Category Archives: mozilla

My mobile and desktop browsing habits are very different things

Browsing habits are the kind of things that gradually change over time without you even realizing it. If you look back a year ago, I’m sure some of the most visited websites today weren’t even on the top 20 list then. An obvious example is that quarterly goals page from Q3 2011 that you visited every day for a full quarter, and then suddenly never looked at again.

What’s even more interesting for me is how my mobile browsing habits have gradually changed into something very different from my desktop browsing habits. A couple of years ago, I used to visit roughly the same sites on both devices, but over time I found myself visiting some websites more from my mobile, and other websites more from my desktop computer.

Today, the separation is very clear: I almost exclusively use my desktop computer for work-related browsing (wikis, Etherpads, calendars, reports, etc), and I use my mobile phone mostly for casual browsing (news, social media, tech, blogs, etc). Another separation along the same lines is that I mostly use my desktop computer to write, and I use my mobile phone to read.

This actually makes me a little torn about the Firefox Sync implementation on Android today. On the one hand, I absolutely love the fact that I can have convenient access to all pages I visit on the desktop, and I simply can’t live without the pre-filled passwords. But on the other hand, I’m not sure I’m too crazy about the fact that all of those “Top Sites” are mixed together the way they are on the Awesome Screen. At the end of the day, I find it distracting to see ten different flavors of https://mail.mozilla.com/zimbra/#%5Binsert number here], or twenty different Etherpads or wiki pages all mixed up with the handful of sites that I actually do want to visit from my phone.

This is one of the things that I like about the stock Android browser on my Samsung Galaxy Note: it allows me to define exactly how I want the top bookmarks to look like, even in which order they should appear in the thumbnail grid.

Stock browser's bookmarks grid -- pardon the Swedish and poor reading taste.

Some things that would make my use of Firefox on Android feel more awesome:

  • An intuitive, quick way of arranging my top sites and bookmarks and ensure duplicates aren’t bubbling up at the top.
  • An option to view the top sites as a thumbnail grid instead of a list.
  • An option (or simply changed default) to not show the soft keyboard until you hit the text field again — I just want to click the top site rather than type on the keyboard.

Firefox Awesome Screen

All this said, I don’t know what I’d do without Firefox Sync. It really enables me to accomplish stuff on my phone that I previously had to use my desktop computer for. The only downside, I suppose, is that it also makes it that much easier to switch your mind back into work mode after stumbling on that interesting report, or Etherpad, or wiki page that you’re not supposed to read when trying to wind down after a long workday… :)

Firefox for Android finally ready for prime time!

If you’ve tried Firefox for Android in the past and weren’t impressed, try again today. With a revamped interface built entire from scratch, it’s infinitely faster, renders websites beautifully, and supports Flash (for those who happen to like that).

Promotional Graphic (2)

Sync your mobile and desktop Firefox

If you’re using Firefox on your desktop computer, the first thing you will want to do is to set up Sync so you can synchronize bookmarks, passwords, form data and other settings across your devices. Simply follow the on-screen instructions or check out this step-by-step guide.

Already hungry for more? Get Aurora!

What if you’re already using Firefox and want to get a sneak peek at what’s coming up in the future? Then install Firefox Aurora and use that instead of plain Firefox! Aurora is an experimental branch of Firefox that represents what will eventually appear in a future Firefox release. So by using Aurora, you get to see what awesome things are coming up before mere mortals will benefit from them. They’re generally stable enough that you can use it without any major issues. Besides, if something does go wrong, you can always just switch back to normal Firefox again — you can keep both versions installed on both your computer and phone (though you can’t run them both at the same time, so Quit one before starting the other).

Keep in mind that by using Aurora, you are also encouraged to provide feedback about the experience. If you’re a bit more technical and used to filing bug reports, you can go straight to Bugzilla and submit your feedback that way.

Firefox tip: Getting past the Wikipedia blackout

Wikipedia is joining the movement of protests against the SOPA/PIPA bills. Quoting their page linked to from every article today (Wednesday January 18):

What are SOPA and PIPA?

