Category Archives: computers

SUMO in 2013: Firefox Desktop

You’re reading part 3 of SUMO in 2013, and this time the focus is Firefox on the desktop!

Increase retention and user loyalty

Over the years, we’ve built something pretty amazing with the desktop Firefox support on SUMO, so this year it’s all about optimizing and oiling that engine to go from great to awesome. Overall, the goal in 2013 is to decrease issue-driven churn.

SUMO developments over the years

Snapshots of support.mozilla.org over the years.

Some of this has already been covered in the first part of this blog series — the stuff that applies to all of our products — but it’s worth repeating some of it here since desktop Firefox represents the vast majority of our traffic on support.mozilla.org today. There are two main components to this that will contribute to increased retention and user loyalty that we are responsible for:

  1. Understand our users by listening to their feedback. This is what the User Advocacy team is focusing their efforts on.
  2. Delighting our users with better-than-expected support. This is what the Desktop & Cross-Product Support team focuses on, including efforts like a kick-ass education strategy. But it also includes our focus on providing kick-ass help articles and covering more topics and answers.

Achieve 100% resolution rate in English support forum

To be clear, 100% resolution rate here means that no posts in the forum should be left unresolved. In other words, any user posting a question should get an answer to their question, and if that answer doesn’t solve their problem, we won’t give up until that problem is solved. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all resolutions will please the user — for example, if a user posts a question like “Why is there no official version of Firefox for Playstation 3?” we will simply do our best to explain why and resolve the thread that way. While the user may disagree with our answer, we would consider that thread resolved. So we won’t exactly achieve magic here — but we’ll get pretty close. 😉

Let’s be clear about one thing: this is a very ambitious goal. It will take a huge effort from everyone involved: our insane community of volunteers, our awesome WebDev team to prepare the platform for things like being able to mark threads as “unsolvable” (similar to the INVALID resolution in Bugzilla) and streamline the interface, and of course the SUMO team itself. There will no doubt be some threads that will be left behind or forgotten in the day-to-day answering of questions in our community. Because of this, we will need to have people ready to “fill in the gaps” as they appear, and to ensure that all threads that already have an answer actually lead to a resolution. Do you think we can do it? Would you like to help us while learning more about our products and development processes? Come join us in the forum!

Provide first response to all forum questions within 24 hours

Another forum-related goal this year is to ensure that everyone gets a first response within 24 hours of posting a question in the forum. This is part of our commitment to delight users with our support, and in reality we’ll aim to do even better than 24 hours — but this is already an ambitious goal as it is!

QuestionsThe good thing is that already making great progress in our ability to provide timely responses. In fact, we’re already responding to close to 80% of all of our questions within 24 hours. But the road to 100% will be both challenging and fun at the same time!

That’s it for desktop Firefox this year. Piece of cake, right? 😉 In the next part, I’ll walk you through our goals for Firefox for Android.

SUMO in 2013: Firefox OS

You’re reading the second part of the SUMO in 2013 blog series, and this time the focus is Firefox OS!

  • Part 1: Delight our users
  • Part 2: Firefox OS — you’re reading this one right now!
  • Part 3: Firefox Desktop
  • Part 4: Firefox Android
  • Part 5: Summary

So what exactly is Firefox OS? From mozilla.org:

Firefox OS will produce an implementation of new Web standards to free mobile platforms from the encumbrances of the rules and restrictions of existing proprietary platforms.

We’re collaborating with OEMs and carriers directly, giving them more influence to meet the specific needs of their users and market. Users and developers aren’t locked in to one platform, so they can access their info and use apps across multiple devices.

Developers will no longer need to learn and develop against platform-specific native APIs. […] Consumers who use devices powered by Firefox OS won’t be locked into one specific platform giving them more choice, flexibility and freedom. With Firefox OS, the Web is the platform.

Create best-in-class mobile support experience for Firefox OS v1 launch

firefox-phone2013 is going to be an incredible year for Mozilla since it will be the year when Firefox OS and the open mobile web get into the hands of users around the world. At SUMO, we’re working hard to prepare for this and to ensure we’re ready to support users if they run into any problems.

