Tue, June 21, 2005

Firefox Form Fix for 1.0.5

I noticed a little bit ago that the form autocomplete behavior was not working as I expected, but I hadn’t quite figured out why until recently. For whatever reason, I often start typing in a form field, wait for the autocomplete list to appear, press down arrow to pick the appropriate autocomplete selection, and then press right arrow. This works beautifully in the location bar: it positions the cursor at the end of the completed selection and lets you type in the rest of the path or press Enter to go to the location. Unfortunately, when you press right arrow in the form autocomplete, it just closes the autocomplete box and leaves you with nothing other than the characters you originally typed.

I’m happy to report that somebody noticed it, reported it in bug 283777 and fixed it. The fix is coming in the next Firefox 1.0.x update along with other good fixes.

Fri, November 19, 2004

Fixing Firefox 1.0 Tabs

Almost immediately before the release of Firefox 1.0, the tabs were changed so that they were separated from the page by a thin line. (See bug 258884.) I’ve grown used to having them attached to the page as they were in 1.0PR. I guess the reason for the change is that there were complaints that the tabs didn’t work as well with web pages that had dark backgrounds. From what I’ve seen, the vast majority of pages use a light background color. I don’t blame the Firefox team for the last minute tweak—cleanup and polish before a release is great—but at the same time I miss the old style.

To restore the tabs to the way they were prior to the 1.0 release, I tracked down what exactly was changed in the bug fix. If you add the following to the userChrome.css in your profile directory, it will restore the tabs to the 1.0PR style. You may need to create the userChrome.css file.

.tabbrowser-tabs { border-bottom: 0 !important; }

Sat, November 13, 2004

Firefox 1.0!

As you’ve probably already heard, Mozilla Firefox 1.0 has been released. Mozilla Firefox is a fantastic browser and the 1.0 release is a major accomplishment. After years of work, and leveraging and improving on the already solid Mozilla layout engine used by Netscape 6 and 7, Mozilla Firefox is ready. Having followed the project from the early days, I’m glad to see how true it has remained to its original vision. It is a small, fast, and usable tool. It has been my default browser of choice for at least a year and it just keeps getting better. A big thank you to the team that produced it and to the tireless community that supports it.

Go get it! Take back the web.

Thu, October 21, 2004

Real-world standards

Earlier this year, developers implemented a few Microsoft-inspired JavaScript/DOM extensions in Mozilla. I was pleasantly surprised to see such pragmatic behavior. Perhaps Dave Hyatt’s post about real-world standards inspired them:

We have a phrase we like to use… and that’s “real-world standards compliance.” What that means is that where possible we attempt to be fully compatible with the W3C standards, but we also want to support the real-world standards, i.e., extensions that for better or worse have become de facto standards. If you really do believe we should not have implemented [a particular non-W3C standardized extension], then you are simply out of touch with reality.

Whatever the reason, with the fix for bug 248549 and bug 246964, Mozilla gained support for “undetected document.all usage”.

What does that mean? Well, hopefully it means that more sites just work correctly. Many current sites use detection of document.all as a quick way to check for IE. Code like if (document.all) { // Do IE stuff } will continue to fail after these bug fixes. What is interesting is that there are older websites (and intranet sites) that just assume that the IE-specific document.all collection exists and go ahead and use it. With these bug fixes, in most cases this document.all usage will work and for somewhat simplistic DHTML, this can make the site usable.

I accidentally ran across a site that was fixed by this change. A coworker pointed it out to me and complained that it wasn’t working correctly in Firefox 0.9. (Go here and click the More Search Options link at the bottom of page.) I examined the site and noticed the undetected document.all usage. Since I had Firefox 1.0PR, I demonstrated that it now worked. There’s now another happy Firefox user in the office!

Thu, October 14, 2004

Mozilla speaks Klingon

The fix for bug 239977 gave Mozilla support for tlhIngan Hol, the Klingon language. Although I’d vaguely known that some Star Trek fans spoke Klingon, I was somewhat surprised to learn that the warriors’ tongue is a well-developed language.

Klingon was invented by Dr. Marc Okrand, a linguist originally hired to create a language for those bumpy headed aliens in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Instead of just creating a few words and phrases, he developed grammar, vocabulary, and usage rules. Twenty years later, the language is spoken and studied by a diverse group including Trek fans, linguists, philologists, computer scientists, and psychologists. A number of works have been translated into Klingon, including some of Aesop’s Fables, Hamlet and other works by Shakespeare, and the New Testament.

The Klingon Language Institute, a nonprofit corporation, has much more information about the language. To learn more, you might start with its FAQ. I also enjoyed reading about the written Klingon alphabet.

Tue, August 31, 2004

Animated PNG?

Two Mozilla hackers, Vladimir Vukićević and Stuart “Pavlov” Parmenter, have put together a spec for an animated PNG (aPNG) format. Wait a second, isn’t there already a format for animated PNG called MNG? Yes. Yes, there is.

Background

Up to version 1.4, Mozilla and browsers based on it such as Netscape 6 and 7 supported MNG. MNG support was removed from Mozilla for a number of reasons, many of which were disputed at the time. Among the reasons were a large file size and a lack of a Mozilla maintainer for the code. Work has continued on the code and if it were included in Mozilla again now, it would be significantly smaller than what shipped with Mozilla 1.4. But it seems to not be enough. Back in Aug 2003, Stuart Parmeter dictated what it would take for MNG to be restored. We’re closer, but I wonder whether the requirements were realistic.

What Now?

So where’s that leave us? The problem with the removal of MNG is that there is no other graphics format that can completely replace it. MNG provided all the beauty of PNG — a full range of transparency, true color support, etc. — as well as animation. In addition, the subformat of MNG, JNG, supported embedding JPEG images for better compression of photographic content while also allowing a full range of transparency. Mozilla practically needs something like MNG for internal use in skins and themes. Indeed, when MNG was removed, a number of themes needed to be updated with GIF-replacements that were larger in size and didn’t look as clean due to the limited color palette of GIF.

If all that was needed was something for Mozilla themes, I’d question the need for revising the PNG file format; it’s clear that MNG/JNG would do what we need today. But I believe the Mozilla drivers are looking to create something that is backward compatible and usable on the web now. It seems that the primary advantage to aPNG is that they are trying to design it so that it will at worst show up as a static PNG image in apps that do not support animation. In real terms this means that IE users as well as web development tools such as Dreamweaver would at least see a PNG image. Another benefit of aPNG over MNG is that it should be a minor change to the PNG library and therefore easier to maintain.

