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.
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.
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.
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).
27 August, 2014 § 5 Comments
We shipped the Australis project with Firefox 29, but the Firefox team hasn’t stopped working on making Firefox the easiest browser to personalize. Firefox allows easy customizing through the new Customize mode, and now in Firefox Nightly people will find a quick and easy to way to set the theme of the browser.
After entering Customize mode, a new menu is shown at the footer of the window. Clicking on this menu will show any installed themes as well as a list of five recommended themes.
These recommended themes were picked from the Add-ons for Firefox website by members of the Firefox User Experience team. All of the themes are licensed through Creative Commons. Some are CC-BY and others are CC-BY-SA.
Hovering over a theme in the menu will preview the appearance of the theme. Clicking on one of the themes will change the applied theme.
We haven’t figured out yet what the rotation will be for recommended themes. Any input on how often or how we should go about putting together the next list is greatly appreciated.
Full management of themes and add-ons is still available through the Add-ons Manager. Recommended themes that have not been applied will not show up in the Add-ons Manager. Once a recommended theme is applied, it will appear in the Add-ons Manager and can be uninstalled from there.
1 August, 2014 § 17 Comments
In case you haven’t noticed yet, Firefox Aurora contains some great speed ups when searching from the location bar. For far too long, searches that consisted of a single-word or arithmetic expressions would either result in errors or long delays before a search results page was presented.
This has all changed starting in Firefox Aurora. Take for example, a search for “867-5309”:
Previously when a single word was typed in to the location bar and Enter was pressed (or the Go button clicked), Firefox would look for a website at http://
867-5309/. After the lookup timed out, Firefox would redirect to a search for “
867-5309“. If the hyphen was removed and “
8675309” was entered, Firefox would immediately go to an error page saying that it was unable to connect to the server at
Some people may have become accustomed to placing a `?` at the beginning of the location bar to subvert this behavior. With the new Firefox Aurora, this is no longer necessary.
Now, in both of these cases Firefox will kick off the search request immediately. In the background, Firefox will look for locally-hosted sites that have a hostname matching the value that was typed in. Most people will see search results on average 5 seconds quicker!
In cases where there is a potential match, Firefox will show a notification bar asking if the locally-hosted site was the intended destination. Clicking “Yes, take me to 8675309” will navigate to the matched site and whitelist it for future.
If you’d like to proactively whitelist a site, you can go to
about:config and create a new Boolean pref with the name of `
browser.fixup.domainwhitelist.` followed by the single word that you would like whitelisted. Set the pref to true, and the search will be skipped. localhost is already whitelisted.
Firefox continues to gain speed, customizability, and security with each release. This feature will find its way to the Release population with Firefox 33. In the meantime, you can install Firefox Aurora or Firefox Nightly and begin using it today.
There are two minor cases left to fix:
27 May, 2014 § 28 Comments
Starting today, users of Firefox Nightly will see a new look to the classic context menu.
Context menus on desktop browsers have changed very little since Firefox 1.0 was introduced. Meanwhile, new devices have brought new concepts to context menus. The context menu on Firefox for Android is much more graphical, showing recognizable symbols at a glance.
Switching frequently used menuitems to their iconic forms can improve the usability of the menu, as it can make it easier to find the menuitems at a glance as well as click on. One way to visualize the difference is by performing what is known as a “squint test”. The image on the left is the old Firefox context menu, and the image on the right is the new Firefox context menu.
Looking at the squint test above, not only is it easier to see the actions of the buttons at the top, but we can also see that the new menu feels a bit leaner.
We don’t have plans to switch all menuitems over to their iconic forms, mainly because many menuitems lack a well-understood graphical metaphor. We’ll keep experimenting with our context menus, hopefully adding the ability to customize them just like the rest of Firefox.
Known issues: The context menus found in today’s Firefox Nightly are still missing a couple finishing touches that we are going to follow up with:
29 October, 2013 § 6 Comments
I haven’t written up one of these blog posts in a while. The previous one was in August 2012 for Firefox 15. Coincidentally, that post mentioned a subtle change to the site identity area of the web browser.
In today’s release of Firefox, there is another subtle change to the site identity area of the browser. Pages that are a part of Firefox itself, whether it be the built-in home page (about:home), our troubleshooting page (about:support), or others now sport a special Firefox branding within the location bar. The goal of this branding is to increase awareness and trust with these pages.
Clicking on the Firefox name or the two-tone Firefox logo next to the name will show a popup notification that explains that this is a secure Firefox page.
23 July, 2013 § 3 Comments
For many years there has been an increased emphasis towards increasing the visibility of a website’s identity. Pages served over HTTP lack a verifiable identity, while pages served over HTTPS begin to have aspects of their identity verifiable.
When a page is viewed over a valid HTTPS connection, the web browser is able to verify the identity of the domain that it is communicating with. Firefox uses this information to place a “site identity” graphic next to the website’s URL. Clicking on this site identity graphic provides more information about the connection.
Clicking on the More Information button shows how often this website is accessed, in an effort towards building trust and pointing out potentially untrustworthy websites.
When a page is viewed over a valid HTTPS connection using an Extended Validation certificate, the web browser places the certificate’s Organizational Name between the site identity graphic and the website’s URL. With Extended Validation, the web browser not only can confirm the identity of the domain that it is communicating with, but it relies on the vendor who issued the certificate to have verified the identity of the owner of the website. Again, clicking on the More Information button in the site identity panel will show prior access information.
Within the past couple weeks a new site identity view was introduced. Now when visiting privileged Firefox webpages such as about:home, about:config, and about:addons, the site identity area will show a Firefox logo along with the “Firefox” name. Clicking on the either of these will show a panel that confirms to the user that this page is a secure Firefox page.
This feature is expected to reach users on our Release channel during the last week of October, 2013. If you’d like to play with it today you can download and install a build of Firefox Nightly.
17 June, 2013 § 25 Comments
A few days ago a new feature landed in Firefox Nightly that makes closing multiple tabs easier than it was before.
I often find myself in situations where I have multiple tabs that I opened only to look at for short periods of time. Sometimes I reach this state while reading articles on Hacker News or looking at funny pictures on Reddit. At the end of looking at the tabs, it would be nice if Firefox had a way to close these ephemeral tabs so you can get back to your previous work quicker.
Well, Firefox now does! If you open lots of tabs from Reddit and then want to close all of the tabs to the right of Reddit, just right-click on the Reddit tab and choose “Close Tabs to the Right”. It’s easy and quick!
Why “close tabs to the right” and not “close tabs to the left”? When we open new tabs they appear on the end, and so naturally tabs that have a longer lifetime end up being promoted to the start-side of the bar. This leads us towards the situation where closing tabs “to the right” is a simple way of closing the ephemeral tabs.
Users who are using Firefox with a right-to-left locale such as Hebrew or Arabic should see the equivalent “Close Tabs to the Left” feature.
Huge thanks go out to Michael Brennan who contributed the patches and automated tests for this feature! Unless something drastic happens, this feature will find its way to Firefox Release in just over 12 weeks in Firefox 24.