However, some things will be a little different for us compared to how we’re supporting Firefox users. These Firefox OS phones will be sold in brick and mortar stores, and the user will have actually paid with real money for it. This raises the bar of the kind of support they expect for their device, and we need to be prepared for that.

Partner with carriers & OEMs

Luckily, we’re not the only ones who care deeply about Firefox OS users — since the phones will be sold in stores, we will rely on our partners for the first line of defense in supporting Firefox OS. This is a great start, but we still need to make sure that those who do come to our site get the best possible answers to their questions.

We also want to make sure that our partners have the best possible support material for our product so they can delight their customers just as much as we will. This means we’ll be working on delivering high-quality support documentation and training material as part of writing our knowledge base articles for users. In fact, we’ve already started and would love to see you join the efforts! Contributing to SUMO is a great way to influence the future of Firefox OS and to be a part of this brand new mobile phone experience.

Build localized support forums and communities and supply them with needed tools

Our support forum platform view from a mobile device.

For local communities who don’t already have a support forum and are ready to support Firefox OS users, we will be building the foundations to support localized forums on support.mozilla.org itself. This is actually something we’ve wanted to offer for a long time, so it’s very exciting that it will finally become a reality for the local communities who need it! Note that this foundation will also work for all of our other products like Firefox, but we’re building this primarily to support the Firefox OS v1 launch.

Another thing we did last year in preparation for the Firefox OS launch was to redesign the forum interface to look awesome on small screens. You can check this out today by navigating to support.mozilla.org/questions from your mobile phone.

Ensure excellent first impression by answering all user questions during our initial launch

You only have one chance to give a first impression, and we want ours to be an excellent one. We’ll be making sure that everyone gets an answer to their questions on SUMO, regardless of whether they found our site directly when searching online, or if they were sent our way by our partners.

We’re collaborating with our local communities such as Mozilla Hispano to ensure that we’re all ready for this big launch. Mozilla Hispano have done an amazing job already with preparing their community and website, and they’re just as excited about the launch as we are.

Expand our support offerings to include third-party Apps developers

UI Tests for Firefox OS (by tuuux)

The beauty of Firefox OS is that the platform used to run native apps on it is the web itself, completely unencumbered. This is huge for developers, because it means all they need to know in order to write apps for Firefox OS are the same skills they use to write websites: html5, javascript, and a bit of css. In fact, many developers already write mobile apps using these technologies on other proprietary mobile OS platforms like Android and iOS to make their apps work cross-platform. So the learning curve for developers to include support for Firefox OS will essentially be zero, because with Firefox OS, the web is the platform.

That doesn’t mean that no developer will ever need support, so we will be joining forces with the Developer Engagement team and implement a solution for those needs. This includes both administrative and purely development-related support.

That was an overview of what we’re working on this year around Firefox OS support. It’s all very exciting! In the next part of the series, I’ll present our goals for Firefox on the desktop. Stay tuned for more…

SUMO in 2013: Delight our users

In case you’re still hiding in that safety bunker and missed all the fireworks, it’s actually 2013 now and we all survived (well, most of us; that you’re reading this is a good sign that you’re likely still around). This is big news for Mozilla, because 2013 is the year of Firefox OS on the mobile! It’s also big news for SUMO, because we’re going to provide kick-ass support for this phone OS in ways the world has never seen before — while continuing to excel with Firefox desktop and Android, as well as exploring new opportunities with Apps & Marketplace.

This post marks the beginning of a mini-series outlining and explaining our SUMO high-level goals in 2013. I’ll start at the highest level and then I’ll drill down into the specifics for each product we’re supporting (or will begin to support this year) on support.mozilla.org.

  • Part 1: Delight our users — you’re reading this one right now!
  • Part 2: Firefox OS
  • Part 3: Firefox Desktop
  • Part 4: Firefox Android
  • Part 5: Summary

To kick this off, let’s start with our overarching mission this year:

Delight our users.