It’s exciting to see Mozilla developers working with the original authors of the PNG specification. Thomas Boutell, the instigator and original editor of the PNG spec writes MNG is dead, long live APNG. Calling the Mozilla pair “young turks”, he speaks positively about their efforts to work with the “old-timers” to create a simple animated PNG format. He says “I could not be more pleased with this development.”

Once the format is defined tools need to support it. At the moment I can create a MNG simply by saving my animation in Jasc Paint Shop Pro. How long before I can do the same with aPNG?

Tue, July 20, 2004

Browser Wars II: Take back the Web

Are the browser wars back? With Microsoft Internet Explorer commanding an estimated 95% share of the browsers used on the web, many proclaimed the Browser War over. A recent article in the Guardian suggests that the past month’s one percent dip in Internet Explorer’s market share may mean the browser wars are back:

The tiniest shift, history shows us, can signal the greatest change. News last weekend that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) web browser had lost a single percentage point of market share might not sound all that significant today, but it could well mean the browser wars are back on. One percent is all it takes…

This week, we find that Microsoft’s share has, for the first time, dropped. Ever so slightly, from 95.73% to 94.73%. “It’s the first time we’ve seen a sustained trend downward for them,” says Geoff Johnston, an analyst with WebSideStory, which produced these results. “We have a trend. It’s been about a month, and every day we have a steady incremental change.”

For years now I’ve been telling you about Mozilla and Mozilla Firefox, two terrific and completely free web browsers from the Mozilla Foundation. It’s good to see that the world is finally catching on that we don’t need to put up with the pop-ups and security holes of IE.

Even more exciting to me are the extensions available for these browsers. Here are two that I’ve found useful:

SpellBound
Lets you spell check web forms, such as text areas and input fields. This has been desired by Mozilla users for years. (See bug 16409 and bug 23421.) With this extension, the wait is over.
Document Outliner
A shiny new extension that uses the headings in properly marked up web pages to show a document outline in the sidebar. It’s clickable much like the outline in Adobe Acrobat or Microsoft Word. I’ll write about this more as I play with it. In the meantime, all you web developers should join the conversation about HTML heading markup considerations [noticed on Mezzoblue.]

Firefox just keeps getting better and better. Have you switched yet?

Fri, July 16, 2004

I want to right-click print in Firefox

Do I understand correctly—Mozilla Firefox will have Select All on the context menu, but not Print?

For all the good that the Firefox developers have done to create a better browser, they employ a somewhat haphazard approach to UI design. Whether a feature is in the core browser or only available as an extension seems to be based on the whim of the developers. Matthew Thomas commented on this in a post to the WHATWG mailing list, “Firefox isn’t noticeably innovative in any respect (mere competence is enough for now), so I don’t think that’s really surprising enough to be annoyed about.”

Firefox is generally usable and elegant and that is a tribute to the developers. Their dictatorial command of the UI has benefited the browser. (In other words, their decisions are usually reasonable.) Firefox is easily a better browser when taken as a whole, especially when you consider security issues. However, UI problems make it not as good as competitors in specific areas.

In response to the request for a Print context menu, a developer suggested using Ctrl+P or File->Print to print the page. There are various contexts, such as windows opened by JavaScript without menu bars sometimes used by commerce sites, where File->Print just isn’t available. Ctrl+P is fine if you happen to remember keyboard shortcuts. The real advantage to a Print item in the context menu is that it is discoverable. It’s not hard to find with a right-click and it doesn’t require remembering the keyboard shortcut.

I want Firefox to be a fantastic browser. It’s moving in the right direction. I’ve been using it every day for quite a while and Mozilla before that. Let’s make it even better.

Update: I should have mentioned that this feature is available as the Print extension created by Jeeradej Thaworntaweewong. Thank you, Jeeradej. My point is that it shouldn’t be relegated to an extension, but should be part of the core product.

Fri, July 02, 2004

Get Firefox for your safety

Steven J Vaughan-Nichols recommends Mozilla Firefox in an article for eWeek titled “Internet Explorer Is Too Dangerous to Keep Using”. It’s shocking how frequently IE security holes have been found this year and how large they are. He writes:

This past Friday I started installing Firefox, the browser-only side of Mozilla, on every one of my production Windows machines.

Why? Because Internet Explorer, like Outlook, has finally become, to my mind, a permanent security hole that masquerades as a useful application.

Strong words? Have you really thought about this latest exploit? It could hit every Internet Explorer (IE) browser that merely visited any page served by an infected Microsoft IIS (Internet Information Server).

No anti-virus program would stop it, no firewall would slow it down and no shipping IE security patch would even notice it. Visit the page, get the infection. It was that simple.

And just how bad was this attack? Boys and girls, let me tell you, this was the worst security violation I have ever seen.

In the few days that the sites provided the Trojan horses, hundreds of thousands or millions of users could have had their credit-card, stock-brokerage and bank-account numbers and passwords stolen.

Let me repeat myself: Millions of you may have every bit of your browser-driven online financial security information stolen.

The bottom line is that for all practical purposes for today, open-source browsers, such as Mozilla Firefox, are inherently more secure than Internet Explorer, and I still have half a dozen more workstations to switch over to Firefox. Go ahead, stick with Internet Explorer for everyday use. It’s your funeral.

In addition to better security, Firefox offers a more enjoyable browsing experience. The few times I’ve used IE in the last few months, I’ve been stunned at how may sites have popup windows for advertising. I haven’t seen one in years with Mozilla and Firefox.

Firefox offers Tabbed browsing, which makes it easy to switch between multiple sites and pages. Conveniently, the bottom of the menu for each bookmark folder has the option to “Open in Tabs”. I organized the bookmarks for a number of sites I read each day in a “Daily” folder. Then I just pick Open in Tabs each morning and read through them.

Firefox’s Find as You Type feature lets you just start typing on a page and it will jump to the links with the letters you’ve typed. It’s a quick way to navigate the page. If you type a slash first, it will search all the text on the page.

Go get Firefox. It’s more secure. It’s more enjoyable. And it automatically imports your Internet Explorer favorites and settings so you can switch very easily.

Tue, June 15, 2004

Firefox 0.9 released

The Mozilla Firefox 0.9 release is out. Read more about it on the Firefox Product page. Read the Release Notes and then go get it.

I was impressed with how it migrated my bookmarks and other data from Mozilla. (It also offered to do it from Internet Explorer.) I just installed it, ran it, and it offered to migrate the data. Very smooth.

I found a few cosmetic polish issues, but this is a very solid release. Definitely something you can use every day. There’s even a nice help system with tips for Internet Explorer users that are converting to Firefox.

