Discussion around Bug 851698 - (checkboxes-that-kill) Get rid of options that kill our product

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David Bruant

Mar 18, 2013, 1:58:56 PM3/18/13

Trying to move the discussion of the bug to this mailing-list.
Context: article by Alex Limi http://limi.net/checkboxes-that-kill

The goal of this bug is to remove footguns in the Firefox preferences.
In my opinion, a crucially important point in Alex Limi's post is: "[When an advanced pref has been changed by mistake] For the general population, Firefox will appear broken.". Firefox reputation has suffered from problem which aren't directly due to Firefox (add-ons for perf-related problems is one example). We do not need more of this.
Given the huge user population of Firefox, "my kid played around with advanced prefs" is a use case to be seriously taken into account. This is my interpretation of this bug: removing footguns and improving mitigation mechanisms so that it's harder (not impossible, but harder) for regular users to do something stupid.

Now, advanced prefs are important for advanced users. As an advanced user myself, playing with about:config is acceptable for what I do. The advanced option tab is already very populated and it's easy to access to kids while you really have to mean it when you type "about:config".

Are there specific use cases for which about:config would be inappropriate?
If so, what would be an equivalent mechanism to about:config (in the sense that you need to mean it to access it) but less annoying/more usable?



David Bruant

Mar 18, 2013, 2:08:20 PM3/18/13
(In reply to Timothy Warren from comment #11)
> The problem with about:config is that it lacks discoverability. I'd rather
> see an "Advanced Mode" option dialog
There is already an "advanced" tab. Kids can find it by clicking around.

> than further rely on the undocumented about:config.
I think those who need to know about it do. You do know it apparently.

(In reply to elkaod from comment #12)
> (In reply to David Bruant from comment #9)
> > Are there specific use cases for which about:config would be inappropriate?
> Try disabling images or whichever option you want (and never changed in
> about:config before) without an internet connection to Google for the
> appropriate preference name.
Hard indeed. Without help of the web, I've pinned down to 2 choices:
* images.dicther
* permissions.default.image
I have not idea which one it is and I'm scared to do something weird. Hard indeed.

> Maybe a tree-like presentation would help, but it's nowhere near usable
> right now. I won't extend further since you're right this is not the place
> to discuss.
tree-like with descriptions?

David Bruant

Mar 18, 2013, 2:26:27 PM3/18/13
(In reply to i4csgqja from comment #13)
> I read the article and wonder what kind of madness is that, is the "users
> are confused by functionality" from the gnome interface nazis contagious ?
It's not about confusion. Some time ago, Paul Irish asked about default zoom level people use in their web browsers [1]. Some from Facebook revealed that ~15% of people don't use the default zoom level. They accidentally zoomed in or out. We can image the same happens with options. Someone plays with options, get what he/she wants and forget to restore defaults; kids click around.

> first I should say that I'm a power user with over 50+ tabs open at anytime
> in my browsers and have added 4GB of RAM just to be able to do this
> comfortably.
I'm not sure I see how it's related to the discussion at hand.

> The point about loading images automatically shows google chose to over
> optimize to the point of breaking under certain circumstances, but this only
> show a broken website not a broken browser.
People will open Chrome or IE, see that it works and say "Firefox can't even display Google properly". It's not because it's not Firefox direct responsbility than Firefox shouldn't try to fix the issue. It's the same thing than add-ons.

> One of the main reason I switched from firefox to opera as my main browser
> is that it is way faster and convenient to disable/enable javascript in
> Opera (press F12 and click). I do this multiple times a day and if there's
> something wrong with this option in firefox it is that it is buried down and
> with no option to make it readily accessible (shortcut or button).
I use https://addons.mozilla.org/fr/firefox/addon/quickjs/
Disabling JS isn't everyone's use case.

> What if I don't want firefox to write anything to disk for security reasons
> or because the computer doesn't have a disk ?
Where does that use case come from? Bug 851698 is about helping 98% of users. I doubt more than 2% want to avoid disk writes for security reasons or don't have a disk. Make a custom Firefox build if you need that, I guess.

