January 2, 2011

Questions to the Firefox 4 UI team (FFb8)

Obligatory description of complainant: web user since 1994, Mozilla user since the Mozilla Suite point releases and before that Netscape 1+, web developer of 15 years, currently teaching web tech skills, programming and visual design. Not a noob to UI design (history in desktop app dev) and typically an advocate of minimalism.

  1. Why did you remove the status bar to recover vertical space then immediately replace it with a taller addon bar missing the absolutely critical feature of showing the link target? Jenny Boriss’ post on this contains some extremely flimsy rationale for a change that affects hundreds of millions of people who’ve been looking in the status bar link target for 15+ years. At the absolute minimum, include a ‘link target’ draggable in the Customise Toolbar box that can be placed on the left side of the addon bar. Also see this petition to bring it back.
  2. WTF did you do to the JS alert() and prompt() dialogs? Why aren’t they platform dialogs any more? Is this a hack around the app-modal problem? They’re intensely ugly on WinXP at least and just look like part of the page. You may think that’s a good thing, but I certainly don’t.
  3. Why does the addon bar have a close button, yet no other toolbars do? Why is there no option to remove it? Dragging it off like any other feature doesn’t do anything. I love having to resort to userchrome hacks.
  4. Never auto-combine buttons on the menu bar (Stop and Refresh) according to some arbitrary rule that the user doesn’t know. The toolbar editor is intended to be as close to WYSIWYG as possible, and any changes should have clear reasoning or rationale. BTW, why do the Refresh & Stop buttons combine when placed in that order, and not Stop + Refresh? This is how I’m working around the auto-combine at the moment.
  5. The entire — and I’m not kidding — addons manager is horrible. Unlike almost everything else that’s part of the browser itself, it’s eschews the standard platform UI feel and colours for some webpage mishmash. To be specific:

    • The whole design feels flat. Medium grey text on light grey background with light grey blue lines. Subtle grey crosshatching all over the place makes it look dirty.
    • Is is much too wide on a decent screen. One of the benefits to the old addon manager, although it’s obvious that you didn’t see it this way, was that the addons manager was independent of the browser window’s size. There was never a need to maximise the addon manager, because it was just a simple list with a couple of buttons that lead to a modal dialog box or a link. Addons don’t need 1650 pixels to display two sentences of information.
    • As a side effect of making the manager so large, now it’s totally bloody overwhelming on load (Jesus, just used the new prompt() again to insert that link. The text box is too small and it feels totally wrong.) You’re showing too much on a normal desktop screen, so for a user like myself with ~35 addons the list can’t be scanned or parsed. You’ve successfully turned a simple list into a mega full-screen application that’s too visually large to conceptualise as a list and now it’s scary to work with.
    • The addon list feels like it has arbitrary backgrounds assigned to each addon; it’s not clear from a glace what’s disabled, what’s broken, what’s working, or what’s just been updated because of the similarity of each. Also, diagonal lines are always a bad idea for sitting behind text, even if they’re subtle. I believe you’re better off breaking this list into two, possibly three: enabled, disabled and broken. The list will be much more readable and scannable at a glance.
    • Warning or information messages for each addon are hard to read due to colour and shadow effects and hard to scan because they’re badly placed. This is an extension to the problem above. Can you find a better, more vertically scannable place for this if the other issues aren’t fixed?
    • I don’t believe we gained anything by integrating the Addons website into the manager. Clicking an addon opens another tab anyway, so it’s just an arbitrary stepping-stone portal/start-page. You’re still installing addons via an app-modal popup which can sometimes take 10 seconds to appear while the browser lets me click around and change tabs (that in particular has confused me many times, sometimes making me think the click hasn’t registered, and I’m an advanced user for christ’s sake).
    • Non question: while the UI team is focussed on reducing browser chrome, it’s wasting huge amounts of screen on whitespace in the addons manager. Take a look at the screenshot linked above. Underneath the fake “tabs”: huge waste of space. The entire search bar (which is also practically invisible up there): huge waste of space. Each addon in the list: criminal waste of both vertical and horizontal space. Yes, I understand and respect the use of whitespace. I believe the addon manager is overdoing it though.
    • So much effort has been put into getting tabs against the top edge of the screen in order to benefit from Fitt’s Law or some derivation thereof but inexplicably the addon list scrollbar isn’t against the edge of the screen. Why? When did you last see a full-page scrolling list inset from the side of the screen?
    • Why is the addon manager a normal tab instead of being an app tab? This results in it getting lost within other tabs, like it’s some random web site instead of being a browser configuration window.
  6. Why do addon icons automatically inherit a button-like border? I thought we were going for minimalist, and this certainly isn’t.
  7. In one recent Test Pilot study you found that many people have large amounts of tabs open. Widescreen is becoming the dominant screen ratio. Why wasn’t a vertical tab list option developed to compensate? You’ve just pissed a lot of people off by removing 23 pixels of status bar, implementing tabs-on-top by default and (worse) drawing app contents in the OS-reserved title bar but there’s no option for vertical tabs that would restore space taken by chrome? I would have thought this would be a top priority. Ideally, Firefox would watch the number of tabs the user has over a few sessions and offer to demonstrate the vertical tab alignment with an easy way to switch it back.
  8. Why does the bookmarks bar automatically turn off when upgrading from 3.6 if a user has stuff there? I have common sets of pages in folders up there, as does my partner, my mother, my sister, and many technically-minded people I work with. The only reason I can imagine for this is to futher reduce vertical chrome, but annoyed users will just turn it back on again anyway! And if I didn’t know how to turn it back on, well, I’d be really frustrated at having lost all that stuff.
  9. Aside: Firefox Sync is a nice idea, but I wouldn’t have a clue what it does if I wasn’t a Mozillian. The Set Up Sync option gives no details whatsoever. Where you do explain it, make sure to pimp the “encrypted, and even Mozilla can’t read it” side, because I see that as a big selling point over any solution that Google or MS may provide in the future.

