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Firefox Portable Plus: Taking Firefox Portable to the limits.

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justatinker
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Firefox Portable Plus: Taking Firefox Portable to the limits.

Folks:

Firefox Portable Plus (FPP) is my attempt to finally make a version of Firefox Portable that is independent of the host computer. VLC Media Player is completely integrated into the installation so that it will play most audio and video formats embedded within a tab in Firefox. Adobe Shockwave Flash is also built in and FPP will ingore any versions installed on the host computer. There is also the option of using Java through JPortable: https://portableapps.com/apps/utilities/java_portable.

I have 'hand tweaked' the skin and added over 40 extensions into FPP to make the 'look & feel' of the browser is esthetically pleasing as well as being intuitive and functional. I've also made dozens of the most popular 'under the hood' tweaks through 'about:config'.

This is a public version of the web browser that I use every day. Instructions on it's use, it's many, many features and how to modify it yourselves can be found on its web page: [link removed by mod JTH]
tinker

John T. Haller
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Not Permitted

You can not modify Firefox and redistribute it without the express permission of the Mozilla Foundation. Firefox and Mozilla are registered trademarks and may not be used without permission. The Firefox code is available under the MPL but this open source license does not extend to the trademarked Firefox name or logo. PortableApps.com has permission from Mozilla for our repackaged portable version but that permission does not extend to 3rd parties modifying our package. Only the unaltered binaries we make available may be redistributed.

Sometimes, the impossible can become possible, if you're awesome!

justatinker
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Apologies

John:

I was completely unaware of that restriction. I will take down this post when you reply to this apology.

It's a shame though, because Firefox Portable as it's distributed is almost unusable by the average person. The adaptations that I have made allow Firefox Portable to run almost flawlessly on any Windows OS computer. The average user probably deletes FP after the first few times they try to run a webpage with Flash or simply try to play an MP3.

I will endeavour to get permission from the Mozilla Foundation to correct my error.

Thanks for the heads-up.

tinker (John Gardi)

Ken Herbert
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Adobe restrictions, too

You'll also need to approach Adobe regarding the Flash plugin.

Their licensing documentation covers special licenses for the Web Player distributed as an installer, but you would have to ask specifically about distribution of the installed components.

John T. Haller
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Doubtful

I am doubtful you would be able to secure permission from Mozilla or from Adobe. Adobe does not permit redistribution outside of their installer, either. If we had a way to make Flash available legally, we would. Flash isn't of as much use these days anyway, as nearly any site allows you to switch to HTML5 video now... since they have to for mobile.

Sometimes, the impossible can become possible, if you're awesome!

justatinker
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How do I delete a post?

John:

I've contacted the Mozilla Foundation and we'll see if you are right on that count. I'll contact Adobe as well and I expect that you are right about that one. I hear they are stopping development of Flash anyway, so who knows?

How do I delete my post then? Feel free to do that for me if I can't do it myself.

I've used portableapps for as long as it's been around and have gotten dozens of others to adopt it as well. It really gives folks relief to know they don't have to worry about their computer dying anymore and losing all their programs and data. That was one of the reasons I made FPP in the first place.

Cheers:

tinker

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No need to remove thread.

No harm in the thread remaining, as the replies may be useful to others.

If at first you do not succeed, use more sticky tape.

justatinker
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Permission from Mozilla Foundation

John:

Ok, I got permission from the Mozilla Foundation. They were very nice about the whole thing and thought that my project had merit. They directed me to use the Developer's Edition of Firefox (now at version 38). By compiling the source code myself, I now have a de-branded version of Mozilla Firefox that I can distribute freely. In fact, I'm using it right now.

I can freely distribute the VLC Media Player as long as include the source code and have also written a script that will download the stand-alone Flash Player from Adobe the first time the Installer is run, which complies with their licensing agreement.

Does this comply with Portable Apps standards? Would it now be possible to use the Portable Apps Installer to distribute my project?

I actually do know what I'm doing. I have over three decades of computer software, hardware, enterprise and networking experience. I built my first computer from a kit. I compiled the Developer Edition of Mozilla Firefox on the first run.

