Optimized Software Builds Bring Out the Best from Your Mac

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Anyone can easily find Universal Binary builds of Firefox and Camino that will simply install and run on their Mac, so why would you want to scrounge around for an optimized build?

What Is It?

Where the normal build of these programs runs on all compatible Macs regardless of processor – from a 1997 Beige Power Mac G3 through the latest quad-core Intel Core 2 and Xeon CPUs – an optimized build is tweaked to run best on one family of processors. In the case of OS X Macs, those families are G3, G5, Intel (sometimes with separate Core Duo and Core 2 Duo builds), and two flavors of G4 (the PowerPC 7400 and 7450 families – see Which Build Do I Choose? for help choosing the right build for your G4 Mac, and if you’ve got an upgrade CPU, make sure you use the version optimized for the upgrade CPU).

Because these programs are open source, anyone can download the code, compile it as they see fit, and make it available. By using different compiler settings, the code can be optimized for a specific processor family, which leaves out the extra code necessary to support both PowerPC and Intel architectures. The optimized build results in a program that is smaller, faster loading, and perhaps a bit faster.

For instance, a build for G3 Macs can leave out any code that uses the AltiVec “velocity engine” found only in G4 and G5 CPUs, while builds for those CPUs can leave out any code designed to be used when the AltiVec unit isn’t present. Further, G3 optimized builds don’t have to worry about multiple CPUs, but G4 builds should be multiprocessor aware. G5 builds should be aware of both multiple processors and multiple cores – the Power Mac G5 Quad has both.

 

I have looked for in-depth benchmarks comparing optimized versions with the full version, but I haven’t found any. One user reports that the G4 optimized build of Firefox launched and opened pages about one second faster on his G4 PowerBook. He also notes that redraws were “not visible” when returning to an unchanged page and that switching between tabs was “instantaneous”.

Camino or Firefox?

Firefox logoFirefox is a cross-platform browser that’s readily available for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux. All of these versions have the same functionality and program design, although there are some differences in appearance on different platforms. [Editor's note: Since this article was first published, Firefox has dropped PowerPC support. However, Firefox lives on in projects such as TenFourFox (for OS X 10.4 Tiger and 10.5 Leopard) and Aurorafox (Leopard only). TenFourFox has optimized versions for G3, G5, and both types of G4 CPUs.]

Camino browser logoCamino is a version of Firefox optimized for Mac OS X. It looks more like a Mac app because it uses Cocoa and is fully OS X native. Users should be aware that Camino builds have a different numbering system than Firefox, so while Firefox is currently at version 3.5 beta, Camino is version 2.0 beta 3. Both are built on the same code base.

The biggest functional difference between Firefox and Camino is that Firefox supports plugins, which can extend its capabilities in myriad ways. These third-party additions to Firefox may make things less stable and the use of any plugins will slow down Firefox launches, as it checks to see if each and every add-on is up to date.

In terms of performance, I can’t find any benchmarks comparing Camino 2.x vs. Firefox 3.x. Subjectively I can say that both are very responsive on my dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4.

I have used both as my primary browser, and I use both daily. Of the two, I am more comfortable with Camino and generally prefer the way it works where it is different from Firefox (the only exception: Firefox can store multiple logins and passwords for a site; Camino will only store one). I recommend trying Camino if you’re an OS X user.

There are a few sites that work with Firefox but not Camino, so it’s helpful to have both at hand. I keep icons for the latest beta of each in my dock, along with Safari, which I rarely use, and Opera, which I like more every time I use it.

Sources for Optimized Builds

  • Firefox, fubism.com, 3.1b3 preview through the latest nightly builds for G3, G4, G5, and Intel
  • Camino, Pimp My Camino, 1.6.7 for G3/G4, 1.6.6 for Intel, and 2.0b2 for Intel and Leopard
  • Camino, MozzilaZine Forums, you may be able to find newer optimized builds here
  • Mozilla Applications Optimised for Mac PPC, PowerPC optimized builds of Camino, Firefox, Thunderbird, and SeaMonkey. Mostly older versions.

Optimize Existing Software

There are programs that can slim down your Mac apps so they’ll load faster and use less drive space. These fall into two categories: Those that remove unnecessary localizations (the odds of my ever working in Chinese are zero) and those that remove the PowerPC or Intel code from Universal Binary apps.

Removing Localizations

I’ve been using Delocalizer (link is to Internet Archive) to remove all the unwanted localizations for years. Delocalizer has been at version 1.1 for a long time and is not longer being developed. It was initially written for OS X 10.1.2 and updated for 10.2; later versions of OS X were never officially supported. From experience, I can say that it definitely works with OS X 10.3 “Panther” and 10.4 “Tiger”. (Update: A user reports that it also works with Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard”.)

The trick these days is finding a copy of this freeware app, since Bombich software no longer maintains it.

It can take quite a while to delocalize everything on your hard drive, especially the first time, but programs will load a bit faster and you’ll have more free space on your hard drive. (Mike Bombich, the author of Delocalizer, is also the guy behind Carbon Copy Cloner.)

Another option is Monolingual, which supports Mac OS X 10.3.9 and later. Like Delocalizer, it’s freeware, and versions 1.3.0 and later are universal binaries. Monolingual added the ability to remove Intel or PowerPC code with version 1.3.0 – be sure to read the notes below.

  • iCleanLanguage is another freeware delocalizer; it requires OS X 10.4 or later.
  • Applimizer is a commercial program that does the same thing and also claims to optimize HTML code within programs. It works with OS X 10.1 and later. $12.
  • TinkerTool System can also remove localizations, and it has a host of system iTunes as well. Runs with Mac OS X 10.3.8 and later. €7 demoware.

Stripping Intel or PowerPC Code

Whether you use an Intel-based Macs or a PowerPC one, every Universal Binary program has code you don’t need. There are programs that can safely and automatically strip out the unnecessary code. Just remember that if you’re going to upgrade from PowerPC to Intel someday, you’ll want to keep an unstripped version of the program somewhere.

  • TrimTheFat can strip either Intel or PowerPC code – whichever one your Mac isn’t using. It uses a blacklist to prevent it from modifying programs that won’t work if they’ve been modified The author calls it a work in progress. Free.
  • XsTrimmerLite can strip Intel code from Universal Binaries, but it crashes on Intel Macs, so it can’t strip PowerPC code. Mac OS X 10.3 or later. Free.

All-in-one Cleaners

Finally, there’s are some all-in-one solutions that strip localizations and unneeded binaries. Only one of these is free:

  • Monolingual can strip out PowerPC code, but there is the danger of it breaking Rosetta, so we recommend avoiding it for this purpose. It should be fine for removing localizations and stripping out Intel code on PowerPC Macs. Free.
  • CleanMyMac can also clean caches, securely erase files, uninstall apps, and delete trash left by removed apps. $14.95 demoware. Requires Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard”.
  • Xslimmer requires Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later. $12.95 demoware.

If you know of other programs, please email me so I can update this article.

Conclusion

These are useful tools for slimming down your apps so they launch faster and take up less space on your hard drive – very helpful with older Macs, which had much smaller hard drives. This can also be helpful with those few Macs (WallStreet PowerBooks and Beige G3 Power Macs) that require an OS X boot partition smaller than 8 GB.

searchword: optimizedsoftware

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