess of other sites out there don’t work very well at all without Adobe Flash.

          However, one of the things I’ve been contemplating writing up here is a quick post of tips and tricks for getting Flash to work in Linux, and some good troubleshooting methods for when it isn’t working right.

          Yes, despite the fact that Adobe Flash is proprietary. HERE! On a LINUX blog!

          Sometimes, Mr. Samaddar, it’s about utility as much as it’s about philosophy. One can still promote utility with a clean conscience in technology. It is, after all, what will help us spread Linux to the masses. Zealotry never will.

      • I’m a little confused about how proprietary non-redistributable binaries can be built from GPL source code. I don’t think that that’s legal. But if you’re talking about the Firefox source, I think it’s under MPL, not GPL, which does allow combining with proprietary source into a proprietary binary. I noticed that the Swiftfox source is also downloadable. I don’t know if there is proprietary non-redistributable source in that.

  4. I also have had great success running Swiftfox on limited hardware. I have an old 450mhz Pentium II Celeron system, 512 mb ram with Mint 8 Fluxbox and with Swiftfox browsing is quite acceptable. My Acer Aspire 1 netbook also benefits from swiftfox.
    Just discovered your blog and I like what I see. I’ll keep checking back. Cheers!

  5. hello all,

    i’ve tried it and then i found Swiftweasel that makes use of PGO, making it even faster than swiftfox and itś really floss.

    i also find out that GNU Icecat is as fast as swiftweasel, so right now i use both.

    bye

  6. Trent,
    I’ve had almost similar idea about firefox ..because I’ve been using it for long long time … due to some frustration I have discard it and start using swiftfox and it never let me down in last one year..believe me.

    If you go through my blog you can find that I have expressed an article called ” Firefox saga on openSUSE”… that was the cause to prefer swiftfox.

    I am using it on Arch, Gentoo,Debian… my primary OSes.. for sometime now.

    I do agree with you Trent that firefox is always been a memory hungry application(specially late 2 series and of course 3 series)

    Opera is to some extent wonderful… but I found that sluggish too in quite a lot of time.

    I don’t like chrome browser at all…sorry beg to differ.. first instance the look of it…so horrible.

    Anyways nice to read your post…as seem I am not alone in this world thinking in the same line..

    Cheers!
    Bhaskar

  7. hmm, I used swiftbox for several hours now. But I can not see that it is faster than firefox on my gentoo system (Core2Duo 2.5GHz, 4GB Ram).

  8. Pingback: Swiftfox, Frefox ottimizzato per Linux | Giovanni Raco

    • in fact recent tests in a review by Tom’s Hardware showed that Firefox 3.6 is faster than any other browser opening 10 tabs and uses less memory that any other browser,including Opera.

      That isn’t comparing apples to apples, however.

      I’d like to see the result of that test when you install all the addons to Firefox 3.6 that it takes to bring it up to the same functionality level as Opera.

      Considering how little Firefox does natively compared to Opera out of the box, it’s not surprising that it uses less memory.

  9. your half right, because there are things that i don’t use nor i think that make much sense being in a browser, like a mail+reader client, and of course the other two, bittorrent and some kind of a webserver.

    i like opera (i started using opera in 1998) but my GNU Icecat/firefox/swiftweasel is so much more flexibel with the extensions that i use that i simply cannot replace it with any other, even chromium.

    in fact chromium/chrome wastes more memory than my Icecat configuration, with an acer 3614 with 512Mb ram i can open 12 tabs without a problem within Firefox, i can do that with Chromium/chrome, with five it starts to crwal.

    • Don’t forget about things like mouse gestures, content blocking, bookmark synchronization, sane native tab behavior/options… Opera has a lot of things built-in. To bring Firefox up to that same level of functionality I need to install over a dozen addons.

      Firefox runs pretty slowly when you do that.

  10. well,it’s not dozens, it’s just mouse gestures, xmarks or weave, noscript, addblockplus and tabmixplus.

    with these i got, i guess, all the best things of opera, and in fact i get also more flexibility.

    • I also install a speed dial extension, a Bittorrent plugin, and several others. Run some Firefox benchmarks when it’s laden with all of that baggage and THEN compare it to Opera.

      Anything else isn’t exactly a fair test.

  11. i also install several others that opera doesn’t have, mainly privacy and security like betterprivacy, ghostery, and others like greasemonkey, screengrab, vacuum, forecast, Secure Login, tidyread, useragent, scribefire, server spy.

    i would never install a bittorrent plugin in a browser, it’s not the place for that and i’m better served by rtorrent, in performance and security.

  12. Tried it on ubuntu desktop remix on a toshiba nb200 netbook and didn’t find it any noticebly faster.

    My advice is if you want faster performance start by blocking the adverts and click counters, I have always find them to be the biggest hogs so far.

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