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.
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).
New in Firefox Nightly: Recommended and easy theme switching through Customize mode
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.
Faster and snappier searches now in Firefox Aurora
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:
- Queries that end with a period still fail. This is in the process of being fixed and can be tracked at bug 1042519.
- Queries containing a period in the middle also fail. This is not currently being worked on, but is tracked at bug 494092.
New in Firefox Nightly: Experimenting with context menus
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:
- The icons being used are not the right size and are lacking HiDPI versions
- The bookmark star is not shown as filled-in when the page being right-clicked on is already bookmarked
- OSX is missing the inverted icons, currently showing grey icons on a blue-hovered background
My contribution to today’s Firefox release
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.
These changes were previously announced when I introduced them to the Nightly channel of Firefox this past July.