Tue, June 08, 2004

Firefox gets a new theme

Steven Garrity announced that the Mozilla Visual Identity Team has been hard at work and that Mozilla Firefox is getting a new theme. Although it’s surprising that Firefox is changing themes at this point in the release cycle—the 0.9 release is anticipated this week—I’m glad that the developers are not afraid to make bold moves like this.

The new theme is called Winstripe and is based on the Pinstripe theme for Firefox on the Mac. Kevin Gerich and Stephen Horlander are the designers of both themes. Kevin Gerich’s screen shot of the theme thrilled me, and now that I’m using it I find it quite elegant and clean. The goal is to have a similar “feel” across platforms while blending in with platform styles. It’s a terrific plan. Winstripe already looks quite good to me despite Steven Horlander’s claim that it’s a 0.1 release at best.

I’ve never been much of a fan of the previous Firefox theme called Qute. To me it seemed, well, too cute, almost cartoonish. While it was clearly well done with gradients and vibrant colors, I found it a bit overpowering. I mentioned earlier that I also hated the throbber. Apparently one of the reasons for the change of themes was that the designer of Qute wanted restricted licensing. That’s bad, especially in an open source program like Firefox.

Winstripe excites me by its simplicity and clarity. Years ago, Matthew Thomas (mpt) pointed out graphics for a similar theme. I’d wished that somebody would make it into a theme and now we have Winstripe.

Despite my pleasure with Winstripe, I don’t find it perfect just yet: Perhaps it’s just that I’m a long time user of Mozilla and before that Netscape, but I miss the tails on the arrows on the back and forward buttons. I’d also like to see the back and forward buttons have a slightly different color, which would help improve recognition. Using the checkmark-in-blue-circle symbol for both Properties (in the bookmarks manager) and General Options is a bit confusing to me. Although it isn’t used that frequently, Windows has a distinct toolbar symbol for Properties—it looks like a hand over a white page. The new throbber is slick, especially on the tabs, but I’d hoped for one that featured the Firefox logo.

In any case, I think the Firefox team made a great choice in switching themes and I’m looking forward to the refinements as Firefox moves toward a 1.0 release.

Fri, February 20, 2004

Reading Mozilla blogs

Reading the blogs of Mozilla contributors is a great way to keep up with the latest news about Mozilla. (Reading mozillaZine is required.) To save you time, Henrik Gemal has put together a page of Mozilla Related Blogs aka Blogupdates that shows a snippet from the latest few posts from each blog. Even better, each time you visit the page it marks which blogs have been updated since your last visit. Many thanks for the page!

To save a few more seconds, I created a bookmarklet that will open a new window for each blog that has been updated. Go to his Blogupdates page and click the bookmarklet. I wish there was a way to get them to open in new tabs — opening lots of windows can be slow — but that doesn’t seem to be possible from a bookmarklet. (I’ve heard that there’s an extension (multizilla?) that might support this but haven’t checked. Perhaps there’s one that lets you force opening of new windows to use tabs.) The bookmarklet also leverages code and specifics of his site, so it may break if he makes any changes.

Open New Blogs

Enjoy!

I’ve found that a quick way to switch between them on Windows is to use Alt+Tab immediately after they finish opening. If you close each blog window after you read it and then press Alt+Tab, you’ll jump to the next one. This also lets you read them oldest to newest.

Update: Well that didn’t last long. I fixed it to work with the site again after some style changes caused it to break.

Thu, February 19, 2004

Mozilla Firebird renamed Mozilla Firefox, 0.8 released

Revised Firefox Logo showing the Red Panda head

I’ve had a chance to play around with the new and shiny Mozilla Firefox release. First, I have to say that the new logo makes a surprising difference. With its bright colors and obvious polish, it makes the browser feel more like a real product. I am surprised that the logo has the fox facing the globe. They had a tremendous opportunity to create a friendly “mascot” for the browser based on the cute red panda and passed it up. Ah, well. I played with the logo to quickly try a front facing variation that looks more like a firefox (that’s it on the right), but I’ll go with the official brand.

Second, the name change is good. I complained about Mozilla Firebird stealing the name of another open source project and I’m glad they’ve done the right thing and changed names. Again. (This makes at least five, but I may have miscounted.) The amusing Firesomething Extension lets you attempt the difficult task of changing the name more frequently than the developers. Actually, based on the trademark registrations, I expect Mozilla Firefox will be around for a long while.

I was stunned to find that I like the new download manager. It just does what I expect it to do and then gets out of the way. Wow. It has a slick appearance and shows the download percentage in the titlebar, which suits me fine. If only I could get rid of the completely unnecessary “biff” that pops up near the taskbar at the end of a download. I think it’s only there to show off. It almost ruins the experience for me.

I continue to be impressed with the Firefox Preferences, er, Options dialog. It’s well designed and elegant. I heartily agree with them moving the Proxies selection to the General panel. Much better than Advanced in Mozilla.

Firefox still has areas that need to be improved. Below are things that I believe will frustrate users switching from Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) yet can be easily fixed. These are also some of the most long-standing and contested bugs in Mozilla. Although I’m including the bug numbers, if you’re wise you won’t go and read them. They’ll just annoy you with the mindblowing lack of common sense.

  • Replace File|Exit with File|Close. bug 65121 (or bug 171892)–This used to trip me up in Mozilla relatively frequently, but after repeatedly bashing my head on the keyboard and crying I managed to learn not to use the bottom menu item. Firefox’s IE-like qualities must have lulled me into thinking I could trust menu items again. “Where’d my browser windows go!?” Just fix it already.
  • Add Print to the page right-click context menu. bug 24221 (and more optimistically bug 204519 This has been “won’t fixed” since 2000 and has gotten many duplicates. There are specific cases in pop-ups where there is no menu other than the context menu. This would likely be my third most frequently used context menu item after Back and View Source.
  • Improve plugin installs. bug 224227 and others. While it’s better than it was before Netscape 6 shipped, plugin installation is still not as easy as in IE. Some of this would be mitigated if “typical” plugins were preinstalled or detected automatically.
  • Show the URL of bookmarks in the status bar when mouse hovers over them. bug 23460 IE does this in the favorites and it’s quite useful. I even developed a fix for this bug. Hyatt’s comments in the bug made me think it was fixed in Firebird. If it was, I don’t see the fix in Firefox.
  • Support multiline tooltips 45375 Sites often use tooltips for extra information. Firefox crops the text so you may miss the important bits. IE shows it all.
  • Add a help system. (bug 165960) Mozilla 1.6 comes with a help system that even includes tips for those switching from Internet Explorer. This is a great idea that needs to be included with Firefox. After reading through the bugs it looks like this is already fixed on the trunk. Looking a little deeper I found the Firebird Help Project at Mozdev.org. Good!

