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

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