Tag Archives: mozilla

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.

Let's create that ideal world together!

John Slater recently hosted a brown bag about how to improve Mozilla’s web sites by making a clearer distinction between Mozilla, the non-profit organization, and Firefox, one of its products (and, of course, the most popular since it happens to be the best browser in the world!). He also posted a blog post about the topic, and David Boswell then followed up by providing his thoughts from the point of view of the Mozilla Foundation.

As I’ve said before, my vision for SUMO goes beyond Firefox: SUMO is a vibrant community of people who want to help others with their web experience. It’s also a support website platform for products like Firefox, mobile Firefox and Thunderbird.

The URL for Firefox Support, the largest SUMO-powered support site, is currently support.mozilla.com. While I don’t think URLs are that important in the first place (the navigation and structure of websites are far more important), this particular URL is a bit unfortunate because the support site is indeed about Firefox, and not Mozilla as a whole. A URL like support.firefox.com would make more sense, and would also send a clearer message to everyone what the focus of the site is.

In the ideal world, there would be a central place for support on mozilla.org where users of all products could find easy access to the support offerings per product. In other words, something like mozilla.org/support, which already exists today (although I would also make sure that support.mozilla.org worked).

Then, each product would have its own support site hosted on the product domains, e.g. support.firefox.com, support.thunderbird.com, and support.seamonkey-project.org. Of course, these sites would also link to all the amazing community-hosted support websites around the world — just like they do today.

So, what stops us from creating this ideal world? Well, nothing, really. But we’re an incredibly big community and support is just one piece of the big puzzle, so I encourage you to participate in the discussion!

djst's nest, a microblog?

I’m thinking of turning this blog into a microblog. What that actually means is simply that I would write more often on the blog without feeling that every blog post needs to be substantial, clever, and proof-read.

I’ve found that I blog much less nowadays and the main reason for it is a lack of time — it’s so much simpler to just post a Facebook status update, or tweet. But at the same time, I often feel that I could write at least a few sentences about any given topic, which immediately makes the 140 character limit somewhat… limiting.

In the Mozilla world, I recently worked in the Paris office for a week, interviewed some really strong candidates for the Support Community Manager role, hung out with my Mozilla community friends at FOSDEM 2010, and sang songs about nukeador — all of which are topics worthy of (micro)blog posts on their own.

So, rather than letting this blog slowly die, I will start to write briefer blog posts and get them out more frequently. Consider this my Sunday morning promise (whatever that means).

Five years ago, Firefox was born

When I blogged about the launch of Firefox 1.0 five years ago, I knew it was a big day that we would look back at in the future. However, I would be lying if I said back then that I knew what kind of impact Firefox would have on the web as a whole.

Five years ago, you couldn’t choose what type of computer of device you wanted to use to browse the web because all websites were designed to work with IE on Windows. Something as basic as surfing from your mobile device — we take this for granted today — was completely out of the question. Microsoft was in full control of the Internet and your web experience.

This all changed when Firefox was released on November 9th 2004. Finally, web developers could design web sites according to standards instead of designing them to work for IE. Finally, users could experience web sites the way they were meant to be. Finally, the web was accessible to everyone.

In a nutshell, Firefox is the reason why we can surf the web using our iPhones, Linux netbooks, or OpenSolaris PCs.

Firefox set the web free.

I have four words for you

Meeting fellow Mozillians at events like MozCamp is very much like meeting old friends: it’s familiar, energizing, and fun. MozCamp 2009 in Prague was no exception and left me with a lot of extra enthusiasm about being part of Mozilla.

This event was extra special from a SUMO point of view, because for the first time, we were able to invite a number of non-localization contributors of SUMO. I was very pleased to finally meet European Live Chat experts Tobbi and mzz in real life (to be fair, we did invite many more SUMO community members, but unfortunately most of them were unable to join). You can chat with both Tobbi and mzz in the #sumo channel of irc.mozilla.org.

Another SUMO contributor I had never met before is Milos from Mozilla Serbia. He is an incredibly multi-talented contributor helping out with things like Serbian localization, QA of new SUMO features, web QA, market share analysis and many other things. As always during events like this, time really flies and I wish I had more time to hang out with Tobbi, mzz, and Milos.