Below is a list of a few things that bother me about Firefox. I use and develop web-applications all day, so I want a powerful and elegant browser. Firefox feels and is incomplete in areas compared to Mozilla. (It is also better in others, such as the form autocomplete dropdowns and customizable toolbars.) Yes, there are extensions that would give me the functionality I want, but Mozilla already has it so I’m not sure I see the point. Still, I’m finding it hard to stay away from Firefox.

  • I want the Mozilla history window. Sure it’s nice to have quick access to history in the sidebar in Firefox, but when I really want details Mozilla’s history window is superior. Why can’t we have both like we do with the Bookmarks sidebar and Organize Bookmarks window?
  • I can’t change my language preferences. I’m frequently switching my default language in Mozilla to test various language versions of sites. I’m told this is a not uncommon experience in internet cafes. Firefox has no current support for switching languages.
  • The backspace key goes back!? I know this is an IE-ism, but this is terrible. I use Find As You Type all the time and frequently revise it with backspace. In Mozilla I can backspace multiple times with no problem. I seem to do the same in form fields. In Firefox I’ve found myself multiple pages back for no apparent reason.
  • Bring back MNG and JNG support. It looks like this will soon be back on the Mozilla trunk. It’d be great for Firefox, too. While the current IE market dominance limits the web usefulness of these image formats, they can be used in fantastic ways in themes. And I hope Firefox can steal some marketshare.
  • Ok, this is a bit silly, but get a better throbber. I’m sure it’s cool to have your personal logo as a browser’s throbber, but the Q-scythe doesn’t do it for me. Mozilla’s M/Mozilla head throbber has the benefit that it is extremely obvious when it is active. I gotta give some credit to Firefox: at least the throbber is there by default. Can’t we make one based on the new Firefox logo? Perhaps this provides the chance to show the front of the firefox?

Mon, November 24, 2003

Fixing bug 23460

Earlier this year I mentioned that I had developed a fix for Mozilla bug 23460. After applying the fix, Mozilla will show bookmark URLs in the statusbar when you hover over bookmarks in the personal toolbar or bookmark menu. Although I wrote the description of the fix for Mozilla developers, interested Mozilla users have asked about what they need to do to patch their Mozilla version. I’ve added instructions to help you.

I know this works with Mozilla 1.4. I’d imagine if you make the edits instead of just snagging the patch files it would apply to any recent version of Mozilla including 1.5 and 1.6, but I haven’t tried it. I also got a report that applying the file uncompressed worked better for one user. Not quite sure why that would be—perhaps it depends on your zip tool—but thought I’d point it out.

Of course, you could also use Mozilla Firebird instead as it apparently already supports this feature.

Fri, November 14, 2003

New Mozilla.org

The new Mozilla.org website is up and while I somewhat appreciate the design change, the usability problems are disappointing—I know they got feedback on this. I never understand why designers mess with the link underline styles and colors to make them inconsistent. The site forces no underlining for links, which wouldn’t be so bad—indeed, it’s my preferred style—but it also has poor choices for link colors. Are links white, blue, brown, or red? Oh, that heading that’s blue and looks just like the links over there isn’t a link. Oh, that heading that’s brown and looks looks just like the links over there isn’t a link. Frustrating! I hate using my magic wand to find which of the text that looks like links really are. Worse, the designer decided that visited links should (almost) match the text color. So now you have to look through all the text for links.

Colors are also a problem on LCD monitors. Some of the text, particularly the brown when not bold, becomes faint so it isn’t read as easily. The visited link color might as well be the same as the text. The choice of the link colors seems to switch randomly as you progress through the site. Watch the colors in the left side navigation bar: sometimes they’re blue, sometimes brown, sometimes they become red when hovered, other times they become blue.

It’s really sad that the site suffers from these problems, because I really like the revised and much more user-centered content. If they’d just used the blue color consistently for links, the site would be a joy to use.

Sat, July 19, 2003

Fix for bug 23460

I scratched another itch and created a fix for bug 23460 so that Mozilla will show bookmark URLs in the statusbar when you hover over them in the personal toolbar or bookmark menu. This bug has frustrated me since Netscape 4 broke Netscape 3’s bookmark menu behavior. Even IE5 got this one right. It’s way beyond time that Mozilla did as well.

As mpt requested in the bug, it’s in the statusbar only (although I did leave the personal toolbar tooltips in place). No strange tooltips popping up in a menu to show a redundant URL.

There are a few related bugs that I’d also like to fix: show the URL in the statusbar for the back and forward buttons and menus (bug 88541) and show the URL in the statusbar for items on the Go menu (I don’t think there’s a bug logged for this).

Fri, July 18, 2003

Fix for bug 72374

I’ve created a fix for bug 72374 in Mozilla 1.4 that makes bookmarklets have different icons than bookmarks in the menus and on the personal toolbar. To apply the fix you need to add the updated files to the appropriate chrome jars.

Wed, July 16, 2003

The Book of Mozilla

A new chapter in the Book of Mozilla has been revealed after yesterday’s events. In Netscape 3.x and 4.x, the about:mozilla URL would give you the following entry:

And the beast shall come forth surrounded by a roiling cloud of vengeance. The house of the unbelievers shall be razed and they shall be scorched to the earth. Their tags shall blink until the end of days.
from The Book of Mozilla, 12:10.

In Netscape 6.x/7.x and Mozilla the entry read:

And the beast shall be made legion. Its numbers shall be increased a thousand thousand fold. The din of a million keyboards like unto a great storm shall cover the earth, and the followers of Mammon shall tremble.
from The Book of Mozilla, 3:31 (Red Letter Edition)

Now Stephen Donner says there’s a new entry:

And they watched as the beast cast off its chains, and with a terrible roar burst forth and slew those who had bound it. And for days the rivers ran red with their lifeblood.
- from The Book of Mozilla, 7:15

And Neil Deakin suggests another:

And so at last the beast fell and the unbelievers rejoiced. But all was not lost, for from the ash rose a great bird. The bird gazed down upon the unbelievers and cast fire and thunder upon them. For the beast had been reborn with its strength renewed, and the followers of Mammon cowered in horror.
from The Book of Mozilla, 7:15 (Red Letter Edition)

Tue, July 15, 2003

Netscape dead, long live Mozilla

I’ve been working most of today on a couple of Mozilla bug fixes. Although I’ve been keeping an eye on the project, doing bug triage, and writing testcases for years, this was interestingly the first real code I’ve worked on for Mozilla. I even got permission from management at my employer to do coding work. I’ve been using LXR, bugzilla, and the mozilla.org website off and on all day. After a break for supper and to help get the kids in bed, I come back to resume work and am stunned to find that the world changed while I was away.