> from the top of my head I can
> think of a couple usage scenario I encounter weekly where it is critical for
> me to disable caching for a limited period of time.
Is it possible to do that today?

> Then the reasoning about removing options not used by 2% of user is really
> stupid, when you have removed 50 options used by 2% of users, you have
> effectively alienated 100% of the user base.
Let's only remove 20 options to alienate only 40% of users?

> Then again among these 2% might
> be the early adopters and power users that make your product what it is.
These people use Firefox Nightly or Aurora. The options being discussed are for the main Firefox channel. Early adopters will use early builds.

> In short don't think the browser is broken because some prominent websites
> have made choices relevant to them that break their site under a certain set
> of circumstances, you can safely assume that removing freedom of choice is
> bad, always.
This bugs isn't about removing freedom. It's about making more complicated to do harmful things. About:config and addons have been suggested as alternatives to do the same thing, but only for advanced users.

> If you really have to go with this madness of alienating users,
> at the very least just move the options where the general user will not
> easily find them instead of removing them.
> But if possible IMHO it is better to make them useful than to remove them or
> move them away.
about:config and addons will be the alternatives for those who care.


[1] https://plus.google.com/113127438179392830442/posts/gg8xiDMcS2t


Mar 18, 2013, 5:08:22 PM3/18/13
So we agree about:config is not a proper replacement right now. In fact, it's kind of frustrating.

A tree-like structure would be useful and easy to do since keys are already hierarchical. Descriptions might be a bit harder, there is a massive amount of preferences there and most of them are not even useful.

Maybe tracking statistics for the most used preferences? Took that idea from a Hacker News comment. [1] And more discussion in Hacker News parent story [2]

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5394866
[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5394494


Mar 19, 2013, 2:56:51 PM3/19/13
Just my $0.02 in here, since comments on the actual bug have been restricted:

"Preferences" should serve the more advanced user, since they are the ones more likely to actually open it up in the first place (inexperienced users are likely to use the browser "out of the box"), without making a hard distinction "newbie" versus "IT Pro" that is going on when all "in some way potentially dangerous" options are removed. Many users are in-between those two, who would benefit from more options in the preferences dialog, with enough options for power users to configure the browser the way they want to or need to for their personal use, but without going overboard and exposing hundreds and hundreds of prefs in about:config in a very user-UNfriendly manner (with the likely disaster of it becoming "the way to configure" and users completely making a mess of things when changing prefs "that seem relevant" without looking up what it does.


Aug 17, 2013, 5:01:08 PM8/17/13
Something like about:preferences to show only advanced settings.

There should be three options to configure Firefox: the easy and predictable way for all users, the more difficult to find but still intuitive way for advanced users (And that means showing there also the "I promise to be careful!" warning, if needed) and the expert way of about:config.

Who of here that has Windows goes to Registry Editor to modify pagefile settings? Microsoft stripped down advanced settings from System applet in control panel in Vista and further, and all that power user settings are now at Advanced System settings. That is really clear for a standard user not to put his nose there without knowing what is he doing. And, despite this, they are keeping it easy and clear, no need to go too deep in the system engines, which also increases risk of further damage.

If we tell standard users to disable Javascript through about:config maybe, if they miss another function, they'll find it in about:config again (Common user though "oh, last time I had this problem, that worked"), with high risks because about:config is not really made for non-expert people. Users do self-medicate, so we need to be careful on what do we prescript theem.

So I think keeping usability even in advanced features it's key to prevent users make a mistake.

To sum up, I suggest to keep current cut downs in unused, possibly undesired settings, making Settings window show only common tasks, then adding there a link "Show advanced Settings..." which shows a message advicing there are features which might reduce user experience, or change dramatically the way websites display or work. And then, we leave about:config as-is, keeping it only for extremely precise actions or expert users or developers.
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