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I immediately had the feeling that it was due to some extension. The most recent one I installed was the Yahoo-toolbar beta.
I found no simple way to deactivate single extensions, so I deactived them ALL by renaming the dirs and associated files. That worked. Now of course I'm curious to see what it was. Anybody experiencing similar problems?
Incidentally, you can open your extensions.rdf file to find the directory name for the Yahoo toolbar, then rename or delete only that one directory.
I digged a little deeper and found the culprit: it's the SwitchProxy extension! By default it "phones home" to see if new updates are available. The developer's website is offline though, so it makes the browser freeze. On slow PC's and/or slow connections it looks as if it hangs.
One can disable the "check for updates", and then it works just fine!
When I came into the office, I tried to enable all my extensions again (I rendered the extension subdirs and the config files unuseable by prefixing them with "---"). However somewhere else there must haven been stored the info that I tampered with them - I couldn't revert! I couldn't even reinstall extensions.
So I had to delete the extension directory completely and make a fresh start.
But now I'm up an running again.