Mar 082017
 

Firefox ESR dark logo1.) The end is near for modern browsers on XP and Vista

After Google had stopped supporting Windows XP with Chromium 50.0 (Blink engine 537.36 & JavaScript V8 engine 5.0.71), I wondered for how much longer projects depending on it would last on the old OS. Unsurprisingly, they started dropping XP / XP x64 pretty quickly as well, like Vivaldi, Iron or the new Opera to name a few. Firefox kept support alive however, but of course, the end was looming over our (=XP users’) heads all that time, and now the decision finally has been made!

Mozilla Firefox will cease to support Windows XP, Windows XP x64 Edition and all editions of Windows Vista starting with version 53. If you’re still on 51.0.1, you’ll be provided with not just one, but two consecutive updates:

 

The reason for this is, that the first update just switches your update channel from “Release” to “ESR” (Extended Support Release). ESR versions are also typically present on Enterprise Linux systems like for instance RedHat Enterprise Linux 5 and 6, etc. After a quick restart, the browser will offer the real, final version for XP: Firefox 52.0 ESR.

After the update, the first thing you get to see is the notification of support ending for Windows XP and Windows Vista:

Firefox is notifying the user of how Vista & XP are no longer going to be supported

Firefox is notifying the user of how Vista & XP are no longer going to be supported (click to enlarge)

A quick check confirms it: This is now Firefox 52.0 ESR:

Firefox 52.0 ESR reporting is version

Firefox 52.0 ESR reporting is version (Click to enlarge)

According to the [Mozilla foundation], security updates will be provided for XP/Vista up until September 2017, and the actual, exact EOL date will be fixed mid-2017.

After that, there will no longer be any modern browser support for XP (NT 5.1), XP x64 & Server 2003 (NT 5.2) as well as Vista and the first edition of Server 2008 (NT 6.0). That is, unless somebody provides patched builds, but I don’t think that’s gonna happen…

2.) Electrolysis / e10s

On top of that, I have reevaluated the functionality of Mozillas’ multiprocessing technology on Windows XP x64 Edition. I tried that before with some 50.x version and failed to have Firefox spawn multiple processes for multiple tabs. This is a feature that makes Firefox more crash-proof and faster as well. I’m happy to announce that it does work with Firefox 52.0 ESR though!

Of course, this is not officially supported, not on XP / XP x64, nor on Vista. So force-enabling Electrolysis can only happen at your own risk! To enable the feature, open about:config, confirm the prompt, and then change the following properties as shown, create them manually if they don’t exist yet:

browser.tabs.remote.autostart     [boolean]   true
browser.tabs.remote.force-enable  [boolean]   true
extensions.e10sBloc­kedByAddons    [boolean]   false
extensions.e10sBloc­ksEnabling     [boolean]   false
dom.ipc.processCount              [integer]   16

You need to be a bit careful with dom.ipc.processCount however; Each Firefox process might consume hundreds of megabytes, and with that property set to 16, Firefox can spawn a total of 17 processes, 1 master process and 16 child processes (=tabs). So tune that value to something your machine can take! If you spawn to many processes on a machine with just 2GB or 4GB of memory, you might run into swapping rather quickly!

Also, you need to test this with your plugins and extensions! Not every plugin / extension will play nicely with e10s! In some cases the browser may even crash completely, or have individual tabs crash. You have been warned!

To test this, open about:support and look for Multiprocess Windows. Depending on how many browsers you have launched, it should show something like 1/1 (Enabled by user) or 2/2 (Enabled by user). Or, just open multiple tabs, load web sites in them (yes, you have to) and watch Firefox spawn additional processes in Task Manager:

Firefox spawning processes on XP x64 thanks to Electrolysis having been force-enabled

Firefox spawning processes on XP x64 thanks to Electrolysis having been force-enabled

And that’s it! Enjoy your security updates for a while longer, and then welcome Firefox into the mausoleum that is Windows XP! :) It might be the last browser you’ll ever use on that platform…

Feb 242017
 

Firefox + HTML5 + XP logo1.) Introduction & Explanation

This is one thing that has brought to me by two users ([SK1] on [Voodooalert]German flag and [liquidLD] who talked to me about this on IRC), and because I got a bit pissed off by it myself, I decided to look into the matter. Basically, HTML5 video on Windows XP / XP x64. But not just with webm (VP8/VP9), but also with H.264/AVC. Let’s face it, a lot of videos on the web rely on H.264 and sometimes you simply can’t watch certain videos or you won’t get all the available resolutions. Of course you could just rely on Adobe Flash, but since Google basically took over with their Pepperflash plugin and their Chrome browser no longer supports XP, it’s not the best move either. Especially when you think about Adobes’ history with critical security loopholes in Flash. HTML5 is just much, much safer, and free as well, and Firefox still supports XP.