SOPA and PIPA represent two bills in the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate respectively. SOPA is short for the “Stop Online Piracy Act,” and PIPA is an acronym for the “Protect IP Act.” (“IP” stands for “intellectual property.”) In short, these bills are efforts to stop copyright infringement committed by foreign web sites, but, in our opinion, they do so in a way that actually infringes free expression while harming the Internet. [...]

Wikipedians have chosen to black out the English Wikipedia for the first time ever, because we are concerned that SOPA and PIPA will severely inhibit people’s access to online information. This is not a problem that will solely affect people in the United States: it will affect everyone around the world.

For the record, I fully support Wikipedia’s protest — and so does Mozilla. However, this blog post isn’t really about that.

What if you really, really need to read that particular Wikipedia article today and you don’t have your mobile phone nearby, and you’d rather not disable Javascript of the entire browser? I thought I’d share this simple method that will allow you to quickly get access to the content:

Update: Asa Dotzler pointed out that there’s an even easier method than what I explain below: just replace the “en” part of the address of the article you’re visiting to “m” and you’re done — that will take you to the mobile-optimized version of the Wikipedia article. Example: change http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toilet_paper_orientation to m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toilet_paper_orientation. That’s it!

The original instructions were:

  1. In Firefox, navigate to the Wikipedia article you want to read. You’ll see something like this:
  2. Press Alt on your keyboard to reveal the classic menu of Firefox:
  3. Click View > Page Style > No Style. You’ll then see a somewhat crudely formatted version of the original article:

This setting is not remembered in Firefox, so when you’re done reading the article, just close the tab and things will go back to normal when you open it the next time. (Wikipedia itself will also go back to normal, tomorrow. In the meantime, take action!)

The next browser war: Users vs Web Content

Browser wars is a popular (and retro!) topic these days. In this post I’ll discuss another kind of browser war that I’m afraid all browsers are at risk of losing.

One side-effect of a richer web experience with html5, Javascript and CSS is that it becomes increasingly harder for web browsers to stop bad web design practices for the benefit of the user. Firefox is known for putting the user’s needs first and pioneered mainstream use of features designed to make the web experience better for users – the pop-up blocker is perhaps the most notable example.

Features like the pop-up blocker were not designed for web developers — they were designed completely in the interest of users, who were fed up with annoying ads that popped up over and under the web page you were currently visiting. This effectively forced web designers to adjust their practices and keep the users’ interests more prominently in mind. I think this is a wonderful example of how web browsers can change the web for the better. Before the pop-up blocker, web designers were dictating how their web sites should behave, and users had no other choice but to put up with it.

There are of course many other examples of when browser features have helped tame annoying web design practices, such as scrolling text in status bars, disabling the context menu when right-clicking, and blocking third-party cookies — the general theme is that the browser balances the sometimes bad urges of web developers and designers with the actual needs of the user. And as a result, the web becomes a better place. Mozilla has its own spin on this that captures the essence of Firefox: Firefox answers to no one but you.

The yellow pop-up blocker info bar in Firefox. A rare sight these days.

Today, however, you don’t see the little pop-up icon  in the location bar of Firefox very often anymore. This is because “true” pop-ups, (in the traditional/technical sense) are no longer common. It used to be that, in order to display a pop-up, web developers had to use Javascript methods like window.open to tell the browser that it wants a new window to be open so the (usually annoying) ad could be shown.

Back in 2004, when Firefox was first launched, window.open was the way of displaying pop-ups. These kinds of pop-ups are trivial for Firefox to detect, since the web page creates a separate browser window for the ad (this usually happens when a page loads, or at some other event which is straightforward enough for a browser to determine that it isn’t explicitly requested by the user).