The revised mozilla.org website looks shiny, but it will take me some time to adjust. I thought I’d mistyped something for a second.

So what changed?

I’d been thinking that all the rumors floating around for weeks about Netscape 7.1 being the last Netscape browser ever were just confused by the new Mozilla roadmap where future development was switching to the Mozilla Firebird browser. Apparently they weren’t so inaccurate. I’ll miss Netscape, but I switched to Mozilla quite a while ago. Still, as I mentioned yesterday, Netscape 7.1 is a great browser and makes an excellent final release.

I think today’s developments will be a positive thing for Mozilla and the Web. Mozilla finally gets to determine its own fate. With deep appreciation, I wish the best to all the Netscape developers that have worked on this terrific browser. Thanks for your hard work!

Mon, July 14, 2003

Tweaking Mozilla 1.4

I’ve upgraded my Mozilla 1.3.1 install to the Mozilla 1.4 milestone and I’m pleased with it. Mozilla 1.4 is the best Mozilla yet. Here’s a few of the improvements I noticed: the chevron menu for the personal toolbar that shows up if you have too many items, improved bookmark drag and drop behavior, go to line in view source, and clicking on an error in JavaScript console takes you to error line in view source. There are also changes in the preferences including a terrible UI for configuring the launch options for startup, new windows and new tabs, but at least you can do it.

I find that I still need to do fair amount of tweaking and reconfiguring before I’m ready to use it. I put together a page that shows my typical Mozilla Tweaks.

I’ve also played with Netscape 7.1 which is basically identical to Mozilla 1.4. Compared to 7.02, it is a huge improvement. As a web developer, I’ve very thankful that a custom install of Netscape 7.1 includes a developer pack with the DOM viewer, JavaScript debugger, and Chatzilla. Of course those tools have been available in Mozilla for ages, but it’s good Netscape decided to include them in the branded release. If you need to use Netscape, 7.1 is terrific.

Sat, June 07, 2003

MNG support removed from Mozilla

Let me get this straight—Mozilla added support for the usability decreasing Marquee tag because a few sites in China used it, but removes support for MNG, the only animated image format that supports alpha transparency and is currently used by Mozilla themes? Yeah, that makes sense. Reading comments in bug 195280 it appears that the current module owner wants to call it quits. No big deal—someone else has offered to take over. There’s also a complaint that at 166K, MNG support is too big, but that seems grounds for improving it, not removing it. Finally, some said that it wasn’t a W3C standard, so it should be gone. Standard or not, it’s being used and supported by a number of apps. The discussion in the bug got pretty heated. As near as I can determine, the only reason it’s being removed is because they said they were going to and had a patch. I’m just cynical enough to believe that this means the next version of Netscape (based on 1.4) won’t have MNG/JNG support, although currently the removal only applies to the trunk. (Netscape 6 and 7 did.) If you disagree with this removal, go vote for bug 18574, now one of the top 20 most voted for bugs in Mozilla.

Fri, April 18, 2003

More on the Phoenix renaming

Some people have suggested that Mozilla’s SQL support is unlikely to confuse anyone. I would say the same but that doesn’t change the fact that courts often try to prevent potential confusion. Two companies can, and frequently do, share the same trademark if they are competing with different products or are in different markets. I think that Mozilla SQL support might cause confusion with the FireBird SQL database, as I mentioned earlier. The Pilot pen vs. PalmPilot case makes me think the FireBird database people might have grounds for a legal battle. In that case, the makers of the Pilot pen made the claim that because you used a writing stylus to use the PalmPilot device, there was potential market confusion, despite the fact that the PalmPilot was a totally different market and that the stylus did not resemble a Pilot pen. This is why Pilot is no longer a part of the name of the company or products produced by Palm.

I hope that Boris Zbarsky is correct in his understanding of how Mozilla plans to use the FireBird name. If Mozilla uses it simply as an internal component name like “Necko” this is all overstated. However, given that the browser formerly known as Phoenix will be distributed as a standalone product, I doubt he’s right.

I’m sure it is quite expensive to pay for lawyers and trademark searches, but I believe the right thing for Mozilla to do is to pick a new name and forget about using FireBird. Potential legal issues aside—who knows, the lawyers may have already said there’s no concern with this—it just doesn’t feel good to trample on another open source project’s name.

Wed, April 16, 2003

Phoenix renamed FireBird

Mozillazine has an announcement that the Phoenix browser has been renamed FireBird. This has provoked furious discussion about the legality and morality of stealing the name of the FireBird SQL open source project. Helen Borrie of the FireBird SQL project harshly responded saying "we of the real Firebird Project ARE incensed about this filthiest of dirty tricks, launched without warning by a crowd which has pretensions to being ‘open’ in the broader sense espoused by the OSI. This is not a ‘free and open’ tactic in any sense except that by which felons believe others’ property is ‘free for the taking’ and ‘a glass door is always open’.… The heart of this dispute is not ‘legal comfort’, however. It’s the doing of this dirty deed in the heartland of open source, where we are all supposed to be above such things. If Open Source is to win, we can well do without brother cynically stealing from brother."

Given that the Mozilla browser has added native SQL support, I believe there could be some confusion that would have legal teeth.

I assume the browser formerly known as Phoenix picked up this SQL support from the Mozilla code as well. If it did, then people may well ask: did the FireBird browser use FireBird database technologies to add support? I know the answer is no, but many will not know that or may be confused.

As much as I like the name FireBird (I liked Phoenix even better) I find it appalling that Mozilla would steal a name from another open source project. Yes, I know that it is typical for open source projects start out by accidentally using the name of another. This is usually easy corrected. I expected better from a well established project like Mozilla.

Wed, April 02, 2003

Phoenix has a new name… Mozilla!

Just after the fifth birthday of the code release, Mozilla.org draws a new roadmap that charts a bold course for the future. Partially a response to the failures and experience of the past development years, it is also a natural progression and recognition of Mozilla.org projects already leading the way.

Key points:

  • All future apps will leverage the Gecko Runtime Environment (GRE).
  • The browser component will utilize the work on Phoenix.
  • Similarly, the standalone Minotaur/Thunderbird project will become the basis for the mail application.
  • The full everything-in-one-process Mozilla suite of apps will be replaced using a more modular approach.
  • Bless the 1.4 release as the new stable release and discourage the use of 1.0 for future work.
  • Fix architectural bugs in the Gecko layout engine to enhance performance, extensibility, and maintenance.
  • Give more power and responsibility to module owners and have fewer people with blanket check-in rights.
  • Relax super-review requirements for those people, such as the module owners, that demonstrate good judgment and ability.

