I never thought I would come to write such a post one day, but the truth of the matter is: the way I used to use my computer wasn’t sustainable. Whoa! It seems you really can use the word sustainable wherever you want…

I’m a browser person. Pretty much everything I do sits inside the browser: e-mails, RSS feeds, reading the news, facebook, etc… everything happens inside the browser. When I need to find a scientific paper, what do I do? That’s right! I use my browser to go to Google Scholar where I then search for what I’m looking for. Nowadays I’m even having some Google Docs action ever since I started sharing documents with my fiancée which require the capability of simultaneous collaborative editing. Sadly, all of this can only happen in the browser. Microsoft, with all its might, still hasn’t figured out a way to make Microsoft Office collaborative. But I digress.

The point is, those of you who are lazy and like to keep things at hand (like me), probably end up with at least 10 tabs open at all time. And your work flow is something like “open tab”, “search for something”, “close tab” and that would be peachy if it wasn’t for all the bugs features present in nowadays’ browsers. For example, if you close a tab in Chrome, Chrome will still keep that tab stored just in case you made a mistake and want to bring it back to life. Similarly, all your path within a tab is stored, in case you want to push the back button to go to where you where before. Now, when you put these two together (a whole path plus saving all the closed tabs), this brings up quite a massive memory requirement. In the beginning it might not be noticeable, but Chrome (and Firefox, Safari, etc) can grow above 1Gb of memory quite fast.

When that happens, your computer will start swapping memory to the hard-drive and eventually you’ll start to feel sluggishness in everything you do.

How can I fix that? This was my first thought. And if I can’t drive web-browser developers to do something about it and truly make their code more memory friendly, that means I have to change the way I use my Mac. It started with GMail. I’m an avid GMail user but GMail’s web interface is loaded with resource-hogging javascript. This meant that GMail had to go and give way to a more resource friendly Thunderbird. A purpose-built application which, despite only serving one task, it’s always there whenever I need it. It also notifies me whenever I receive a new e-mail and I can even replace Outlook which I was using for my university e-mail! Something about two birds and a stone comes to mind…

Not requiring to have my e-mail open in the browser anymore, this meant I could just close the browser whenever I don’t need it. This has been the biggest change in my behavior. Nowadays, I open the browser, check whatever I want to check, and afterwards, the way of the dinosaurs it goes again. This means that the memory usage of the browser never goes up like mad anymore, my computer is always snappy and all the frustration of dealing with a slow as molasses computer is gone.

Nota bene, I have 8Gb of RAM in my Mac, I’ve had it this way for a while now, and if history has taught me anything, that is that no amount of RAM is enough when you use the browser continuously, without ever closing it or restarting your computer. Period.

Lesson learned? How happy you feel about your computer’s speed has a strong correlation (and causation) with how often you close your browser.