In Depth: Try Firefox 2 Beta without Breaking EBS

[Editor Update May 21, 2008:  Keith has moved on to another team within Oracle and, sadly, is no longer an active contributor to this blog.  Feel free to direct any questions about his posted articles directly to Steven Chan, instead.]

As I explained in my previous posting, trying to access a production instance of Oracle E-Business Suite, or any other Oracle product, with a pre-release version of a web browser should be considered a no-no. But if you rely on accessing Oracle Applications every day, that shouldn't prevent you from trying to gain some familiarity with the upcoming releases.

I'm happy to say that with some sleight-of-hand, you can still take your new browser version for a spin and keep your current installation active for all your day-to-day business use. Today we'll start with managing two Firefox installations side-by-side. It's a fairly delicate operation but easy and fast. In the end, you'll be able to safely experiment with the new browser without affecting the operations (and supported status) of your old version.

Preparation Is Key

By the way, all of the instructions in this article assume a Windows client, but if you're running on Linux or, dare I say, Mac OS X (where we don't currently support Firefox at all), the process is generally the same.

Before we begin, a word of caution is in order: in order to avoid any mishaps, I strongly recommend that you close all your Firefox windows and make a backup of your user profile before beginning this process. On Windows, you'll want to make a copy of this directory, where username refers to your Windows login:

C:\Documents and Settings\username\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles

On Linux, you'll find the crucial files in the more easily located $HOME/.mozilla/firefox, where $HOME refers to your home directory.

If at any time you run into problems or make a mistake following these instructions, simply recover this directory and you'll be back to square one with no harm done.

Now, let's get started...

Step One: Install, but Don't Run!

Start by downloading the new test version of Firefox and launching the installer. Since you want to retain your existing version of Firefox, be sure to install the new version to a different directory (like C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox 2). In order to do this, you must choose the "Custom" option when promped in the Installer, as seen below:

Firefox 2 Install (1):

Do not choose the Standard install type. If you do, your existing install and profile will be updated before you even have a chance to hit the Cancel button, which doesn't actually exist.

That's the first potential "gotcha" in the process. Here's the second one: when the install is finished, do not launch the program yet. There is another important step we need to do first.

Step Two: Create a New Profile

When you start up a new version of Firefox for the first time, it will update your user profile automatically. (This is the directory that contains all your personalizations, like bookmarks, cookies, stored passwords, and extensions.) A user profile is generally associated with a specific browser version, and Firefox does not support using the same user profile with multiple versions of the browser, due to potential incompatibilities. (Broken windows, crashes, and lost data can frequently happen if you try this...believe me.)

So it's important that you create a separate user profile to be used only with Firefox 2, while leaving your existing profile untouched for Firefox 1.x.

You can create and manage profiles using the Firefox Profile Manager. To bring up the profile manager, click on the Start menu and choose Run..., then enter the full path to the new Firefox executable, followed by the -P option, e.g.:

"C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox 2\firefox.exe" -P

(If you installed to a different location, make the necessary modification to the above example.)

This will bring up a Profile manager like this:

Firefox Profile Manager:

Now click on "Create Profile". You'll be asked to give the profile a name (something like "beta1" works fine), and a folder location, which you can keep as the default if you like.

Click on Finish, and it'll take you back to the main profile manager screen. Highlight the profile you just created, and then click the button that says Start Firefox, and you're on your way.

Step Three: Automatically Choose the Right Profile

As you may have noticed, there is an option to have the Profile Manager always start up whenever you launch any version of Firefox on your machine. You could uncheck the option that says "Don't ask at startup", and that will let you choose the right profile for the right Firefox version each time you start it up.

You could do that, but if you make a mistake and choose your Firefox 1.x profile when launching Firefox 2, the browser will upgrade your profile, and render it incompatible with 1.0/1.5! (If this happens to you, it's time to look at that backup you made before we started.) Furthermore, I'm lazy: I don't like to click more buttons than I have to.

Instead, you can modify the shortcuts used to launch Firefox (on your desktop, in your quick launch bar, and/or in your start menu) to select a specific profile automatically. All this takes is a small change to the command used to launch Firefox.

For each of these shortcuts -- including the shortcuts for your existing Firefox 1.x install -- follow these steps:

  1. Right click on the shortcut, and choose "Properties". By default, the Target line will be highlighted with the command line to launch Firefox, like this:
    Firefox Shortcut:

  2. Go to the end of that line, and add -P profilename, where profilename is the name of the profile associated with that version of Firefox. For instance, if you just created a profile called "beta1" for your Firefox 2 install, your new command line will look like this:

    "C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox 2\firefox.exe" -P beta1

    Note that the profile name is case-sensitive. Be sure to put a space before and after the -P, and be sure to do this for your Firefox 1.x install, also. (By default, your original profile name is called, fittingly, "default").

Now whenever you startup one version of Firefox or the other, it will use the right profile you've created for that particular version.

For the Nitpickers

Two more issues bear noting. The first won't apply to everyone, but if you chose the Windows XP option to display your default Internet browser on your Start Menu, and have an entry at the top of your Start Menu for Mozilla Firefox, like this:

Firefox on Start Menu:

Guess what? It's now pointing to Firefox 2, even though you would probably never know from looking at it. Changing this involves a few tweaks to your Windows registry, which is beyond the scope of this little "How To", but most of what you need can be found in this Microsoft Knowledge Base Article.

The last potential snag is that you can only have one version of Firefox running at any given time. This means if you have a Firefox 1.x window open, clicking on the shortcut for Firefox 2 will actually open another Firefox 1.x window.

If, for some reason, you're really put out by this minor inconvenience, there is a little-known workaround that involves setting the environment variable MOZ_NO_REMOTE. As before, the details are outside the scope of this blog entry (that's code for "this article is already too long, and the music is playing me off"), but you can find more information in this off-site article.

Take the Plunge

If you were thinking about experimenting with the new Firefox 2 Beta, I hope this helps you feel comfortable about going for a test drive, without interfering with your daily web surfing. You can learn more about the Firefox 2 Beta 1 Release by reviewing the release notes on their Web site.

Next up, the final part in this series which will talk about safely using the Internet Explorer 7 Beta. You can also look forward to an occasional article from me on some advanced Firefox hacks and tricks for EBS users. (I'm already thinking Microsummaries have some great potential!)

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