It remains to be seen how this will play out, but I like the essence of the plan. The Phoenix browser is worlds better than Mozilla in some areas and even Mozilla 1.3 is fabulously better than 1.0. Having a more modular architecture should benefit not only Mozilla apps, but applications and products built by other organizations. Having better defined module ownership and the ability and desire to say no to poor quality code should also improve the project.

Still, I have concerns, primarily about user interface. The roadmap has this to say about UI:

It is almost always better to have a competent owner who rules decisively, than to have no owner and live in a state of indecision (N.B.: a committee of more than one or two is not an effective owner). This point is especially true for top-down application design and policy setting, particularly for user-interface design. For coherent UI within an application, there is no substitute for leadership by an “application czar”. For cross-application consistency where it is needed, we expect such czars to communicate, cooperate, and consolidate things such as common default keybindings.

That’s true, as far as it goes… where Mozilla, and open source projects in general have broken down is in actually having the application czar. (Or more to the point, in having good ones that understand user behavior and can design well—most open source projects effectively have an application czar that is the lead programmer.) Having UI involvement and management just at the module level isn’t enough. UI decisions frequently affect overall architecture, from the network on up to the browser chrome and everything in between. Add to the mix that for good or bad, the best designers are rarely top-notch coders. So how does the application czar get elected and respected in the community?

A related challenge is in determining target audience for the application. I’ve seen many end-user complaints that the mozilla developers just don’t work on the things that are most annoying and need to be fixed. Unsurprisingly to me, Phoenix is a better browser than Mozilla because it set out to be a browser for real people. Will the ficticious “Mozilla isn’t for users” mindset continue? Or will the Phoenix practice win? With many more companies deploying and shipping Mozilla (see RedHat and HP for examples) and with this roadmap it’s time to admit that Mozilla is for users.

But who is the user, specifically? I’ve often thought that using a Persona approach such as described by Alan Cooper and others could provide an answer for open source developers. It’d be worth a try. Until then, design for mpt’s mother.

Back to the big picture, the idea of providing an extension mechanism is quite appealing to geeks, but the average person wouldn’t even know to look for extensions. There’s also the shared-computer / internet café to contend with. How will the question of the default set of capabilities be answered? Whatever was in IE? Whatever the module owner likes?

Regardless of these concerns, I believe this is a step in the right direction. Even if done for reasons other than concern for the user, it will benefit them. I just hope Mozilla.org can take the additional steps to create processes and products that will result in joyous and satisfied users.

Tue, April 01, 2003

200,000 bugs old and still going strong

Five years ago yesterday, Netscape released the Communicator source code. In the years since then, Mozilla.org community members have hammered on the code to create an extraordinary browser that leads the world in standards support and is a platform for other browsers as well as other products.

By coincidence, the 200,000th bug was logged in the bugzilla bug tracking system on the five year anniversary of the source code release. Although bugzilla tracks many components and tools other than the browser and includes features and duplicates as well as unique and real bugs, the magnitude of that bug number is amazing. Many, many bugs have been found and fixed over those five years, making Mozilla a solid and stable tool. A number of these fixed bugs include security exploits that remain unpatched and troubling in other browsers.

Happy birthday, Mozilla!

Fri, March 07, 2003

Mozilla 1.3 soon, please

I’ve been waiting with much anticipation for the final release of Mozilla 1.3. I expect this will be an excellent Mozilla version and a highly recommended upgrade. There have been a number of terrific changes, including ones that allow web developers to create rich-text edit controls like htmlArea by interactivetools.com. Profile switching is another recently added feature that will be very nice for those that share computers.

In other Mozilla.org news, the Chimera browser for the Mac has been renamed to Camino™ and has a new 0.7 release available. They were forced to change the name due to trademark infringement. Shame that they picked something so bland. Camino is a Spanish word meaning “path” or “road”, so at least it has some loose relationship to a web browser.

Tue, February 11, 2003

Bz blog

Yay! Boris Zbarsky has a blog.

Mon, January 20, 2003

Chimera Dead?

Mike Pinkerton is pondering what to do with Chimera:

I’m torn about what to do with Chimera. It’s obvious it will only ever be a marginal product on a even more marginal platform. AOL and Netscape have no interest in supporting it. Who aspires to be number two in an already over-commoditized space? Working my ass off for 3% just isn’t any fun any more. Safari has already won, the rest is just to see by how much.

12 days before, he sounded much more optimistic and pointed to Chimera’s strengths:

So I bet you want to know what I think about Safari? … What does it mean for Chimera? Well, we have the ability to be much more flexible simply because we don’t answer to one man: Mr. Happy.… We’re also a real open-source project, not just one that dumps its changes back at the 11th hour because we’re mandated to. That means we get the help of everyone on the net not just in testing, but in development and feedback that is crucial to the success of the milestone releases.

We’ve come a long way in less than a year. Where do we go now? Now that the cat is out of the proverbial bag, we have a chance to openly evaluate what each browser brings to the table and ensure that we’re going in the right direction. Then probably 1.0 after a couple months of polish, then back on the Mozilla trunk so we can pick up a lot of the cooler features that have gone in, as well as speedups (15% by bryner’s latest numbers, and that’s almost as much as we need to catch Safari).

I think it’d be a shame to lose Chimera, even though I don’t directly benefit from it (well, I am using the Chimera theme for Phoenix at the moment) I’ve heard many good things about it from Mac-using friends. It also seems to be an important option for those that aren’t using the latest and greatest version of OS X as Safari requires. This whole conversation is a bit strange to have about an open source project. It may not matter whether there are other options if Chimera still fits some users’ needs.

Sun, January 12, 2003

KHTML and Gecko

David Hyatt discussed in more detail why Apple would chose KHTML over Gecko as the engine for the Safari browser. Unfortunately it has been taken down now. John Gruber apparently saw it, too, and quotes the following snippet over on his Daring Fireball site:

Imagine that your number one priority for a browser is speed. You want a browser that launches almost instantly. You want a browser whose page load peformance can be improved dramatically. This is your number one goal, because you want to address what has been a fundamental problem on your platform (OS X) ever since it was launched: that no browser has accomplished the goal of fast startup and fast page load. Your job is to find an existing open source engine and improve it to the point where it does have fast startup and phenomenal page load times.