This project is just something that I'm doing in my semi-retirement for fun.

Did you even have a look at my web page?

tinker

John T. Haller
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De-Branded

Right, debranding it was the biggest hurdle, really. As long as you don't use Mozilla or Firefox in the name of it or include something that's a name-alike or sound-alike, you should be fine. Including VLC is fine as well. Just be sure you redistribute the source whether ot not it is modified.

As for Flash, I don't think you can do a live installer for it. They switched to a compiled installer from a packaged (aka zipped or LZMA) version. How are you handling a live install into your portable browser?

Sometimes, the impossible can become possible, if you're awesome!

justatinker
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Flash Install

John:

As for the Flash Install, I'm using an offline install package from Adobe of Flash v11.2 in .zip form. As long as my users agree to be developers to use Flash for test purposes on the various computers they use this portable browser on, we'll be OK. I'm using v11.2 because it will work on all Windows OS including Windows 7, which Flash on Portable Apps' version of Firefox won't, regardless of whether it has the latest Flash Player embedded or not. I learned that trick from these very forums.

I wouldn't even bother with Flash except that some sites, such as Souncloud.com still uses it to function and I don't like leaving gaping holes in functionality if I can help it. I have two working methods for having the user download Flash, one is based on JPortable and the other is based on Autoit.

I could use WinPenApp's X-Installer to download everything and just publish the launcher and my profile with the extensions but I like your Portable Apps system much better.

As I told the fellow at the Mozilla Foundation; releasing a bare-bones web browser is like selling someone a basic car, then telling the new owner where to get the options and then expecting them to go out, find them and install those options themselves. My project gives folks a 'tricked out' browser with instructions on how to use those built-in options and how to make it better once they've learned.

Do I have to 're-invent' the wheel and make my own Portable Apps Launcher or can I use the existing one for Firefox Portable? My setup is a 'drop-in' replacement. I didn't even touch the source code, though I thoroughly examined it to make sure I wouldn't break anything.

Let me know how you feel about that.

tinker

John T. Haller
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Insecure

Having end-users use Flash 11.2 would be rather irresponsible. The oldest version of Flash for Windows which is patched for security updates is 13.x extended support for organizations. The current version is 16.x. The single largest attack vector for a browser has been outdated flash and PDF plugins. That's why Firefox automatically disables them. Bypassing that lockout would be truly awful and expose every one of your users to completely unnecessary risk. Unless you've found some properly supported version online I'm unaware of. In that case, please point me toward it.

Just as a bit of a small outside reality check... for a browser, a barebones browsers is, quite literally, all 95%+ of people want. They don't want themes or non-standard settings. You, personally, may want a browser with a specific gold theme that doesn't match the OS, but most people... based on the actual usage statistics of themes... don't. That said, you're free to package and distribute a custom one if you want to.

You may use our launcher provided you include the source code and abide by the GPL and have no mention of Firefox or Mozilla anywhere in the name of the EXE or the app title. Mozilla would not permit that.

Sometimes, the impossible can become possible, if you're awesome!

justatinker
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Understood

John:

I understand your point about the Flash Player. Do you have another solution for getting Flash to work with Firefox Portable and Windows 7? I haven't found a way to do that even with administrators rights to the host computer.

As for folks using bare-bones browsers, as mentioned above, it's that they don't have guidance on how to make their browsing experience better. My beta testers have been very happy with my mods and tutorial, never realizing that a web browser could do so much. Even my brother, who worked with VisaCalc's creator in the 80's, has adopted my browser for every-day use. It's not the users, it's the environment that's imposed on them. Even the folks at the Mozilla Foundation are taking an interest, seeing as how their market share is falling to the crippled Chrome browser.

It'll take a bit for me to regroup and redo my documentation, but I'm glad I came here and got your advice before I got myself into trouble.

