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I'm posting this guide for a reason.... after reading this posting on the newly released FF nightly version 9 (and reading through much of the replies) I saw that many of the basics in running a test version of Firefox seems to have been forgotten.

Now to qualify, not only have I been using Firefox since version 0.5, I was involved in the development community as both a theme developer (Aquatint & Black Japan) and in tweaking add-ons till version 3.0 (inclusive),. after which university and career took up too much time to continue involvement.

Running two versions/installations of Firefox does NOT require you running the test build (Nightly's or Beta's) of a USB drive or the like.... it simply requires making good use of Firefox's own Profile Manager and a few handy add-in's to make life easier... let me explain.
  1. Create a new profile: You've download a test build of Firefox.... before you go installing it you need to get a clean profile set up for said test build (you can do it after install - but before running - but is much easier in this order). Open the Run console - either from the Start Menu if showing or using the Winkey + R hotkey combo) and enter Firefox -p... this will open the FF Profile Manager. Follow the steps to create a new profile (I recommend keeping the name all one word... write down the name of this new profile being careful to note any capital letters) and click "Finish" to open Firefox in the new profile. This last bit is important as the new profile's files/folders are created on first run! NOTE: This will be set as "default" profile till set otherwise, so beware in trying to jump ahead of steps below!

  2. Install and run alpha/beta version of Firefox: Install new version of FF... I always recommend using the "Advanced" method just to ensure that FF installs to a separate file location... I know it is s'posed to do so by default but I'd rather be sure thank you very much! When you run this secondary version of Firefox it will tell you it is not your default browser... DO NOT MAKE THIS VERSION YOUR DEFAULT! CHECK THE OFFERED OPTION TO STOP CHECKING AND ALERTING. After this version has run for the first time, you need to close it completely to proceed.

    These next two steps can be done in either order...

  3. Open the profile manager and double-click on your original profile to reset that as default. NOTE: this will open in the secondary install of Firefox... DO NOT PANIC! If plug-ins are disabled they will re-enable the first time you open your default version of Firefox!

  4. Set your secondary version of Firefox to use the new profile exclusively: Note that this setting can only be applied to shortcuts and not the .exe file itself Right-click on your nightly/alpha/beta shortcut icon (this applies to Start Menu or desktop shortcut.... if already docked on Win7 Task Bar you'll need to right-click that icon and then right-click on the program icon in the Jump List) and select "Properties". In the "Target" box (NOT the Start In box) add the following after the Firefox program info -P "[your new profile name" (profile name needs to be in speech marks) and save. Note that ALL such short-cuts for this build should be treated thus. Once this step is completed, whilst your original FF instal and profile will remain as default, your test/secondary version can be run using its own dedicated profile.... meaning no further compatibility issues

  5. Nightly Tester Tools is your friend: This add-on has been around almost as long as Firefox itself and is an essential tool in running any other add-in not yet updated for newer builds. Install add-in from here and once installed (the usual re-start) open the FF menu (or Alt -> Tools) and in the Nightly Test Tools options, make sure "Force Addon Compatibility" is turned on. From here you can go ahead and install your add-ons of choice.... most will actually perform just fine, but there are some which will not and you'll have to wait for the developer to fix any issues... just part and parcel in using newer test builds!

Plugins & Tips to make getting new profile set-up easier: If you want to transfer things like your saved passwords and bookmarks (even your browser history) across, here are a few tips:
  • Copying old profile content to the new one: I really do not recommend this when moving between established and test build of Firefox unless your REALLY know what you are doing! I'm not going to detail for that reason but you can Google it!

  • To copy your history (and most recently it seems your bookmarks as well... but don't count on that), copy the "Places.sqlite" file from your original profile across to the new. If new to this type of thing, have a look here, and also be aware that you'll need to adjust the Windows "folder properties" to be able to view the necessary folders.

  • To export any saved site passwords from your original profile across to the new one, you will need to install Password Exporter to BOTH versions of Firefox. In your original installation, open FF "Options" manager -> Security tab and select "Import/Export Passwords".... follow the prompts to export. Close and open newer version version of FF and follow the prompts again from FF Options to import saved passwords into your new profile.

  • To copy over bookmarks, open the Bookmarks Manager and export from the old profile and the same to import to the new profile. NOTE: after importing, you'll still need to do a little work. Default bookmarks will be duplicated... as well as this, old Bookmark Toolbar shortcuts will be in their own folder but need to be moved into the active toolbar folder.

  • If you are trying the x64 version of Firefox: You will need to install both the 64-bit version of Flash Player and Java. The regular 32-bit versions of either will not work in ANY x64 browser.

From there on in you should be able to happily able to use both versions of Firefox both independently and happily. I'm pretty sure I've covered everything, but if you run into any trouble (or have any further questions) please do not hesitate to ask questions