Delighting users means going above and beyond and delivering product support that is better than they expected. It means making sure everyone visiting our support will get an answer to their question. But it also means that they take something with them from the experience of getting helped that they didn’t expect — something that delights them. For example, learning about a neat trick with the product that enhances their experience with the product, or just being pleasantly surprised with the speed and accuracy of the answer, or maybe that our support community was the best and most friendly community they’ve ever experienced.

Michael and Michelle helping a Firefox user.

Let’s look at our 2013 goals that apply to all of our known products: Firefox desktop, Firefox for Android, Firefox OS, and Apps & Marketplace.

Implement a cross-team proactive user education strategy

This will be a big part of our “delight our users” promise, because we’ll use this proactive type of support before the user even thought they needed help about something. You can do this in many different ways, for example when you’re on the support site and you’re trying to solve a problem, we can take the opportunity to teach about something else too. Or when you’re launching Firefox for the first time, we could feature an interactive walk-through of the components of the UI. Or if you like our Mozilla Firefox page on Facebook, we could seed it with useful tips to make the most out of your product experience.

Because of the many ways of educating users, this goal will be a coordinated approach lead by SUMO but involving aspects of marketing, engagement, support, and the product itself (UX, etc). The sky is the limit on this one, and that’s what’s making it so exciting! Michael shares some more thoughts on user education on his blog.

Ensure that users with problems know that SUMO exists

What good is our support if people don’t know how to find us, let alone that we exist? A survey that we conducted some time ago revealed that we still need to do more to ensure maximum visibility of our support offerings for those who need it. Our goal is that anyone that has a problem with our products should know where to go to get help.

Drive quality improvements to our products through powerful user advocacy

Part of what makes SUMO great is that we listen carefully to what our users are saying to us in our various channels. This leads to better support, since we continuously fine-tune our content to match user demand — but it also leads to better products, since we share our findings with the rest of the organization. We call this User Advocacy, and in 2013 we’ll ramp this up significantly to ensure that our products are meeting our users’ expectations since that will also reduce the need for support — a win-win-win situation (users, SUMO, Mozilla).

To learn more about how the SUMO group is organized, including the formation of the User Advocacy team, read the SUMO Staff Organization Changes blog post from last month.

Establish Firefox User Sentiment Report as a primary release-to-release product quality measurement for Desktop, Android, and Firefox OS

In December we piloted the first Firefox User Sentiment Report (or FUSR for short) for desktop Firefox, which is a real-time snapshot of our user’s joy and pain as reported from our user feedback channels. We got great feedback about it already, including of course rooms for improvements. Ultimately the goal of these reports is to make the products better by ensuring that our distilled user feedback is accessible, understandable, and above all actionable. Our vision is that teams like Engineering, Product, and UX — the awesome people that make our products — could look at our reports and quickly determine if there are any major issues to look for across our release channels.

The December installment of the report was just the beginning — as we generate more of these reports, we hope to include forecasting based on previous releases to ultimately give us the ability to predict the quality of a new version of Firefox before it leaves the Beta phase. And as we fine-tune the accuracy and visualization, we’ll make sure reports deliver on our promise of being actionable.

Push Recoverability features and user-demanded fixes into product roadmaps

In 2013, we’ll continue what we started last year with highlighting user-demanded fixes and getting them into our product roadmaps. We’ll also expand these efforts to all of our products, including of course Firefox OS, where the need for high quality user advocacy will be huge.

Make SUMO the primary entry-level community for Mozillians 

This is an area where we have a lot going for us already, but we can do even better, and in 2013 we will. By the end of this year, we will have made significant strides in this area, and we will have grown our community as a result!

The first contribution on SUMO should be a success, and it should be a fun and straightforward experience. There are lots of ways we can make this possible: better online tools on support.mozilla.org, better documentation, mentors and experts in our community who can help, etc.