Today, most modern web sites have become smarter and use more sophisticated technologies to display pop-up ads embedded within the web page triggering the ad. In fact, a quick anecdotal survey shows that most large, international websites have completely stopped using the traditional pop-ups. You can still find them on smaller or more local websites though (for example, Swedish news sites like aftonbladet.se are typically a year or two behind the more recent web page practices used on websites from the US in general, and the Valley in particular). The original pop-up blocking implementation certainly still matters, but its relevance is decreasing.

New websites use all sorts of clever (and highly annoying) tricks to make sure their ads are not missed by anyone:

  • Inline pop-ups — these behave similar to the traditional pop-ups, but the ad content isn’t actually displayed in a separate window. Instead, the ad is embedded in the web page itself. From a technological point of view, a browser is then unable to distinguish the ad from the rest of the web page, so it can’t block it.
  • Hover ads — this is similar to inline pop-ups, but taken to an increasingly more annoying level: here, the ad doesn’t just block a particular area of the web page, it follows along on your screen as you scroll down on the page — often with a smooth movement to give the impression that it’s actually hovering over the page. It’s like the ad is trying to say “I’m here! Look, I’m still here!”
  • Splash screen ads (I just made this term up) –  these are by far the most annoying ads and are commonly seen on sites like di.se and e24.se (two popular finance websites in Sweden). This is like an ad saying: “Look, I’m not going to let you read the web page until you’ve paid attention to ME!” Web designers do this by overlaying the ad so it completely covers the content of the page (alternatively, it redirects you to a separate page). If you pay close attention, you will see a tiny link to get to the page you actually wanted to visit, but the web designer has usually made it the smallest link on the entire page — despite the fact it’s the link you are most likely going to want to click. These type of web pages clearly answer to no one but the ad provider — certainly not to you.
  • Video ads — as videos are getting more and more mainstream, the most common practice today by content providers is to show an ad before playing the video clip you actually requested. This is similar to those “important messages” you see when inserting some DVDs, and just like those messages, you can’t skip these ads. You simply have no choice but to watch the entire thing. (Some content providers add a small clock countdown in the corner to at least let you know how long you have to put up with watching the ad — it’s clear that they’re aware of the inconvenience for the user here.)

All of these types of web ads have one thing in common: it’s next to impossible for web browsers to block them. These ads are, from a technical point of view, integral parts of the web page itself, and as such they’re indistinguishable from the “good” content on the page.

Where do we go from here?

Web browsers make at least a bit of an effort to block advertisement today with their aged pop-up blocker feature, but it’s also clear that they are not able to block all attempts of displaying advertisement on the web. (And should they? Unless we can create a world where advertisement is not just generally unwanted, but also not necessary to make the online economy spin, I would say we probably shouldn’t try to block them all. But that’s a much deeper discussion than I’m aiming for in this blog post.)

More importantly, however, web browsers are no longer stopping bad design practices. Showing an ad as a splash overlay covering the entire page and blocking the user from seeing the actual content of the page is exactly the kind of thing that Firefox effectively stopped in 2004 — but so far there is no solution in place in any web browser on the market to stop the new pop-up behavior that is at least as bad as the traditional pop-ups.

Taking a step back, what is the role of the browser in this new world where web pages are becoming more like web applications that live a life on their own terms? How can we ensure that the browser still acts as a balance that puts the user first? Of course, I don’t have the answers to these broad questions, but it’s definitely something I think must be discussed.

Status update

I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I blogged last time. The thing is that the longer you wait, the harder it gets to start writing again because you have a growing pile of things you should have blogged about in the past that makes you raise the bar on the significance threshold. Essentially, picking up a blog after almost a year of silence requires that the update has to be spectacular.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Another way could be to just say: Hey, I’m back! I’ll try to be a little more frequent in the future, but for now let’s summarize the most important bits that have happened up until now:

  • I got married on September 3rd. It was fantastic! :)
  • Sophie and I went on a honeymoon trip to Cyprus on September 5th and it was also fantastic.
  • The plan was to get back home again this Monday so I could take an early flight to SFO on Tuesday morning to join the Mozilla all hands on Wednesday. However, the plan didn’t go so well, because the trip from Cyprus back to Sweden was delayed, and I missed the flight to SFO. So in case anyone at Mozilla wonders where the heck I am, I’m doing the best I can to work remotely while everyone else is on site.
  • Oh, and during the honeymoon trip, my LDAP password expired and I haven’t been able to read mail or access my calendar since then. Resetting the password proves to be hard when all of Mozilla’s IT staff is asleep in the US. ;)

Send helpful ripples in the Twitterverse!


