Default Browsers and Windows 10

18 July, 2015 § 20 Comments

Microsoft is set to release Windows 10 pretty soon and with it comes a new way to set the default browser for your system.

Previous versions of Windows had an API that allowed applications to set themselves as the default application. This worked well and allowed web browsers like Firefox and Chrome to have a single click within their interface to set themselves as the default browser. No extra work was needed by the user after clicking the button within the respective app.

Starting in Windows 10, references to this API now generate the following error dialog on the machine:


Obviously, this message isn’t that helpful. First, users who click on a button to “Make Firefox my Default Browser” now get a dialog telling them what to do instead of doing it for them. Secondly, the message is given in a prompt that blocks interaction with the rest of the computer until the OK button is clicked. Combining this second issue with the lengthy list of steps that the dialog provides makes the situation even worse, as the user will have to memorize this 3-step process before clicking OK.

This experience isn’t something that we want to ship to Firefox users. When I first saw this experience, I sent an email to some people working on Chrome to ask them what their plans were to solve this. They said that they had looked in to this and decided they would instead just open the Settings app to the Default Applications view.

Settings app

I brought this approach back to some of my coworkers and we decided we would match the behavior that Chrome was using. After all, it didn’t seem like a better solution existed and we certainly didn’t want our users to be seeing the ugly dialog described above.

After I landed the changes in Firefox to open the Settings app, Masayuki Nakano provided an alternative implementation that would open a friendlier looking dialog to set the default application.

Alternative approach

This dialog looks a lot better, but it only sets the choice as the default browser if the small “Always use this app” checkbox at the bottom is checked before the OK button is clicked.

Once we had two implementations, we ran an A/B test of them for a week with our Nightly audience.

Key Count Percentage set as Default
Alternative Approach/OpenAs (users who did not set the browser as default) 2.35k 53%
Alternative Approach/OpenAs (users who did set the browser as default) 2.65k
Settings (users who did not set the browser as default) 2.76k 50%
Settings (users who did set the browser as default) 2.86k

The table above shows the data that was collected through the A/B test from June 22 to June 29 with Firefox Nightly 41. This data showed that 53% of alternative-approach users set Firefox as default, whereas 50% of the Settings-app users set Firefox as default.

With only a week of data, we didn’t see a statistical difference between the two approaches and decided we would stick with the Settings app due to it’s wider adoption. We also had issues with the OpenAs approach where we weren’t able to register all protocols and file extensions.

Next Steps

The default browser situation on Windows 10 is pretty bad. There is more work that we can and should do in the Windows 10 upgrade experience to retain users (the default upgrade changes the default browser to Edge).

We also would like to improve our telemetry tracking of the default browser dialog. Ideally we could use some accessibility or automation APIs to scroll into view the Default Browser option within the settings app (it’s scrolled out of view when it is first opened).

Predictions for Google I/O 2011

13 January, 2011 § 2 Comments

As the registration date looms somewhere in the near future, I decided to write my predictions for this years conference. In this post, I will cover my predictions for the registration date and unveilings.

The big topic right now is when the registration will open. Most press releases and announcements are released on a Tuesday morning. Monday is usually the day where people catch up on emails and work from the previous week and weekend. Tuesday is thus the earliest day in the week for publicity to reach an empty inbox.

Vic Gundotra tweeted on Tuesday, January 4th, that “Google I/O registration opens this month”.

History repeats the Tuesday trend with the Google I/O 2010 registration opening on Tuesday, January 12, 2010. Further, Google tweeted on Thursday, November 12, 2010 about the registration date. Therefore:

  1. Google will announce the registration date for Google I/O 2011 today (January 13, 2011).
  2. The early-bird registration will open on Tuesday, January 18, 2011.

Need further proof that it is coming real soon? The web page for Google I/O has just been updated within the past couple days to fix dates and remove old data.

Now that the dates are out of the way, the following is a list of what I believe will be unveiled at the event.

  1. A publicly-available SDK for Google TV
  2. The 1.0 release of the new Google Translate that does conversation translations on the fly. This was just released today as an alpha release. With May only being four short months away, Google is likely timing the public release to fall inline with Android 3.0.
  3. Devices supporting Android 3.0 (Honeycomb). Google previewed Android 3.0 at CES just last week. Asus is now saying that they may not ship their tablets until summer, allowing preview devices to be distributed at Google I/O.
  4. Unlimited storage for Google Docs.
  5. Data sync for Chrome OS. Download a file on one Chrome OS machine and it will be synced to your cloud Chrome OS profile.
  6. A more public preview of Google’s autonomous cars. In October 2010, Google wrote a blog post stating that they had now driven over 140,000 miles autonomously.
  7. And the last prediction will be a far out one… Google TV adds a set-top gaming environment. The games will use Chrome’s Native Client and will have traditional video game controllers.

What do you think will be announced at Google I/O 2011? How far off will I be?

Why Google Chrome is the next giant leap in browsers

21 March, 2009 § 4 Comments

And why all competitors have had to change their game plan because of it

Google Chrome was released as a beta in September 2008. Since then, the development and quick releases have outpaced any other browser on the market. As with most Google products there is a very high level of quality, yet it seems that with this product Google has put immense resources behind it compared to other products. Below are some of the reasons why I believe that Google Chrome is the next giant leap in browsers.

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