And once you’ve joined our community, we want you to get more and more involved and engaged in our mission to delight our users. In many ways, being part of the SUMO community is a way to get closer to the products and the teams working on improving them. We love this part of SUMO and view it as a place to grow. This means that some will move on to contributing in other projects after a while, like QA, WebQA and web development — and that’s a great thing! Others (like myself) continue to contribute directly to SUMO, which is awesome.

That was a summary of the high-level SUMO goals in 2013 that apply to all of our products. In the next part, I’ll walk you through the goals we’ve outlined specifically for Firefox OS.

Servers, blogs and freedom

Notice anything different? Yes, my blog has a new theme and a slightly concatenated address, but you probably wouldn’t even realize that since I blog about once per year… No, the real changes are under ze hood!

A couple of weeks ago my little Mini-ITX based computer in my closet that acts as my file and web server decided that it didn’t want to start anymore. I panicked at first because I had not performed a full data backup in ages, but thankfully it turned out that the hard drive — the Mother modem if you will — was still working perfectly, so I was able to plug it into another old computer I had lying around.

Young FrankensteinOne really cool thing about Ubuntu Server (and indeed Linux in general) is that it happily continues to run almost regardless of what hardware change around it. Taking out the Mother modem and plugging it into another computer is a bit like taking out the brain of a human and planting it into another body. My new temporary server continued to tick without even the slightest hiccup (albeit way slower on this charmingly clunky 256 MB RAM monster).

With the data backup taken care of, I decided that I’m done tinkering with my own server for now. It’s too much hassle and the risks are too high that if something breaks, you have to spend a considerable amount of time trying to get things back up again. For my modest purposes (a file server for music and movies, and a web server for my blog) it simply wasn’t worth paying for new hardware and going through the trouble of restoring it. Instead, I decided to tackle my two small needs separately:

  1. The blog — I needed a place to host my blog.
  2. The files — I needed a way to access my movies and music on my network to use in XBMC hooked up to my home cinema.

1. The blog

For the blog, I could either host it for free at e.g. wordpress.com, or I could pay a service provider to host my own custom install for me. The former would be free, but the latter would give me more flexibility. I decided on something in between: I’m using wordpress.com to host the blog for free, but I’m paying them to connect my old domain djst.org to it. This is why the address of this blog had to change from djst.org/blog to simply djst.org, because the domain hosts nothing but the blog now. Old permalinks from djst.org/blog/* magically continues to work though — except specifically djst.org/blog, which randomly shows an old blog post from 2006 about a new kitchen table (oh the memories!).

One thing that really impressed me with WordPress is its export and import feature. After getting my Frankenstein server up and running again, I was able to export all posts, pages, comments and categories into one single xml file and then I could just create a blog on wordpress.com and import that file on there. Within a minute, all of my posts and their related tags and comments were living in a new home.

But what about all the uploaded images that go along with the posts? Well, it turns out that the import script automatically fetches all references files in blog posts and uploads them to the new blog location too (though I had to make sure that the old blog was publicly accessible for it to work, which took me a couple of import attempts to get right).

Another thing that impressed me was wordpress.com’s forum support. I had a couple of questions there and one volunteer named tandava108 always provided answers within the hour. Getting a quick response when you’re having a problem or a question is such an important aspect of customer support, so wordpress.com should count themselves lucky to have someone like tandava108 in their forums (just like we are really lucky to have awesome superheroes like cor-el, madperson and jscher2000 in the SUMO forum).

My temporary Frankenstein server with its guts exposed.

2. The files

This one was easy — all I had to do was to plug in an external hard drive to the USB port of my router and voilà, I had wireless access to music and movies again. If you’re curious, I’m using a Netgear WNDR3700v2 router and the configuration process was very straightforward. I’m not too happy about that router for other reasons, btw, but that’s another story.

I must say that it’s a relief to not have a server to worry about anymore. My nerd/hack level has gradually decreased over the years, but it wasn’t until the server broke down that I realized just how little I needed one these days. It feels great to know that I don’t have to worry ever again about my blog getting lost due to a server meltdown.