Thank you again for your help:

tinker

[edit] John, here's a screenshot of my de-branded About window: https://twitter.com/John_Gardi/status/556921574901956608
BTW: Flynx is the name of one of my cats! Smile

John T. Haller
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Install Locally

A locally installed copy of Flash has always worked for Firefox Portable. Still does. You can manually copy specific files into Firefox Portable to use Flash on the go, but you can not redistribute the browser that way. If we could legally distribute Flash for Firefox Portable, we'd already do so and have it automatically available and updated in the PortableApps.com Platform.

I think you may be seeing a bit of selection bias. Chrome and Firefox are about even in browser share and have been for a long time. Chrome grew based on ties to Android (easily sync), availability on iOS (a Chrome skin around Safari that syncs), *heavy* marketing by Google on their own website and online, bundleware that auto-installs Chrome within things like Java updaters, etc. It isn't currently growing anymore.

I'm one of the most technically minded users I know. I run Firefox with exactly two extensions. One to clear the search box after I use it and one to block annoying ads. That's it.

Looking at your screenshot, that type of setup wouldn't suit me at all. Tons of random icons all over a toolbar. A theme that doesn't match the OS (plus, in my mind, gold = tacky). A clock in the browser even though there's one inches away in the Windows system tray. It may be your personal preference, but I don't see users clamoring for more clutter in their browser.

Remember, the whole reason we have Firefox is because Mozilla Suite was way too cluttered and slow. Too many features. Too complicated. It was dying. Phoenix (Firefox's original name) was born from that. It's added quite a bit of features since then, but it's done so in moderation and without losing the mantra of keeping things simple.

None of that is meant to discourage experimenting with this side project, though. You never know what it could turn into. Just be realistic about your expectations.

Sometimes, the impossible can become possible, if you're awesome!

justatinker
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Does Flash really work?

John:

I'm at the local university right now doing my weekly radio show. The computer I'm using (Windows 7) does not have Flash installed. When I use the 11.2 version, Flash works fine. When I use the 16.0 version, it does not. Also, my beta testers say that a locally installed 16.0 version doesn't work either, whether the plugin is installed or not. This doesn't effect Windows XP computers, which work fine with or without the plugin installed
.

I used a fresh 'out of the box' version of Firefox Portable for my test here so I'd be sure it wasn't just me.

Am I (and my beta testers) doing something wrong? One of the goals of my project was to be as independent of the host computer as possible so folks don't have to worry about whether it'll work or not.

I don't see why having a web browser that likes the operating system would be esthetically pleasing. I go out of my way to modify my desktop as much as do to the software I use on it. As I said on my web page, if one is going to spend hours using a tool, it should be a compelling experience, not the gray doldrums of the average OS.

John, I have no expectations, but I never take the easy road anyway. Of course I realize that teaching folks HOW to web browse is no easy task and it'll be an uphill battle to be sure. Most folks don't get anywhere near as much out of their computers as they could.

tinker

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Rethinking Firefox Portable Plus

John:

At the suggestion of the folks at The Mozilla Foundation, I'm thinking about repackaging my project as an add on package to Portable Apps Firefox Portable.

Folks could install Firefox Portable and then install my package over top of it. Since all am doing is supplying a prepackaged Profile and VLC (with source), the end result would be the same. Although the process isn't as simple or elegant as my original, the user only has to do two part install once.

That way I could retain the name 'Firefox Portable Plus' as well according to The Mozilla Foundation. I could also make another package that would work for WinPenPack too. I've been in touch with those folks and they really like the idea.

I've test this type of deployment with both versions of Portable Firefox (yours and WinPenPack) and it works like a charm.

How does that sound from your point of view?

tinker

John T. Haller
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Second Profile

Rather than modifying Firefox Portable itself, modify the Firefox Portable Second Profile add-on. That way you can include all the bits you want without worrying that a later update to Firefox Portable would be affected. And you wouldn't need to keep updating Firefox proper or the launcher as that would be handled by the platform.

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justatinker
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Second installation the way to go.

John:

I think I'll go with a second installation of my package over using the Developer's Edition of Mozilla.

The way I would do that would be to make a self extracting archive the would just contain the Data and Plugin directories with my additions. I would instruct the user to extract the archive into the Firefox Portable folder to install my additions after Firefox Portable was installed. That way, the first time Firefox Portable was run, my additions would be in place as the default profile.