Hyatt also pointed to David Baron’s review of the Gecko layout engine for examples of the challenges facing a company seeking a layout engine. Hyatt essentially said that in order to use Gecko to accomplish Safari’s speed goals, Apple would have had to significantly rearchitect some parts, drastically trim or remove several libraries, such as the image and network libraries that were redundant with Mac OS X libraries, and learn Gecko’s unique terminology for everything. With KHTML they did not need to rearchitect because they found it already small and well-designed. But it cost them the unmatched standards support of Gecko. It will be interesting to see how these comparisons motivate improvements in both engines.

Update: jwz saw it too and points to the LiveJournal archive of Hyatt’s post. He says Hyatt says he is working on a more accurate version.

Wed, January 08, 2003

More Safari innovations

Aaron Swartz alludes to Safari having spell check in HTML form fields. If only Mozilla had implemented it back in 2000 when it was suggested. See Mozilla bug 23421 and bug 16409. This will be a killer feature for anyone that writes text in HTML forms, especially bloggers. Unfortunately, both bugs are still marked helpwanted.

Tue, January 07, 2003

Safari and KHTML

Don Merton (formerly of Mozilla.org and now engineering manager of Safari at Apple) has sent a message to the KDE developers explaining why Apple picked KHTML as the engine for their new Safari browser. He writes:

The number one goal for developing Safari was to create the fastest web browser on Mac OS X. When we were evaluating technologies over a year ago, KHTML and KJS stood out. Not only were they the basis of an excellent modern and standards compliant web browser, they were also less than 140,000 lines of code. The size of your code and ease of development within that code made it a better choice for us than other open source projects. Your clean design was also a plus. And the small size of your code is a significant reason for our winning startup performance….

Update: jwz claims that “translated through a de-weaselizer, this says:”

“Even though some of us used to work on Mozilla, we have to admit that the Mozilla code is a gigantic, bloated mess, not to mention slow, and with an internal API so flamboyantly baroque that frankly we can’t even comprehend where to begin. Also did we mention big and slow and incomprehensible?”

Don also posted a very lengthy list of changes that Apple made to improve KHTML. He promises that Safari source code should be available soon.

Competition is good. Bring on the browser wars.

Apple releases web browser

Just caught the live feed from MacWorld 2003 where Steve Jobs demonstrated the new Apple web browser called Safari. Impressive. The SnapBack feature looks cool: You go to Google, search for something, go to one of the resulting sites and wander around a while, and then just click the SnapBack button to jump back in history to your original search results page. Seems a reasonable and frequently needed shortcut, although I’m unclear how it affects the back button and it might add some user confusion about which to use. He also demonstrated SnapBack with Amazon and said it worked for any site. I would have been really impressed if it worked for searches on any site, but I suspect it just goes to the root for non-known search engines. I liked the excellent mechanism for reporting bugs.

Jobs said it is based on the KHTML open source project when I expected it would be based on Gecko like Chimera. It really surprised me, especially after they hired David Hyatt. It remains to be seen how well Safari does with standards, but more standards-based browsers is a good thing. I hope it is solid. If Safari is really the fastest browser on the Mac, that’s cool.

I can’t wait to try it out.

Update: I added a link to the Safari information on the Apple website and to a KHTML page.

Fri, December 20, 2002

Community Bug Watching 2

Robert Wall has released an update to his Bonsai Bugs tool that highlights the interesting and noteworthy bugs as I discussed earlier. I’ve been using an early version of it for a couple weeks and I’m impressed with the bugs that it’s highlighting. Try it out and see what you think.

Tue, December 10, 2002

Community Bug Watching

I made some suggestions to Robert Wall about ways that he could improve his already quite nice Bonsai Bugs tool. As I mentioned earlier, I miss Asa’s informed and concise buildbar comments about what bugs are most interesting in each build.

Seeing Bonsai Bugs got me wondering if there was some way to determine the most interesting bugs without needing a human investigator. If Google’s shown us anything, it’s that you can use the power of the network to show you the most relevant information. What if Bonsai Bugs could somehow mark the bugs that have the most community interest and downplay those that are less important?

I came to the conclusion that there are several ways to evaluate community interest using data already in bugzilla. For example, the following criteria could be added together to devise a reasonable Community Interest Factor so that you could rank the bugs:

  • Bugs with many duplicates
  • Bugs with many votes
  • Bugs with a large list of CCs
  • Bugs with a large number of comments
  • Bugs with many dependencies (or even with a parent with many dependencies)
  • Bugs with certain keywords (for example, bugs fixed that have out of date milestones (Mozilla0.9), crash, dogfood, catfood, or 4xp keywords).
  • Joke: Bugs that I vote for or that I am CC’ed on.

Obviously these are somewhat vague and need to be tweaked to pick up those bugs that are most relevant. You could compare with the most frequently reported bugs list or recent duplicates list as well. You could search and see if a bug is a dependency of a “Make X release not suck” bug. I imagine you could even search Google or the newsgroups for each bug number and up the Community Interest Factor if you find additional links.

I’m happy to say that Robert found the idea a good one and we’ve had a stimulating discussion about ways to refine and improve this. You could be incredibly granular and show a great number of levels of community interest, but the result is that nothing really stands out. Five seemed like too many. I suggested to him that with the right threshold only two levels (normal and interesting) might be needed, but three felt about right (normal, interesting, and imporant).

I’m looking forward to the first release of the improved Bonsai Bugs. I imagine that the algorithms will continue to be refined and this will make it more enjoyable for the community to watch the tree grow.

Wed, December 04, 2002

Windows theme support

Interesting bug of the day: The fix for bug 172751 has been checked in. This should make Mozilla on Windows platforms other than XP look more like native apps. It fixes a few cosmetic glitches on XP as well. This will be most obvious with the Classic theme.

Sun, November 24, 2002

Enable/disable flash

A few days ago Blogzilla mentioned the jTFlashManager tool that lets you enable or disable flash on the fly. Investigating how the tool works shows that it just renames the plug-in file. I’ve been renaming the plug-in to disable it for a long time, but never tried doing this while the browser was running. For some reason I thought it read the plug-ins at startup.

The tool requires a Java VM to be installed and I thought that was overkill for renaming a file. I was a bit rusty, but wrote a DOS batch file that works beautifully as a shortcut from my Windows desktop. Save the toggleflash.bat file and then run it passing the path of your Phoenix, Mozilla, or Netscape plugin directory. If you’re not currently viewing a page using the flash or shockwave plug-ins, it will toggle them on or off.

