Open letter to the Firefox community.

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F 10000

unread,
May 23, 2011, 2:06:24 PM5/23/11
to
Folks,

In no way is this post intended to diminish the tireless efforts of
the Mozilla Firefox community. I tip my hat to those volunteers that
donate their time and in some cases money. However, as a long time FF
user and fan and IT consultant, it is my hope that this post in some
small way will raise awareness of what things are starting to look
like from the user community. This is just one man's opinion but I
know I am not alone. I am posting this in the Marketing forum because
this is the closest thing to communicating across sub-communities.
Hopefully this will be read by users, developers and proponents of FF.

In a word, the Mozilla FF team is slipping down the slope of hubris.
It's one thing to put in place safety measures to keep users secure
it's quite another to put in place so many measures as to confound
those users. I will cite some of the things in FF 4.0 that have gone
on for too long and are beyond the point of mere annoyances.

* Add-on compatibility checking. Yes, it can be defeated but why
should a user have to go through this?
* Never-ending updates. This is the first thing that I turn off. When
will it stop? The software community in general needs to innovate less
and test more before software is released. Frequent updates are a sign
of poor testing.
* Changing the interface without allowing for backward compatibility.
If an add-on needs to be created such as status-4-evar, this should be
a red flag that the design is lacking.
* "Awesome bar" Really? Says who? What was wrong with the previously
displaying the URL. This flaw shows up in both Ubuntu and WinXP. At
first I thought it a bug but later found out it was a feature. No
kidding.

On the subject of innovation.

It may seem as though innovation is a good thing. However, I would
submit that innovation just for the sake of changing things is not a
good thing. The old adage "If it ain't broke don't fix it" applies
just as much to software as anything else. Microsoft can get away
with it because they are a monopoly. As an example, the debacle known
as Office 2007 where experienced users where forced to re-learn the
interface is a prime example. The Mozilla team apparently did not
learn from Microsoft's lesson and appears to be heading down this path
as well. I realize that FF is free but users don't like to be bullied
or herded into changes they don't want. FF 3.0 in my view reached a
pinnacle of "Goldeness" that the developers failed to appreciate.
What do I mean by that? I mean that sometimes an interface is really
perfect as it is and changing it won't make it better. Win2K is still
considered by many of us old codgers as being the pinnacle of OS
interfaces. It had everything that one needed and nothing more. FF3.0
was at that stage. Sure the underlying engine needed to be improved
and 4.0 sure came through in that area but why mess with the interface
when there was nothing wrong with it?

So why bother even posting this? I still have a great fondness for
what Firefox used to stand for. It was a browser that did all the
things that IE refused to do. Microsoft pays lip service to privacy
while FF implemented it. The new privacy efforts in FF 4 are to be
applauded. However, my fear is that the FF developer community has
demonstrated that it abandoned focusing on the user and rather focused
on what's "cool". What's "Cool" is the old way FF was set up. That was
before add-on compatibility checking, it was before removing the
status bar without his or permission, it was back in the day when FF
was cool because it was so customizable and version changes actually
meant improvements not just change for change sake.

My ultimate concern is that FF will discourage users. I'm already
getting many complaints from clients I consult for. I've had to take
measures of keeping an archived copy of 3.5 on my thumbdrive just to
roll back client machines in order to keep my clients happy. That's
not a good sign when once happy clients are complaining. I'm also
getting requests to explore Google Chrome. We don't need to fracture
the browser community any further. FF deserves to remain the Gold
standard of desktop browser but I feel the developer community has
taken their eye off the ball and lost sight of what is important.

Santiago Hollmann

unread,
May 23, 2011, 6:03:19 PM5/23/11
to F 10000, mark...@lists.mozilla.org
Hi!

Interesting opinion.

There are some points where I disagree

On Mon, May 23, 2011 at 3:06 PM, F 10000 <000c...@gmail.com> wrote:

>
> In a word, the Mozilla FF team is slipping down the slope of hubris.
> It's one thing to put in place safety measures to keep users secure
> it's quite another to put in place so many measures as to confound
> those users. I will cite some of the things in FF 4.0 that have gone
> on for too long and are beyond the point of mere annoyances.
>
> * Add-on compatibility checking. Yes, it can be defeated but why
> should a user have to go through this?
>

I agree with you but it is important to know that if the browser crash
because of an incompatible addon people will think that Firefox is the
problem.
I have understood that Mozilla is working on that and a good evidence of
this is the Addon SDK (aka Jetpack).