I've tested this two-step install and it works perfectly. It's not as simple or elegant as my original version but the end user only has to do it once. I just have to make my documentation clear enough to make the process work.

The Mozilla Foundation contact agrees that a second installation meets their licensing requirements. Also, at their suggestion, I'll change the name to 'Plus Pack for Firefox Portable' or something similar so that 'Firefox' isn't the first word in my title.

To be clear, nothing in my project has ever touched the Firefox directory or installation. Firefox and my additional extensions can be updated in the usual manner. One of the rules I set for myself from the beginning was that all the extensions that I use would come from the official Mozilla extension repository. Unless I chose to use different extensions at some future date, there is little need for me to do any updating at my end. The user would be able to keep this enhanced version of Firefox Portable up to date indefinitely.

This arrangement makes my install package much smaller, even with the inclusion of VLC's source code.

So, to recap: I would direct the end user to install Firefox Portable from Portable Apps website and then to download and install my package over top of it. All the features of my additions are retained and I think I comply with both you're and The Mozilla Foundation's license agreements.

Does this arrangement work as far a you're concerned?

John Gardi (tinker)

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FirefoxPortable2ndProfile

John:

I didn't realize until just now that you were talking about and actual Portable App for implementing a 2nd profile. I think I'll be able to work with this setup. I'll see if works with my additions and get back to you.

tinker

John T. Haller
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Correct, And More

That's correct. That way it can be completely independent from it and update separately. So, when someone upgrades Firefox, it won't reset the DefaultData, meaning they can still reset Firefox and have it work as expected or reset your package and have it work as expected (you reset portable software by deleting the Data directory).

You can also have a look at Private Browsing by PortableApps.com. It uses the same concept as Second Profile but takes it a step further with a separate set of DefaultData and moving a custom icon into Firefox Portable while its running (though I can't recall offhand if this works in the current versions of Firefox or not). Private Browsing does basically everything you want your package to do just with a different set of extensions/settings/etc, so it would be your easiest starting point.

Sometimes, the impossible can become possible, if you're awesome!

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Private Browsing App

John:

The Private Browsing App works with Firefox 35 just fine. I can put my profile in the 'DefaultData' folder as is and launches with absolutely no differences than my original install.

Is there a way I can re-brand the app with a custom icon and either suppress or change the splash screen? I would also like to allow for multiple instances of Firefox to run at the same time. Do I have to recompile the launcher to do those things?

I would like to copy my VLC relative icon to the root directory so that it can be used to launch VLC as a stand-alone media player. If that's no possible, I'd have to package everything as a self extracting archive but it would be nice to use the Portable Apps Installer.

tinker

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Recompile

Recompile the launcher to change the splash, name and EXE's icon. Change the other icons within the AppInfo directory as well. The icon used for Firefox while running is the appicon.ico in AppInfo, the launcher handles it automatically.

You should not launch your copy of VLC directly. It will run in local mode. Even if you set it not to, it will leave multiple files behind. We already have a functional VLC Portable in the app directory. No need to reinvent the wheel.

Sometimes, the impossible can become possible, if you're awesome!

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Re-branding

John:

I was able to re-brand the PrivateBrowsingByPortableApps launcher but when I compiled it I ran into a problem with the .ini file in the %PAL:AppDir%\Appinfo\Launcher directory. Since there is no application directory in the %PAL:AppDir% directory, the launcher.ini (properly named) file gives an error that it can't find the executable. I was able to replace the Icons because I can see the change, but since the 'ProgramExecutable' line is mandatory, I'm stuck.

For reference, here's the FirefoxPortable.ini file:

[Launch]

ProgramExecutable=Firefox\firefox.exe

John T. Haller
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Not PAL

Private Browsing by PortableApps.com does not use PAL. It's a custom NSIS Unicode launcher. Compiling it with PAL just messes it up.

You should not set Firefox to use multiple instances. It was never intended for end users and will cause issues.

Sometimes, the impossible can become possible, if you're awesome!

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