please don't force me to use IE
January 2, 2010 8:47 AM   Subscribe

Why have my portable apps stopped running on some computers (but not others)?

I use a flash drive at work to run all my preferred applications, but in the past few days, Firefox crashes at startup (I don't even get the splash screen - immediate error message).

The funny thing is, it has to be the computer(s), and not the drive - at least one of the computers here will still run everything fine. And it's not just Firefox - I can't start Portable Notepad++ either - although GIMPPortable runs, and apps not from Launching Portable FF directly from the folder (as opposed to from the menu) also does not work. Huh - if I go down another folder and start firefox.exe (as opposed to FirefoxPortable.exe), it runs, though without my profile.

Also, the version of Portable Firefox which I had saved to the hard drive of one computer crashes in exactly the same way on startup. Same with an older flash drive I have it installed on. So it's got to be the computer. Right?

Don't tell me to try safe mode - it crashes too, same thing. And a brand-new installation of the latest version of PortableFirefox did nothing. Removing my profile (actually, everthing under \data) also did not fix the problem. I'm out of ideas here.

The error message I'm getting (for FF) is:
Mozilla Firefox, Portable Edition has encountered a problem and needs to close. We are sorry for the inconvenience.

AppName: firefoxportable.exe AppVer: ModName: asycfilt.dll
ModVer: 5.1.2600.2180 Offset: 0000ea90

Please, please help. I really don't want to be using IE, and I can't stick to the computer that actually lets me use this stuff (wrong room).
posted by timepiece to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
Response by poster: Uh, just occured to me - our computers here are WinXP, very locked down by IT. But I don't think any changes have been made lately.
posted by timepiece at 8:49 AM on January 2, 2010

I had something similar happen, not just with portable but a few regular applications. We never figured out the exact cause, but it was probably a failed antivirus/firewall replacement attempt that borked who knows what in the system configuration. The only fix was to reinstall the whole damn XP, sorry to say.
posted by Iosephus at 9:34 AM on January 2, 2010 has a really, really good support forum. You probably should ask them first - they are, after all, the ones who designed this stuff. It sounds as though something complex like profile-support doesn't work. I know that they had to work with that stuff a lot when making FF portable. Here's the Firefox Portable support forum.

Personally, I'd say you're stuck running FF without a profile until you can figure this out. It's clearly not a security thing, unless it's a ridiculously bumbling security thing - why would you block the profile and not the application itself?

If you can't get Firefox to work, you might try the other portable browser: Seamonkey. It's quite good.
posted by koeselitz at 2:21 PM on January 2, 2010

Response by poster: I already tried running it without a profile - that didn't help (5th paragraph in post). Not to mention that it does run on another computer.

I did search their forums to see if anyone had a similar problem - guess I'll have to post.
posted by timepiece at 8:22 PM on January 2, 2010

(No, I meant you're stuck running it directly, through firefox.exe, rather than through the wrapper FirefoxPortable.exe. You said at the end of the third paragraph that that worked, right? Sorry for confusion.)

Anyhow, that's not much of a solution, and while I'm not on a Windows machine at the moment and don't know how much help I can offer, I should try a bit harder.

All right, let's think about this. The biggest difficulty in making apps portable is making sure they have the correct dynamic link library (DLL) files to run. See, when you install an application on your computer's hard drive, the installation takes the DLLs the program will need and puts them in the /windows/system32 (or a similar) folder. So, of course, what the people do is package all of those DLLs for the particular program in another place on your USB drive; then, they write an external wrapper program to run first which tells the program to look on the USB drive instead of the C:\ drive for those DLL files. This is for two reasons: first, any given computer you use might not have the DLLs you need to run a program you want to run; second, if you use the /windows/system32 DLLs, you might leave some trace on the hard drive that you've been using them, and in extreme cases you might not even be allowed to use them for unauthorized programs.

In this case, the wrapper-program is FirefoxPortable.exe; when you run that, it runs firefox.exe, all the while making sure to let firefox.exe know to use the DLLs on your USB drive instead of the ones on the computer's hard drive. So the fact that FirefoxPortable.exe crashes every time, but firefox.exe does not, indicates that the DLLs that FirefoxPortable.exe is pointing to are corrupt. That would explain why, when firefox.exe tries to run, it just finds (uncorrupted) DLLs on the hard drive and uses those. This is just a theory, but it's the first idea I have about this situation.

Now, how could those DLLs remain corrupted even though you've done fresh installs? That's the trouble. I'm sort of hoping that when you say you did "a brand-new installation" you mean that you just tried installing Firefox on top of the installation you already had there on the flash drive; if you did, then it's possible that the installer just saw the corrupted DLLs there and assumed that they were okay without checking them, which would mean that they didn't get fixed.

So, if you haven't already (I guess I'm hoping you haven't) I would delete everything in the FirefoxPortable folder, including the folder itself, and try a reinstall. (You can copy all that stuff onto a hard drive first if you're hoping to salvage bookmarks etc) Hopefuly, that will force the installer to reinstall that corrupted DLL.

I am booting up my XP machine and grabbing my USB drive right now. I'll see what I can find out about the structure of FirefoxPortable, and that faulty DLL in particular, that might help us here.
posted by koeselitz at 9:22 PM on January 2, 2010

Hmm. Well, my hope, it appears, may have been premature: asycfilt.dll, the faulty DLL you're having trouble with, is a MS DLL used for manipulating OLE objects - basically, it's part of the system that lets programs interface with the Windows system, and would almost certainly not be part of what's on the drive as part of a FirefoxPortable install. (It isn't in mine, anyway.)

This is a weird problem. I've even looked over the source-code for the FirefoxPortable.exe launcher (it's fortunately not very complex) but I can't see anything obvious there that would cause this problem. I'm very sorry, timepiece; this is deeper MS-Windows stuff that's beyond my ken. The forums are probably the best bet... good luck, anyhow!
posted by koeselitz at 10:23 PM on January 2, 2010

Response by poster: Well, thank you for all your efforts on my behalf, koeselitz.

Nicely, I came back from the weekend, and everything is miraculously working again. Go figure. Maybe there was another Windows automatic update and it fixed something. I have no idea, I'm just happy the problem is solved. I guess if it happens again I'll just be patient.
posted by timepiece at 8:57 AM on January 4, 2010

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