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How would you describe yourself? Here are some profiles:

  • You recently discovered Firefox and are still new to this idea of participating rather than just passively using software. That said, you’ve always been considered helpful by your peers.
  • You’ve used Firefox for a while now, and you know about Mozilla’s open source values. You wish you could contribute in a meaningful way, but you’re not sure if you have the required skills.
  • You know quite a lot about Firefox and have helped friends with their problems, but you don’t really have time to do it regularly more than maybe 5 minutes per day.

Do any of these descriptions sound like you? If so, Mozilla’s all-new Army of Awesome comes to rescue — a lightweight, quick and super-simple way for anyone to help fellow Firefox users with their web browsing experience!

Becoming an active contributor of the Mozilla community has never been simpler:

  • This is a super-simple way for anyone to reach out to actual Firefox users — the main idea is to direct people to where they can get help with their problems: support.mozilla.com. In other words, you can help even if you don’t know the answer to their problem!
  • It’s also a great way to get in touch with users who aren’t necessarily looking for help, including people who just raved about the latest beta, or people who openly asked which browser they should use. You probably know the answer to that question, which means that…
  • Everyone can contribute here, including you!

Army of Awesome

I really want to stress that last point: everyone can make a difference here, and it doesn’t have to take more than a couple of minutes per day. It will go a long way in spreading helpful ripples in the Twitterverse. Please give it a go and let me know what you think!

By the way, we’re also thinking about ways to integrate other social media into this effort, such as Facebook; and we’re thinking of creating a Firefox add-on that will allow you to use the same helpful snippets when helping people on blogs, various forums, and other places online. More on that later. If you have other ideas on how to spread the helpfulness to other places, let me know!

Lastly, a big thank you to everyone who helped pull this project together — William Reynolds, Kadir Topal, Michael Verdi, Alex Buchanan, Fred Wenzel, James Socol, Paul Craciunoiu, Stephen Donner, Krupa Raj, Craig Cook, Mike Morgan, Mike Alexis, Anurag Phadke, and Daniel Einspanjer.

I love the iPad!

Mmm, the iPad. It’s so beautiful, so sleek, so elegant, so useful. I think everyone should buy one. A couple of things I love about it:

1. Seal of Quality

Isn’t it great that Apple reviews all programs before they’re added to the App Store? It’s a bit like the Seal of Quality™ stamp that good old Nintendo put on their NES games to ensure you that your purchase would give you hours of quality game play in front of the television set make more money.

In practice, this means that we can feel safe with our iPads knowing that the virtual chocolate box app we purchase meets Apples’ rigorous quality standards. And it’s only $0.99! That’s almost free as in beer, folks (who cares about free as in speech anyway?).

2. Browser Choice

We all know how important the web browser choice is. That’s why it’s so convenient that Apple already made the choice for us on the iPad: Safari! They even went the extra mile to make it impossible to install other browsers, so I don’t need to worry about whether or not Safari is the right choice for me.  And besides, Safari is the best browser out there, right?

Or as they say themselves:

“Our lives are full of choices. iPod Touch or iPod Nano? Silver, Pink, Orange, Green, Blue, Purple or Black? All of them?

As a for-profit corporation, we have always believed that the freedom to make smart choices should be restricted to Apple to make the product experience, the Web, and the world, a better place. This shows through with our iPad running Safari, a free-as-in-beer, closed-source Web browser that we have chosen for more than 350 people in the US. Values of choice and self-determination are built into everything that we do: you can either buy the iPad, or don’t. You know you want to.”