One awesomely designed support center and what makes it rock

Inspired by Desk.com’s article titled 12 Awesomely Designed Support Centers and What Makes Them Rock, I decided to take the opportunity to demonstrate why our very own help center, support.mozilla.org (SUMO) is way better than all of their twelve help centers combined. 😉

Although their article reads more as a showcase of some of the companies that happened to choose them as their support service provider (which we would never do, since our site is powered by our very own, superior and open-sourced CMS Kitsune), it’s still interesting to look at what they view as great design decisions in a help center to see how we compare.

Here are the main themes of their feedback that I distilled:

1. “The site looks great on all devices from mobile to desktop … The layout of the site is clean and makes it easy to navigate on any device”

We’re mighty proud of the mobile-optimized view of SUMO. It’s one of the most beautifully designed mozilla.org web properties ever made and it works across all mobile platforms. Bram did a fantastic job with the design, and it will fit our future Firefox OS support site like a glove:

          

You can try this out right away by navigating to support.mozilla.org with your Android or iPhone device. And if you’re one of the lucky few with a Firefox OS testing device, our site obviously works just as well there. 🙂

2. “The uncluttered design and iconography makes it easy to find information … The iconography makes topics easy to identify and stand out”

Our design uses beautiful icons to organize the content into help topics based on what users most commonly look for on our website. We tested this with paper prototyping before implementing it to make sure that the taxonomy and overall design was ideal for our unique product portfolio.

Our help topics area has beautiful icons

3. “The ability to view support center by topics or by articles is a great way to organize content … The organization of content makes it simple to find the exact answers you need”

We really went the extra mile on this one. In our user studies, we noticed that users have different behaviors when it comes to navigating to the answer to their question. Some people want to start by picking a general topic, while others prefer to pick the product they want support for first. As a result, we made sure that both of these orders work just as well on SUMO.

products and services

You can pick a topic and a product, and then we’ll show you a list of articles that matches that query. From that point, you can even filter that list down even further with the Refine and Focus feature, which allows you to pick from a more granular list of topics:

Our Refine and Focus lets you pick exactly the topic you need help with.

4. “The design is simple, clean and easy to navigate … The colors and typography are solid, strong and consistent with branding … The design is simple and clean and doesn’t distract from the important content”

The look and feel of SUMO is consistent with the overall design language of mozilla.org. This was a specific design requirement since support is an extension of the product experience. Also notice the language selector on the right — our site is available in multiple languages, and the localization is done by our amazing community of SUMO volunteers: people like our new Spanish locale leader Avelper, or my great friends and veteran Italian localizers Michele Rodaro and Underpass.

The typography and navigation elements are consistent throughout our web properties.

5. “The support center articles are well written and easy to understand”

We took great care to make sure that our articles are engaging, easy to understand and that they have a friendly tone. We also really considered the target audience and even the mood that they might be in when visiting our site (e.g. frustrated because they’re trying to figure out a solution to a problem). Great support is an important extension of the Firefox brand and the values that Mozilla stands for, so it’s important that we get this right. Our awesome content manager Michael played a huge role in making this a reality. Here are some of the support articles that capture these aspects well:

6. “There’s a ton of helpful information from community questions to how-to videos”

Videos are very powerful because they can convey lots of information very quickly and demonstrate features in ways that no texts or screenshots can ever come close to. It’s a bit like the difference between reading an article about how to play barre chords and just watching someone do it.

A video showing how to restore your previous Firefox session.

So there you have it! I love reading articles like the one on Desk.com because they make me realize just how far we’ve come at Mozilla with SUMO. Our support site is the result of lots of hard work by several teams, including of course the SUMO team, the SUMO dev team, and the UX team. And this year we’ll get even better — I’ll blog more about our plans for 2013 soon.

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.

Olympus, learn how to use proactive support to cut down costs

Wow, I didn’t even think this was possible in the modern IT world where software is constantly getting more intuitive and user-focused, but apparently it’s still possible to completely brick a modern digital system camera by accident. All it takes is poorly written software in combination with poorly written documentation (and just a second of not paying attention).