> * Never-ending updates. This is the first thing that I turn off. When
> will it stop? The software community in general needs to innovate less
> and test more before software is released. Frequent updates are a sign
> of poor testing.
>

I totally disagree. FIrefox is tested a lot and with the new release cycle
Mozilla has added a new channel called Aurora (so Firefox has Nightlies,
Aurora, Beta and Final Release). Besides the updates are good, mean that the
project is alive, being improved, errors are recognized and that the highest
priority are the users.


> * Changing the interface without allowing for backward compatibility.
> If an add-on needs to be created such as status-4-evar, this should be
> a red flag that the design is lacking.
>

You can go back to the old interface doing just a right click and if an
add-on needs to use a bar it can just add it. I don't see that the design is
lacking.


> * "Awesome bar" Really? Says who? What was wrong with the previously
> displaying the URL. This flaw shows up in both Ubuntu and WinXP. At
> first I thought it a bug but later found out it was a feature. No
> kidding.
>
>

The name awesome bar comes from Firefox 3 when the URL bar does things that
the other browsers' URL bar don't. Lot of time has passed since that but the
name still being the same.
Particularly, I like this way to show the URL. So, I think that depends of
the user.


> On the subject of innovation.
>
> It may seem as though innovation is a good thing. However, I would
> submit that innovation just for the sake of changing things is not a
> good thing. The old adage "If it ain't broke don't fix it" applies
> just as much to software as anything else. Microsoft can get away
> with it because they are a monopoly. As an example, the debacle known
> as Office 2007 where experienced users where forced to re-learn the
> interface is a prime example. The Mozilla team apparently did not
> learn from Microsoft's lesson and appears to be heading down this path
> as well. I realize that FF is free but users don't like to be bullied
> or herded into changes they don't want. FF 3.0 in my view reached a
> pinnacle of "Goldeness" that the developers failed to appreciate.
> What do I mean by that? I mean that sometimes an interface is really
> perfect as it is and changing it won't make it better. Win2K is still
> considered by many of us old codgers as being the pinnacle of OS
> interfaces. It had everything that one needed and nothing more. FF3.0
> was at that stage. Sure the underlying engine needed to be improved
> and 4.0 sure came through in that area but why mess with the interface
> when there was nothing wrong with it?
>

The new interface has thought and designed since 2009 in an open
way.[1]<http://bit.ly/fx4design>All the people is able to give their
opinion about it, submit their
suggestions and defend their points of view.
I think that compare Firefox 4 with Office 2007 is a bit strong, the changes
in Firefox 4 respect 3.5 are significant but not so radical because the team
has always in mind the word usability and if you look the other browsers you
will see a very common user interface between them.
Finally as I said before, you can still using the old interface just doing a
right click in the top of your browser.


>
> So why bother even posting this? I still have a great fondness for
> what Firefox used to stand for. It was a browser that did all the
> things that IE refused to do. Microsoft pays lip service to privacy
> while FF implemented it. The new privacy efforts in FF 4 are to be
> applauded. However, my fear is that the FF developer community has
> demonstrated that it abandoned focusing on the user and rather focused
> on what's "cool". What's "Cool" is the old way FF was set up. That was
> before add-on compatibility checking, it was before removing the
> status bar without his or permission, it was back in the day when FF
> was cool because it was so customizable and version changes actually
> meant improvements not just change for change sake.
>
> My ultimate concern is that FF will discourage users. I'm already
> getting many complaints from clients I consult for. I've had to take
> measures of keeping an archived copy of 3.5 on my thumbdrive just to
> roll back client machines in order to keep my clients happy. That's
> not a good sign when once happy clients are complaining. I'm also
> getting requests to explore Google Chrome. We don't need to fracture
> the browser community any further. FF deserves to remain the Gold
> standard of desktop browser but I feel the developer community has
> taken their eye off the ball and lost sight of what is important.
>

When people think that because of the UI I just teach them to go back to the
old interface.
About Google Chrome, the users are feeling attract because of all the
aggressive advertisement in the web but if you are against of the new
interface and if you are giving your client's opinion about it, let me tell
you that Chrome's interface is totally different comparing with Firefox 3.x
they have nothing in common. So, migrate will not be a good idea if they are
looking for a kind of Firefox 3 UI.