Some ideas for the mobile Firefox UI

This post is also available in Belarusian thanks to Marcis G. Thanks for the translation!

Following up on my post yesterday about my impressions with web browsing on the N900, I wanted to elaborate on one of the points I was making: Firefox’s UI model of showing controls (a.k.a. chrome) on two sides of the web page.

I see a few problems with it:

  • You need to swipe your finger in a specific direction in order to reveal specific chrome (e.g. swipe to the right to show tabs, and swipe to the left to show Back/Forward buttons and some other controls).
  • The split between the chrome on both sides isn’t natural. For example, both Back/Forward and tabs are types of navigation, but they’re on separate sides. This means you simply have to learn on which side specific UI is located. Not a huge problem, of course.
  • If you’re zoomed in on a page, you may have to swipe several times to reach the side of the web page and reveal the chrome (or double tap and then swipe).
  • Having controls at the bottom of the screen feels more intuitive to me. More objectively, though, it also works better in portrait layout when you’d rather not waste width on chrome.
  • The required panning of the web page itself when reaching for chrome feels rather clunky. I’m swiping to reveal toolbar buttons, not to pan around on the page, but I have to do both at the same time in Firefox.
  • The tab thumbnails are always of the same (small) size, since the chosen tab model doesn’t allow for flexibility.

My simple ideas:

Allow me to present a few ideas on how the UI could be simplified. Please excuse this poor GIMP mockup:

The mockup above shows a redesigned navigation toolbar and a different way of switching tabs. Let me explain each feature in more detail:

  • The new toolbar is overlaid on top of the web page and fades (or slides) into view when interacting on the page (e.g. when scrolling or tapping).
  • All buttons are on the same toolbar. This means that you don’t have to remember which direction to swipe to reveal the controls, because any direction works.
  • The web page itself doesn’t pan when the toolbar appears.
  • After a short while of no interaction, the toolbar fades/slides away again.
  • The left side of the toolbar shows the Back/Forward buttons, the center shows the Tab (or Web Page) Switcher button, and the right side shows a Bookmark and a Tools button.
  • This toolbar can easily fit in a portrait layout.
  • Clicking the Tab Switcher button shows the currently open tabs. The size of the thumbnails change dynamically depending on the number of open tabs. Clicking on the Tab Switcher button again or outside the tab switching “pop-up” takes you back to the current web page again.
  • Clicking the Tools button reveals a “pop-up” similar to the Tab Switcher chrome, but this one of course shows the Firefox options window. Rather than clicking a back button to come back to the web page, you click outside of the “pop-up”.

In addition to the ideas above, I would also suggest that the toolbar is made customizable. Personally, I would like a zoom button (maybe even a +/- type of button) instead of a bookmarks button, but there’s obviously a limit on how many buttons you can show at the same time. This mockup assumes approximately the same button size as in the MicroB browser, so there would be plenty of space for buttons, at least in horizontal layout.

Thoughts? Piece of crap? Just shoot me.

My impressions with web browsing on the N900

I’ve recently had the pleasure of testing Firefox on the brand new Maemo based Nokia N900 phone (which I blogged about previously), and I have to say I’m impressed. Of course, I’m biased — I love Firefox. I’ve been using it since the Phoenix days and it’s almost part of my DNA these days.

However, I have a confession to make: Firefox isn’t yet my default browser on the N900. I think it will be very soon, but right now, my browser of choice on this particular device is another Mozilla-based browser: MicroB. It’s actually the best web browsing experience I’ve ever had on a mobile device (but to be fair, Firefox is the second best experience, so it’s definitely up in the same league already).