As I was packing my suitcase for the upcoming trip to the US the other night, I decided to give the new Olympus firmware a try. Having done the same process in the past with my old E-P1, I already knew that the process is a bit clunky and unintuitive with Olympus software, but I at least had a previous success in my memory, so it felt like an achievable task the night before traveling. (Three hours later, I definitely regretted that choice.)

The flaws in their documentation are obvious:

  • The instructions in the firmware update tool just tell you to plug in the camera to the USB port, but in reality, the camera then prompts you to choose one of three modes. It turns out after some trial and error that the correct mode is the one in the middle of the menu (not the default choice). Pointing this out in the documentation wouldn’t necessarily cut down on their number of support incidents, but it would make for a much smoother product experience and it would reduce the user frustration, which would lead to a closer attention to what’s going on in the process. Crucially, however, this is an indication of a deeper issue at Olympus, which is that there is a disconnect between the developers and the people doing support documentation.
  • After transferring the new firmware to the camera through USB, the update tool tells you that it finished updating the firmware and that you can either click Close to finish, or click the other button (I forget its label) to update the firmware on a different product, e.g a lens or another camera. However, the camera itself simultaneously shows a different set of instructions, or rather cryptic status indications. In reality, the update process is not finished, it’s just the USB transfer of the new firmware that is. Ensuring that the instructions on both screens are consistent would help reduce the likeliness of a user making the wrong choice in the process.

The latter point is where things broke down on my end, because I think I ended up turning the camera off by pressing the power button after having read the instructions on the computer screen to do so, but the camera screen was still showing some blinking icons that I paid little attention to at the time.

Boom. One second of not paying attention — two months without a working camera.

Documentation issues aside, having lead customer support for a major software product for the last five years, I’ve learned the importance of looking beyond documentation and rather focus part of the support efforts on fixing problems in the product itself and tightening up the loop between support and product development. Without this proactive type of support, you’re in trouble. Having gone through this painful experience with my almost brand new camera, I highly suspect that there is a disconnect between the support and development teams at Olympus.

Generally, you should remove as many possible points of user failure in the software itself as part of software design. In the case of the E-PM1, I have to wonder why it’s even possible to press the power button while the thing is updating — it’s an electronic button that they could easily disable during that critical moment, rather than exposing this ridiculously simple way of bricking your camera. I don’t know how many other people have had this problem, but having searched for it online, I know I’m not the only person. Another smart thing would be to ensure that there’s always a recovery bootstrap mode that enables the camera to communicate via the USB interface even after a failed firmware update attempt. That way, it would always be possible to retry and recover.

The brutal fact here is that I now have to send the camera to Olympus. The apathetic support rep that I was talking to on the phone today told me that their average processing time is at least a month due to their high support demand (no kidding!). Since I’ll only be in the Bay Area for a couple of weeks, this means I’m going to be without the camera for at least two months before I’m able to get back here again.

I tried to tell the support rep that I feel really strongly about improving processes like this that touch on customer support, because I have a full team of awesome people at Mozilla that do this for a living, and so I wanted to find the best venue to provide this type of feedback at a level where it would be listened to. He just politely said that he will pass on my feedback to “the customer feedback department” and that was the end of the discussion. Of course, what he really meant was “I’ll put some notes that I wrote into a system that will disappear among other notes that no one here really reads, and your problem won’t be solved proactively because I hardly talk to those that could do anything about this, and honestly I don’t really care either. Have a nice day.”

He didn’t really mean the last part — this is America after all. 😉

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!)

My review of Olympus E-PM1

I recently purchased my E-PM1 as an “upgrade” from my 2-year old Olympus E-P1, which of course is a more high end camera in some respects, but was simply getting a bit old and felt slow to me. I put “upgrade” in quotation marks because the E-PM1 isn’t really meant as an upgrade from the E-P1 because the two cameras target separate customer audiences. But — and I hope my review will be able to demonstrate this — it certainly is possible to take this upgrade path if you’ve used the E-P1, as long as you’re aware of what you’re gaining and losing during the upgrade.