Note that this guide is thus based on Firefox exclusively. Anything starting with version 47 should work, official support came in 49, and I’ll be using the current version, 51.0.1 at the time of writing.

So, why doesn’t it “just work” in the first place? It did a few years back, right? Because H.264 playback relies on a DRM plugin, on Linux it would be the Google Widevine plugin, on Windows it’s the Adobe Primetime plugin. So yes, Firefox does support DRM out of the box. But even if content isn’t signed and encrypted, the browser still relies on those plugins to play H.264. And the problem is, that Adobe found some problems with that plugin on XP, so they disabled support on the platform. Their version 17 plugin is still being rolled out with the browser however, and it is binary-compatible with XP, so let’s show you how to re-enable it!

2.) Making it work

On Windows XP and XP x64, the plugin should reside in the folder:

%USERPROFILE%\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\<your profile folder>\gmp-eme-adobe\17\

That folder should contain the files eme-adobe.dll, eme-adobe.info and eme-adobe.voucher. If it doesn’t (maybe because you have a DRM-free version of Firefox), just create the folder structure yourself, get the necessary files from [here] and place them in that folder.

Having the files present won’t enable Adobe Primetime for you however as you can see on about:plugins (Note: The Cisco stuff you can see there is just for WebRTC, so it’s unusable for HTML5 <video>), we still need to tweak a few things on the about:config page of Firefox. Look for the following properties and set them to the values shown below. If a property doesn’t exist yet – media.gmp-eme-adobe.forceSupported most likely won’t – just create them yourself, all of them are boolean properties and all of them need to be set to true:

media.gmp-eme-adobe.enabled		true
media.gmp-eme-adobe.forceSupported	true
media.gmp-eme-adobe.visible		true
media.gmp.decoder.enabled		true
media.eme.enabled			true
media.mediasource.mp4.enabled		true
media.mp4.enabled			true

After making those changes, you’ll need to restart Firefox. Now you might already be good to go, but on some configurations, about:plugins might show something like this:

HTML5+H.264 on Firefox not yet working

Adobe Primetime seems enabled, but there is no file information? So it’s not actually loading the eme-adobe.dll yet (click to enlarge)

If that happens, open your preferences menu on the top right, click on “Add-ons”, then “Plugins” or just go to about:addons. What you should be seeing is this:

 

However, if Adobe Primetime shows a notice saying that it’s going to be “installed shortly”, forget it. Just do it manually on the plugins’ options page you can see on the right image. To do so, click “Check for Updates”. The warning should be gone momentarily. After that, re-check about:plugins, and you should be getting this:

Adobe Primetime fully enabled

Adobe Primetime fully enabled (click to enlarge)

3.) Testing

Now you can do a quick check on the [Youtube HTML5 page], and it should confirm that everything’s working:

Youtube confirming full HTML5 video support

Youtube confirming full HTML5 video support including H.264 and Media Source Extensions (click to enlarge)

With MSE, even Javascript players (like the Flowworks player) bytestreaming H.264 to Firefox should work! Of course, that’s not very thorough. What you’d want is a real playback test, since you can never be sure what you’re getting on Youtube without a bit of extra work. Decent playback tests are currently available on [Quirksmode], and it should look like this:

Firefox playing HTML5 H.264/AVC video in Firefox on Windows XP x64

Firefox playing HTML5 H.264/AVC video on Windows XP x64 (click to enlarge)

With this, even stuff like Netflix works, because you’re getting not just H.264 playback, but also DRM support. Now, whether DRM support is a good thing or not… You’ll have to decide that for yourself. I’m not supportive of DRM content on the web, but if you want to view or listen to such content, you can!

Just one last word of warning though: Adobe has ended their support for XP with a reason, as the Primetime content decryption plugin has shown problems and instabilities on XP! I’ve been using this for about a week now, and I’ve had one case of a video getting stuck, which is a typical symptom of Primetime throwing up on you. Don’t worry though, Firefox won’t crash. Just move the video slider a bit or restart the video, and it’ll work again! You don’t even need to restart the browser, and such occurrences seem to be quite rare, so I’m fine with it.

There you go!

4.) Thanks

Big thanks fly out to [the guys at MSFN] who came up with all of this. I basically got 100% of my information from them, so thank you! You rock! :)

Update: If you update your version of Firefox to the latest and final 52.0 ESR (extended support release), the last version which will be officially supported until 09-2017 for XP, you might notice that Adobe Primetime just disappeared after the update. That’s because the installer may delete the property media.gmp-eme-adobe.visible from your prefs.js. To reenable it, you’ll have to manually recreate the boolean property and set it to true:

media.gmp-eme-adobe.visible		true

Restart Firefox after the change, and the plugin should reappear on about:plugins and about:addons!