Of course, it was also great to meet long-time SUMO contributors Simone from Mozilla Italia, and Thomas from Mozilla Germany again. I had really productive chats with them about which things to improve with SUMO l10n and I’m hoping we can get these fixes in early in 2010. More on that soon.

My photos from the event can be found on Flickr. Some random things I liked about MozCamp 2009 in Prague:

One of the absolute highlights of the event was something I had been fantasizing about for almost two years. The idea actually formed at FOSDEM 2008, when Seth and I had a brief moment of genius (or just a strong hangover) and started to play with the idea of having Chris Hofmann come up on stage and do the Ballmer dance, Mozilla-style. When I blogged last year about the almost painful laughs during the Sunday dinner with Seth, Mark Finkle, Mic and  Zbigniew, this idea of “I love this community” was the primary reason for the pain. :)

So it was with pure joy, pride and excitement that I finally got to experience it for real — it felt like giving birth to a child (or not even close; what do I know?). Thanks Seth and chofmann for making it happen!

I really do love this community.

Update: A blog post about MozCamp 2009 without acknowledging the incredible work by the people who organized it is not cool. William, Irina and the track leaders Patrick Finch, Marcia Knous, Paul Rouget, Gandalf and Brian King all did an amazing job. Thank you!

Marc Laporte coming to town

As many people already know, SUMO as a support web platform is built around open source software. For the knowledge base and forum, we use TikiWiki, an open-source PHP-based content management system. What fewer people might know is that SUMO is currently based on TikiWiki 1.10, which is almost two years old today. The latest version of TikiWiki is 3.1 and in only a couple of months 4.0 will be released.

This week, TikiWiki community lead/member Marc Laporte is paying me a quick visit in Eskilstuna, Sweden to discuss our current situation and to figure out what to do with SUMO. We have identified three potential plans:

  • Plan A: upgrade SUMO to TikiWiki 4.x. This is what I’m hoping we’ll be able to achieve. The question is how much work it means to get to 4.x and how much better things will be once we’re there.
  • Plan B: fork our current codebase and continue to add our own features on top of it. This is essentially what we’re doing today, and it’s not exactly ideal since we end up doing work in parallel with TikiWiki, and we’re wasting precious resources.
  • Plan C: migrade our content to another CMS, e.g. Drupal. By far the most costly effort in the short term, and not clear whether the benefits outweighs the investment cost.

Now that Marc and I have the opportunity to spend two full days working face to face, I’m hopeful that we can not only pick Plan A, but come up with a solid plan for the first few steps to make the plan a reality.

If you’re part of the SUMO or TikiWiki community, I would love to hear what you think and if you think there are things we should focus on discussing!

Bye bye Mac, hello again PC!

If I appear to be slower to respond to e-mail lately, it’s because my two-year-old MacBook Pro broke down last week, leaving me without access to my local data. It started with some occasional graphical glitches (see video) but it only took a few days until the computer wouldn’t boot anymore. Interestingly, during this gradual fail, the rEFIt boot menu that normally allowed me to start Linux suddenly disappeared. The first time it disappeared, I could restore it by resetting the PROM memory, but now it’s just gone.

Tiger trying to fix my computerMacs are weird in so many ways. You can’t just install Linux and expect it to work — you have to install additional software like rEFIt just to boot into another OS than Mac OS X. Furthermore, you can’t just plug a USB stick in and boot from it. In short, Apple is the very definition of locked down proprietary technology and it annoys the hell out of me.

I’m sick and tired of Macs and I’ve decided to even out the remarkably unbalanced Mac/PC ratio at Mozilla by getting a PC as my next computer. I’ve also decided to give in to my passion for Linux and use it as my full-time OS from now on.

While I’m waiting for my new computer to arrive, I’m writing this from Sofie’s little 12″ PC running Ubuntu. It works like a charm, but I am definitely not as productive as I was with my own computer. I sometimes have to let go of the computer for a few minutes so Sofie can check her mail — after all, I’m the one borrowing her computer. However, the biggest reason why I’m not as productive as I was before my MacBook broke is that I don’t have access to my local data.

Two things I’m a lot more dependent on than I ever thought:

  • The local address book of Thunderbird
  • The local AwesomeBar data of Firefox

I’m working on getting a Linux Live CD (Sofie’s laptop doesn’t have a CD burner) to boot up my MacBook and transfer all my local data to this computer so I can resume full productivity speed again.