Olympus E-PM1 “Mini” with the new 14-42mm lens.

I’ll focus this review on the differences (good and bad) between the old E-P1 and this new E-PM1:

E-PM1 advantages:

  • Much faster focus algorithms – even with the same lenses, the E-PM1 focuses noticeably faster. With the new lenses, it’s faster than any non-dSLR camera I’ve ever used.
  • Extremely lightweight and small – I think I managed to shave off another 100 grams of total weight in my camera bag with this upgrade! (For our fine Americans, 100 grams is approximately 1/2 cup of sugar, or 3/4 cup of all-purpose flour. I’ll leave the mpg calculation as an exercise for the reader.)
  • Much improved kit zoom in terms of size and focus speed/noise. Although the lens mount is in plastic, it doesn’t seem like there will be any problems with worn out mount connections.
  • Slightly, slightly better high ISO performance, though this is only confirmed by reading professional reviews.
  • Up to 5 fps burst mode – really impressive.
  • Nicer menu interface (though menu layout is mostly unchanged).
  • Comes with a useful snap-on flash that I’ve really missed on the E-P1 at e.g. very dim party nights. Now I just have to remember to bring it along with the camera. 🙂

E-PM1 disadvantages:

  • I definitely preferred the retro design of the E-P1, but I was happy to give it up in favor of a much more portable package.
  • There is absolutely no grip on the E-PM1, making it a bit hard to hold. You can essentially forget about holding the camera with just one hand.
  • For some reason, Olympus leaves out a basic orientation sensor in their simpler models, which means that if you take photos in portrait mode, you have to manually rotate the photos on your computer. Not a big deal, but I can’t understand why they would take out such a basic feature — there’s not a single mobile camera phone out there that doesn’t include it, so it can hardly be a size (or cost) issue.
  • I really miss at least *one* more programmable Fn button, or at least the freedom to assign *any* feature to the one that exists (the Rec button). For some reason, Olympus decided to omit certain essential features that you can assign, which means that some combinations of direct button access aren’t possible.
  • The video mode is crippled in the sense that it’s no longer possible to re-focus while recording by e.g half pressing the shutter (or assigning the AEL/AFL lock button to focus). It’s possible to program the AEL/AFL function (which can be assigned to the Rec button) to re-focus while in Manual mode when taking photos, but for some reason Olympus forgot to inherit that feature when switching to video mode. So, the only way to re-focus while recording a video is to give the control over entirely to the camera’s hunting focus algorithms by switching over to continuous focus. This is a shame, really, and it makes the video feature much less useful to me.
  • The screen, while higher resolution than on the E-P1, actually ends up being a disappointing experience because of its aspect ratio. This is a widescreen (16:9), while the E-P1 had a lower resolution 4:3 screen. Because both screens are labeled as 3″ sized, the widescreen actually ends up being a lot smaller if you still shoot your photos using the sensor-native 4:3 aspect ratio. (This is the same thing that happened a decade ago when you compared an old 28″ TV with the, then, new 28″ widescreen TVs — the latter ended up being a much smaller screen in most practical purposes.) If would be nice if Olympus gave you the option of only seeing 16:9 cropped version of the view when framing a photo, while still actually recording the full frame (this is admittedly possible if you shoot in RAW, which I never do).

My old retro-looking E-P1 (sold).

All in all, by selling my old E-P1 and (with a little help from Michael Verdi) buying the new E-PM1, I ended up spending an additional ~220 USD, which, all in all, feels like a pretty cheap upgrade. The E-PM1 is better than the old E-P1 in many important respects (to me) such as overall size/weight, autofocus speed, and flash — but it’s admittedly a step back in some others. As an interim upgrade until the “next big thing” comes out, it feels like a good choice to me in the end. But if you own an E-P1/E-P2 and plan to hold on to your next camera upgrade for a long time, I would suggest you wait until sometime like a future E-P4 is announced, which may be a far more significant upgrade with (supposedly) a much improved sensor.