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).

Applying Fitts’ Law to Commonly Used Buttons

11 July, 2011 § 14 Comments

In a previous post, I covered my work on improving the usability of the Back button in Firefox. Starting with Firefox 8, clicking on the area between the edge of the window and the Back button will fire a Back-navigation event.

The idea behind a change like this comes from Fitts’ Law. From Wikipedia, Fitts’ Law “predicts that the time required to rapidly move to a target area is a function of the distance to the target and the size of the target.”

All operating systems that I have used stop users from moving the mouse off the screen (outside of the virtual desktop space). This means that if a user hurriedly moves their mouse across the screen, it will stop on the pixel that borders the edge. By adding an action to this area, the area becomes a very easy to hit target for users.

Clickable area of the Close and Start buttons is shown in this graphic.Taking advantage of this feature is not unique to Firefox. There are many individual parts of the Windows user interface that exhibit this same usability trick.

  1. When a window is maximized, the Close button is positioned in the top-right corner of the desktop. Visually, there is four pixels of padding between the button and the right edge of the screen. However, clicking in the padding will still close the window.
  2. The Start button is located in the bottom-left corner of the screen. There is eight pixels of padding between the button and the left edge of the screen. Clicking in this padding will launch the Start menu.
  3. Windows 7 introduced a button in the bottom right of the screen that is used to show the desktop. There is no padding between the button and the edge of the screen.

I was not part of the decisions to place these button in these positions, however I strongly believe that Fitts’ Law played a role in their location.

These are just a few of the many ways that Fitts’ Law can be found in user interface design. See if you can find others that I didn’t mention :)

Windows 7 Quick tip: Docking windows

22 January, 2011 § 1 Comment

A lot of Windows 7 users enjoy the new window docking feature that was introduced with Windows 7. This feature is officially called “Aero Snap”. If you haven’t seen it before, what it does is allows you to drag a window to the left, top, or right of the desktop and the window will “snap” into position. If snapped to either left or right, the window will consume half of the screen. If snapped to the top, the window will consume the entire screen.

This is a really cool gesture that saves time and looks nice while doing so. If you have multiple displays, you may be wondering how to dock the middle two adjoining displays.

It turns out that there is a keyboard shortcut which makes this possible. The keyboard shortcut allows you to do everything that your mouse can do and even more.

Simply hold down the Windows key (), and use the directional keys (←↑→) to snap the window to the various positions. Pressing Windows key () and Down (↓) will unsnap the window.

Quick tip: Running as Administrator without leaving the keyboard

8 January, 2011 § 3 Comments

Once in a while I have to edit my ‘hosts‘ file on my Windows machine. The ‘hosts‘ file allows a user to redirect network requests to different locations, for example if you wanted requests to to go to instead.

On my machine the ‘hosts‘ file is located under “C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc\hosts“. Since this file is located under the Windows directory, write access to the file requires administrator privileges.

Simply running notepad.exe, open the file, make changes, and saving won’t work. The editor will have to be launched with administrative privileges.

There are a couple of ways that this can be done, and I want to show you one of the fastest ways to do this:

For those who don’t want to watch the video, the shortcut is to hit the Windows key (), type ‘notepad‘, then press Ctrl+Shift+Enter. This will launch the program with administrative privileges without taking your hands off the keyboard.

Do you know any cool tips like this one? Please share them in the comments.

Undoing default association of *.zip files with 7-Zip

1 October, 2010 § 1 Comment

Ever install 7-Zip but wish to go back to the default Windows way of double-clicking on a *.zip file and having Windows open the file natively? A friend of mine asked me this very question, so I figured I would share the solution in case anyone else is looking.

To revert back to the default behavior, simply follow the steps that I performed in this video below:

Let me know if you have any questions.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing entries tagged with windows at JAWS.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,043 other followers