Edit 1:44am: fixed incomplete sentence; killed silly exaggeration, rephrased some statements into questions and corrected Jenny Boriss’ name.

posted by Andrew

December 6, 2010

A Quick Guide to Ineffectively Downplaying Wikileaks

Robert Gibbs, US Presidential Press Secretary:

We should never be afraid of one guy who plopped down $35 and bought a web address. … Let’s not be scared of one guy with a laptop.

Julian Assange, in the Guardian Q&A:

The Cable Gate archive has been spread, along with significant material from the US and other countries to over 100,000 people in encrypted form. If something happens to us, the key parts will be released automatically. Further, the Cable Gate archives is in the hands of multiple news organisations. […]

The basic problem with Gibb’s assessment, along with Lieberman’s, is that they don’t understand the technology or the infrastructure involved in the Wikileaks effort. These are not dumb people easily swatted with a single favour from a US hosting service or political connection at ICANN. Any government bravado in this situation is at best pretence. And as for underlying message in Gibb’s statement — that we have nothing to fear — who said we do in the first place?

posted by Andrew

December 2, 2010

Join Domino’s Ideas Lab, become a serf

Today I received an invite to join Domino’s new media venture, the Ideas Lab, a place where you can sell your potentially lucrative ideas for nothing but extensive media exploitation by a multinational pizza brand for infinity time + 1. From their scary Terms and Conditions:

Except as expressly provided otherwise in the Privacy Policy, you agree that by posting messages, uploading files, inputting data, or engaging in any other form of communication with or through the Website, you grant us a royalty-free, perpetual, non-exclusive, unrestricted, worldwide license […]


[…] to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, translate, enhance, transmit, distribute, publicly perform, display, or sublicense any such communication (including your identity and information about you) […]


[…] in any medium (now in existence or hereinafter developed) and for any purpose, including commercial purposes, and to authorize others to do so.

Holy shit! All this so I can give free ideas to a multinational corporation and (possibly) win a $100 gift voucher! Count me in, guys!

(Yo, seriously, don’t sign up for stuff like this.)

posted by Andrew

November 30, 2010

From an interview with Assange

WikiLeaks means it’s easier to run a good business and harder to run a bad business, and all CEOs should be encouraged by this. I think about the case in China where milk powder companies started cutting the protein in milk powder with plastics. That happened at a number of separate manufacturers.

Let’s say you want to run a good company. It’s nice to have an ethical workplace. Your employees are much less likely to screw you over if they’re not screwing other people over.

Then one company starts cutting their milk powder with melamine, and becomes more profitable. You can follow suit, or slowly go bankrupt and the one that’s cutting its milk powder will take you over. That’s the worst of all possible outcomes.

The other possibility is that the first one to cut its milk powder is exposed. Then you don’t have to cut your milk powder. There’s a threat of regulation that produces self-regulation.

It just means that it’s easier for honest CEOs to run an honest business, if the dishonest businesses are more effected negatively by leaks than honest businesses. That’s the whole idea. In the struggle between open and honest companies and dishonest and closed companies, we’re creating a tremendous reputational tax on the unethical companies.

Source: An interview with Wikileaks’ Julian Assange (Forbes.com)

posted by Andrew

November 29, 2010

Shutting down Wikileaks pretty simple, apparently

My all-time favourite US Senator Joseph Lieberman (he who doth protest video gaming) makes an amusing call to shut Wikileaks down. Oh man, for the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee you sure don’t have a clue about the “enemy” you’re engaging here.

posted by Andrew

September 17, 2010

The IE logo, the blue e

The IE Blog marketing machine spews forth:

We started by thinking about what the IE8 logo (and prior IE logos) mean to our customers. When we asked customers what they think of when they see our logo, we heard professional, trusted, and familiar.

Emphasis not mine.

Addendum: someone posts:

Offtopic snarky comment: Removing the progress bar from the status bar is deranged and criminal. Please bring it back in the next release. This is why Windows XP and IE8 was last good pieces of software. Microsoft removes features like a fad. What a complete joke IE9 UI is. Trading features for sake of minimalism. Status bar can be turned on but it doesn’t have the progress bar. I feel like shooting the GUI people.

Exactly how I feel about every browser’s desperate attempts to shed every pixel of interface.

Meanwhile, inside the article under the heading “Blue e = Internet”:

[…] The IE logo is well known as the way to the web. Internet cafés around the world use the IE logo on their signage to invite people in. Some of our teammates have snapped photos while passing cafés during their travels. The IE logo is right on the front of the buildings! It’s always fun to see that to many people, the blue e means the Internet.

The emphasis, this time, is definitely mine.

Sometimes I wonder where corporations like Microsoft get employees so steadfastly blind to the world outside the corporate product line. What kind of thought process genuinely leads a person to believe it’s good to encourage monopolistic control of a market, especially when history not five years gone tells a story of stagnated innovation and crippling compatibility problems? Having delivered such an appalling seven years of stagnation to web developers worldwide with IE6, maybe Microsoft should educate their marketing department on that period so that they chose their words wisely instead of appearing as brainless corporate blogging automata blind to basic history and oblivious to their target audience’s general dislike of their monopolistic tendencies.

tldr;: Don’t post about how great it is that you ran a monopoly to the people whose lives were adversely affected by it. Duh.

posted by Andrew