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When using Firefox on her computer, my wife opens a new tab when starting a new search, and opens links in a new tab when she may want to use the linking page later.

However she never closes tabs, effectively using them instead of bookmarks, which causes memory usage to keep growing, then swap use to keep increasing as tab count goes into the hundreds. Later as memory usage becomes too high it is no longer possible to hibernate, and we eventually reach a state where the whole computer becomes unusable (for instance bringing Thunderbird to front and clicking on a mail will take several minutes during which the whole computer is unresponsive). At that point we need to either close firefox entirely (which may take up to ten minutes and may lose unsaved data) or reboot (same).

I added memory to her laptop (now 2G in total - it's an old model, that's the highest capacity I could find that was compatible) but it just means she is now able to open more tabs before things start breaking.

My question: is there a way to extend or modify Firefox in a way to let her follow this usage pattern without memory usage exploding? I imagine merging the concepts of tabs and bookmarks, e.g. so that tabs that have not been opened for several days be automatically bookmarked and closed (going into the filesystem where it won't take precious resources).

Ideally, some pages such as the GMail web interface and currently playing YouTube videos (they can be recognised by the initial "▶") should never be auto-closed.

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  • As an aside she follows a similar pattern with programs, but to a lesser extent. When working on a document or displaying an image she will save her changes but might keep the program open even when no longer using it. The Android way of terminating programs in response to memory demand might be useful here, but that's probably out of scope of this question, which is Firefox specific. – tendays Oct 15 '15 at 9:34
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    My first idea is to look for a Firefox add-on, that automatically converts old, unused tabs to bookmarks and closes them. Increasing swap space would also alleviate the problem, because it provides more virtual memory and room for hibernation images. – David Foerster Oct 15 '15 at 9:38
  • @David addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/autoclose-tabs looks promising. I clearly did not google enough before posting... However increasing swap space would not help because she would just fill that with a few more hundred tabs. – tendays Oct 15 '15 at 9:44
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    By the way, Firefox doesn't even load tabs anymore after a restart, unless they're brought to the foreground. I also remember, that it lets you group tabs since a while, e. g. by topic, to essentially hide them, until you select the group again. – David Foerster Oct 15 '15 at 10:23
  • Ok autoclose-tabs doesn't bookmark so it's no good. – tendays Oct 15 '15 at 11:23
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This extension might be what I'm looking for: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/tab-sweeper/

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  • She's been using it for a week now and things seems to be going well. The number of tabs at any given time is still large but is stable, so the main problem of computer eventually dying is solved. Protecting some websites like webmail from auto-removal can be done by pinning the tab. @DavidFoerster thanks for your support – tendays Oct 25 '15 at 16:25
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As someone who has the same kind of net usage, where I just keep tabs that I'm busy with open until done with their topic, I would recommend using UnloadTab.

It will unload the tab from memory after a few minutes (that one can set) while it stays 'open' - a tab can also be unloaded manually. You can also exclude some address from being unloaded and pinned tabs are also never unloaded.

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  • Unfortunately she never closes tabs, even when she's done with their topic (probably because, by the time she'd be sure she'll no longer need to access them, they've disappeared from the visible UI already so there's no obvious benefit in hunting them down to close them), so that would just delay the inevitable. However I wonder if using both extensions together would be even better. Assuming they're compatible, memory usage may then be lower than using Tab Sweeper alone. To be experimented... – tendays Oct 25 '15 at 16:34
  • Ah, i see. She might also find tab groups interesting just to help organize the tabs – chesedo Oct 26 '15 at 6:31
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It would be better to "educate" your wife, since this seems to be a problem. The max tabs extension allows you to set a maximum number of tabs and display a warning when trying to create more: https://addons.mozilla.org/fr/firefox/addon/max-tabs/

Go to Add-ons > Extensions and click on preference to set the limit.

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  • I don't think this is a good approach. I've already explained to her the reason for the computer becoming unusable. Also there does not exist a fixed limit up to which things work well, and beyond which things would not work, so any fixed limit would just artificially degrade the experience. Say she is in the middle of some research and suddenly the browser tells her to stop her work and do some cleanup. She'd just tell me to put things back to the way they were before! – tendays Oct 15 '15 at 11:21
  • I agree, that a behavioural solution may be simpler than a technical one here. There's a toolbar button available to add a bookmark for the currently open URL to "unsorted bookmarks", so removing old tabs is just 2 clicks. The issue looks a bit like this joke: "Doctor, if I do this, it hurts." – "Then don't do this." – David Foerster Oct 15 '15 at 11:58
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I also open a lot of tabs - to the point that Firefox becomes unstable (and don't like Chrome - which seems to do the unloading thing by itself without any add-on). Although the maximum was 100, usually not more than 30-40. But - I always close the tabs as well when I'm finished. I use the tabmix session save/restore to save a collection of tabs usually on a certain topic. Then I close them all. And be fresh to start again. I would never ever tolerate such a slow computer. Hopefully sometimes i get back, restore the session, finish the research and delete all tabs and the session.

You could try to implement this. Plus an unload add on - to speed things up at the 50-100 mark.

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The OneTab Add On is nice. You press a button and it closes all your tabs and creates a persistent new tab with links to all the urls of the tabs you closed so you can open them again later.

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