That is my opinion and thanks for yours.

Cheers,
Nuno!

Reference
[1] bit.ly/fx4design

-
Santiago Hollmann

Twitter: @funnybit <http://www.twitter.com/funnybit>
Blog: http://www.piedralibre.wordpress.com

Brendan Eich

unread,
May 23, 2011, 8:19:37 PM5/23/11
to F 10000, Justin Scott, Firefox Marketing
On May 23, 2011, at 11:06 AM, F 10000 wrote:

> * Add-on compatibility checking. Yes, it can be defeated but why
> should a user have to go through this?

Agreed, and Justin Scott and others have been hard at work on an AMO process that relieves users from having to suffer lost addons on upgrade. I'll let Justin give you a link to read more.


> * Never-ending updates. This is the first thing that I turn off. When
> will it stop? The software community in general needs to innovate less
> and test more before software is released. Frequent updates are a sign
> of poor testing.

Sorry, this is just false. All non-trivial software has bugs. All complex software dealing in user-sensitive data and privileges has security bugs. It's essential to fix these all the time, and quickly.

You seem to think "testing" can cause software to achieve a state of very low security-sensitive and serious (data loss, crash) bugs. It's just not so. Computer scientists and software engineers have been working on the problems here for decades. They are nowhere near solved.

The only answer is the one other browsers, notably Chrome, have adopted: continuous silent updates to avoid fatiguing users. This works only if the updates strictly improve the reliability and security of the browser. If something changes that the user notices, users will be upset.

Since we care only about users, not search or OS agendas per se, we have to be willing to consider this approach. It seems it would make you happier. True?

BTW, be careful charging "hubris". That is what the Greek tragedies called "fatal pride". Those of us working on Firefox are not proud, fatally or otherwise. You won't find us spending billions on ads or claiming our browser is "fastest" or "most secure" (not on my watch, anyway). We simply fight for the users. This requires considering silent securitiy/crash-fix updates.


> * Changing the interface without allowing for backward compatibility.
> If an add-on needs to be created such as status-4-evar, this should be
> a red flag that the design is lacking.

I agree, and if you look into it, you'll see I was involved in the status bar episode late in Firefox 4. Sorry it was too late to restore the status bar as it was, although I'm not convinced that was the best outcome. What happened is not all that bad, but it definitely was a late-breaking case of back-peddling.

Was this a case of hubris? I think the problems that led to this outcome were more subtle. They had to do with separating UX design from front-end implementation, and of trying to solve two problems at once in the same area of the UI. There were other problems, including variations on human fallibility, but not (IMHO) fatal pride.

Anyway, we have status down at the bottom, not in a dedicated status bar, but in the same place most eyes look for it. You've scored a hit but I don't think we're sunk over this.


> * "Awesome bar" Really? Says who? What was wrong with the previously
> displaying the URL. This flaw shows up in both Ubuntu and WinXP. At
> first I thought it a bug but later found out it was a feature. No
> kidding.

What is the problem, exactly?

I use Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera. Firefox's location bar since Firefox 3 is by far the most usable for me, because it searches my "frecency" sorted local search corpus.

Out of time, I'll leave it here. Thanks for writing, but watch out for those Greek words -- the one you used doesn't seem on target to me.

/be

Justin Scott

unread,
May 23, 2011, 9:24:51 PM5/23/11
to F 10000, Brendan Eich, Firefox Marketing
Compatibility checking exists because add-ons can cause serious problems with Firefox if they aren't actually compatible. They can result in start-up crashes, entirely broken UI, and other problems that normal users wouldn't be able to figure out how to reverse. That's why with each major version of Firefox, add-on developers have had to test their add-ons, fix any problems, and then bump the compatibility. Sure, a lot of times it just works without any changes, but there are many times it doesn't.

With Firefox 5 and future releases, we are being a bit riskier by attempting to detect compatibility problems and automatically bump add-ons that don't have any. For most users, this will mean that their add-ons will stay compatible and upgrading to new versions should be painless. There will still be a number of add-ons that fail this new process and will need to be manually updated, and there will likely be some that are incorrectly marked compatible and will have to later be recalled.