Allow me to summarize my initial impressions with both of these Mozilla browsers:

  • The Awesome Bar in Firefox is… awesome. I never actually reflected on how convenient it was to use until I tried MicroB, which forces me to remember URLs again.
  • Weave is probably extremely useful, too, but since I’m using the latest trunk builds of Firefox (“Fennec”), I can’t actually use it.
  • I’m not completely sold on Firefox’s UI model of showing controls on a surface on the sides of the web page. I’d be curious about whether there has been any usability research that suggests it’s better than the more traditional toolbar at the bottom of the screen. Btw, I’ll follow up with some ideas about this in a future blog post.
  • I’ve fallen in love with the volume rocker zoom in MicroB — it’s smooth, fast and surprisingly accurate. Would love to see this in Firefox!
  • When double tapping to zoom in MicroB, a subtle zoom animation is used which feels intuitive and responsive. In Firefox, the zoom is instant, making it feel less fluid.
  • The default page zoom in Firefox is designed to make the full width of the page fit on the screen. This unfortunately has the side effect of making the text on almost all web pages too small to read. It seems like MicroB has chosen a different approach where the default zoom includes about 800px of the web page width, which makes it possible to read most pages without zooming in.
  • Actually zooming in on a page in Firefox is a bit tricky, because it auto-zooms on the object you double tab on, even if that object is only e.g. a small image. This means that you often zoom in too much, and since it’s not possible to adjust the zoom level in an easy way (keyboard shortcuts don’t cut it, especially not for me since I have the Scandinavian keyboard layout where [Ctrl]+[-] doesn’t work), you have to double-tap again to zoom out and then try again.
  • MicroB feels more responsive when panning around on a page. This is mostly due to the fact that the UI and panning is done in a separate process from the actual Gecko web rendering process. At FOSDEM, I was pleased to hear in the Mobile talk by Mark Finkle that Firefox will make full use of the Electrolysis technologies that are currently being baked. What this means, in simple terms, is that Firefox will be just as responsive as MicroB in the future since the web rendering process will be separate from the UI/frontend. I can’t wait to see the results of that (which of course will benefit desktop Firefox as well).
  • The checker pattern seems to show up more frequently on the screen in Firefox compared to MicroB. I don’t know if Firefox is just more conservative with how much of the web page it pre-loads off-screen, but sometimes it can cause the whole screen to remain “blank” for a few seconds, which rarely happens with MicroB.
  • The Back button history in MicroB is a good idea in theory: when clicking the Back button, small thumbnails of the previous pages are shown, making it easy to pick the page you want to get back to. However, the implementation sucks because it takes several seconds to load these thumbnails and the thumbnails are big enough that you have to pan around in order to see anything more than one page back. Would be nice to see some kind of combination of Firefox’s and MicroB’s implementation: when tapping on the Back button, Firefox would simply go back to the previous page, but when tapping and holding, it would show a pop-up with preloaded thumbnails in a similar fashion as with MicroB, except without the delay. (Maybe the actual thumbnails could be recorded when you navigate away from a page?)
  • Flash — as much as I hate it — works pretty well in MicroB out of the box. In Firefox, I have to enable it manually, and the responsiveness of the UI with Flash enabled isn’t great. Can every web site switch to open video, please?

I personally feel that both MicroB and Firefox are really good web browsers, and the fact that they’re both powered by Mozilla’s Gecko web rendering engine is a huge plus for me. So in a way, I don’t feel bad for not using Firefox primarly right now, because my current web browser of choice is still filled with Mozilla love. :)

That said, I can’t wait to use an Electrolysis-powered version of mobile Firefox later this year!

Dreaming of lizards, too

Following up on my brief blog post the other day, I am currently in Mountain View to work from Mozilla’s main office. The main reason for this is that we had the pleasure of hiring Kadir Topal as the SUMO community manager. The plan is to get him properly introduced to all the people he’s going to work with remotely. So far, the plan has really played out well, but it’s definitely been an intense first day for him!

Of course, traveling nine hours back in time also means fighting a pretty intense jet lag. The first night is always toughest (although I was pretty excited about one particular dream I had of holding the jaw of a huge lizard with one hand and petting it with the other… it’s a shame I had to wake up while I was running through the forest to get my camera!), so I’m confident that both Kadir and I will be more energized tomorrow.