You can read more about the new compatibility process here: http://blog.mozilla.com/addons/2011/04/19/add-on-compatibility-rapid-releases/ Add-ons that use our new SDK should also have a lot fewer compatibility issues to worry about and hopefully you'll see more add-ons built using it soon.

In summary, add-on compatibility checking isn't done for fun -- it's a process that is actually needed to make sure users have a good experience, but it's something that we're trying to improve any way we can.

Justin

Brendan Eich wrote:
On May 23, 2011, at 11:06 AM, F 10000 wrote:

* Add-on compatibility checking. Yes, it can be defeated but why
should a user have to go through this?
Agreed, and Justin Scott and others have been hard at work on an AMO process that relieves users from having to suffer lost addons on upgrade. I'll let Justin give you a link to read more.


* Never-ending updates. This is the first thing that I turn off. When
will it stop? The software community in general needs to innovate less
and test more before software is released. Frequent updates are a sign
of poor testing.
Sorry, this is just false. All non-trivial software has bugs. All complex software dealing in user-sensitive data and privileges has security bugs. It's essential to fix these all the time, and quickly.

You seem to think "testing" can cause software to achieve a state of very low security-sensitive and serious (data loss, crash) bugs. It's just not so. Computer scientists and software engineers have been working on the problems here for decades. They are nowhere near solved.

The only answer is the one other browsers, notably Chrome, have adopted: continuous silent updates to avoid fatiguing users. This works only if the updates strictly improve the reliability and security of the browser. If something changes that the user notices, users will be upset.

Since we care only about users, not search or OS agendas per se, we have to be willing to consider this approach. It seems it would make you happier. True?

BTW, be careful charging "hubris". That is what the Greek tragedies called "fatal pride". Those of us working on Firefox are not proud, fatally or otherwise. You won't find us spending billions on ads or claiming our browser is "fastest" or "most secure" (not on my watch, anyway). We simply fight for the users. This requires considering silent securitiy/crash-fix updates.


* Changing the interface without allowing for backward compatibility.
If an add-on needs to be created such as status-4-evar, this should be
a red flag that the design is lacking.
I agree, and if you look into it, you'll see I was involved in the status bar episode late in Firefox 4. Sorry it was too late to restore the status bar as it was, although I'm not convinced that was the best outcome. What happened is not all that bad, but it definitely was a late-breaking case of back-peddling.

Was this a case of hubris? I think the problems that led to this outcome were more subtle. They had to do with separating UX design from front-end implementation, and of trying to solve two problems at once in the same area of the UI. There were other problems, including variations on human fallibility, but not (IMHO) fatal pride.

Anyway, we have status down at the bottom, not in a dedicated status bar, but in the same place most eyes look for it. You've scored a hit but I don't think we're sunk over this.


* "Awesome bar" Really? Says who? What was wrong with the previously
displaying the URL. This flaw shows up in both Ubuntu and WinXP. At
first I thought it a bug but later found out it was a feature. No
kidding.
What is the problem, exactly?

I use Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera. Firefox's location bar since Firefox 3 is by far the most usable for me, because it searches my "frecency" sorted local search corpus.

Out of time, I'll leave it here. Thanks for writing, but watch out for those Greek words -- the one you used doesn't seem on target to me.

/be

Robert Kaiser

unread,
May 24, 2011, 9:32:46 AM5/24/11
to
F 10000 schrieb:

> Frequent updates are a sign
> of poor testing.

On the contrary, they are a sign of continuous testing and fixing. While
others might go and hide potential security problems from users for
months and years or ignore the feedback from users about stability,
usability and other glitches, we are constantly working on acting and
reacting on those items and therefore shipping updates every few weeks
to actually bring those constant improvements to our users.
The web is changing and innovating constantly, we need to keep our users
as current as possible so they can fully embrace it. And we have
thousands of people constantly testing our products and tons of
developers continuously improving them because of that feedback.
It would be a sign of poor testing and engineering to not deliver the
results of that work to Firefox users frequently.

Robert Kaiser

--
Note that any statements of mine - no matter how passionate - are never
meant to be offensive but very often as food for thought or possible
arguments that we as a community needs answers to. And most of the time,
I even appreciate irony and fun! :)

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