Here’s the file:

@echo off
if “%1″=="” goto usage
if exist %1.\npswf32.dll goto disable
if exist %1.\npswf32.dll.off goto enable
echo Couldn’t find a flash plugin.
echo.
goto usage

:disable
ren %1.\npswf32.dll npswf32.dll.off
if exist %1.\np32dsw.dll ren %1.\np32dsw.dll np32dsw.dll.off
echo Flash Disabled.
goto done

:enable
ren %1.\npswf32.dll.off npswf32.dll
if exist %1.\np32dsw.dll.off ren %1.\np32dsw.dll.off np32dsw.dll
echo Flash Enabled.
goto done

:usage
echo You must specify the path to your browser’s plugins directory.
echo Put the path in double quotes if it includes spaces.
echo For example, toggleflash.bat "c:\Program Files\Mozilla\bin\plugins"

:done

Wed, November 20, 2002

Watch the tree grow

I was somewhat disappointed when Asa stopped updating the Build Bar over at MozillaZine. I enjoyed reading his summaries of the important bugs that had been fixed each day. This was especially helpful to me in testing nightly builds of Mozilla. Now with Mozilla 1.0 (and 1.1, and almost 1.2) shipped and the product generally quite stable, I’m not as concerned, but still miss the up to date news.

There are now a number of resources that help keep you equally or better informed about Mozilla development. The MozillaZine Mozilla Builds Forum and Phoenix Builds Forum provide a wealth of information.

Unfortunately, I most miss the short and to-the-point summaries that Asa provided, as well as his overall sense of the state of the project. One easy but verbose way to track Mozilla (and siblings) development is by watching CVS check-ins via Bonsai, which I’m sure it one of the tools Asa used. A day’s results from Bonsai provides more information than you’d probably want to wade through: it shows every file that was changed. Thankfully, several sites now condense the list of daily check-ins and cross-reference them with the relevant bugs. Bonsai Watch provided by MozillaNews gives the detailed bug information. I personally prefer the brief results provided by BonsaiBugs and BonsaiBugs for Phoenix from backprop.net.

Finally, there’s the weekly status update from Mozilla.org, the previously mentioned news sites, MozillaZine.org and MozillaNews.org, and an ever increasing number of developers’ blogs.

Thu, October 17, 2002

Standards and contentEditable

Blogzilla characterizes the discussion in Mozilla bug 97284 as a war of Standards vs “But IE Does It”. They misunderstood the thinking behind my comments in that bug and missed what I believe is another point of view. Here’s a hint that I don’t believe in doing things just because IE does it.

The fact is that IE currently has far better support for editable content than Mozilla. I’d really like to see Mozilla have similar capabilities. In cases such as this where Mozilla is playing catch-up to IE and implementing similar, identical, or better capabilities, it often makes sense to use the same syntax as IE. Mozilla has done this in the past (see innerHTML, offsetHeight, offsetWidth). InnerHTML is a particularly interesting example. You could get the same information through the DOM, but it was convoluted, poorly understood, and developers were already familiar with the convenience of innerHTML.

The argument is often made that Mozilla should only implement the “magic” standards defined by outside standards organizations. I see little difference between a standard that is defined by the W3C and one defined by a company, such as Netscape or Microsoft. Implementing a Microsoft-defined standard could be more beneficial than a W3 standard because more sites would be impacted. In the end, I don’t care too much how the standard became a standard as long as we can agree on it and our browsers support it.

As a historical note, the early versions of HTML suffered from a problem typical of standards organizations: they were slow to be defined. This led to innovation and browser-specific extensions and the browser war. The initial versions of IE implemented the Netscape extensions as part of standard behavior. If I’m remembering correctly, HTML 3 was a mishmash where the W3 agreed to simply release a “standard” that matched the extensions in use at the time. They realized that if they waited too long they’d be irrelevant.

Standards organizations can define standards that look good on paper, but are difficult or impossible to implement. Companies that have implementation experience and take that expertise to the standards groups are quite valuable. This means that the companies need to be experimenting and implementing before the standard is defined. The -moz CSS extensions provide some of this and reasonably protect against attributes that are expected to be standardized but which are not fully defined (zoom is an example here).

In the case of editable content, which has been available since IE5.5, Mozilla has some options:

  • Wait for the standard (and I fully expect there will be one—see the first comment of the bug) but be penalized by waiting.
  • Implement a Mozilla-specific format and place additional burdens on web developers to convert their pages.
  • Implement the IE-defined contentEditable attribute and be immediately able to use a number of existing web pages (For a preview see Xopus or Bitflux or other TTW WYSIWYG editors).

Rereading the bug’s comments, I see less flame war, and many people being pragmatic about this. Note that a Netscape developer logged the bug and agreed with the suggestion to use the IE syntax way back in comment 10, long before my comment 150. I like that. The more similar the browsers are, the better for everyone. Isn’t that the point of standards?

Update: Scott Andrew LePera makes similar comments about the Microsoft-defined contentEditable standard. He says “Kudos to the Mozilla engineers for making the right choice: mirror the IE implementation and prevent further fragmentation of the technologies. If and when the W3 catches up, the decision will already have been made. Them’s the breaks.”

Wed, October 09, 2002

Thunderbird mail client

According to the updated Phoenix FAQ, Blake Ross will soon be working on a standalone mail client called Thunderbird. Mozillazine says Thunderbird is simply Minotaur renamed. They are targetting a Thunderbird 0.1 release around the same time as Phoenix 0.5. There’s currently no scheduled release date for Phoenix 0.5, but based on comments that 0.4 will leverage the Mozilla trunk freeze for 1.2 scheduled for a release November 8, we can guess that we’ll see something in November. Blake posted more details about his plans.

I notice that the Phoenix 0.3 release is going to slip a week to around October 14 due to the 1.2beta.

Tue, October 08, 2002

View Source

Since Netscape 1 and probably before that you’ve been able to get the source of a page from the View menu. This has been true in IE for its many versions as well. For whatever reason, in the latest nightly (I expect it will be the 0.3 release) the Phoenix developers moved it to the Tools menu. In the same version, they moved Preferences from the Edit menu to the Tools menu, which is an obvious imitation of IE’s placement of Internet Options. It’s odd that they ignore user expectations for one item and pay attention to it for the other.

They also brought back the Go menu.

Mon, October 07, 2002

Phoenix Improves

I’m sure that headline could be used daily. I’ve upgraded to the October 6 nightly of Phoenix and am happy to see several long awaited changes. My bookmark toolbar gained a chevron and drop-down menu (like IE) when it was sized too small to fit all the bookmarks in the window (perhaps fixed by bug 171604). Favicons are back in the bookmark menus for Phoenix. I’d forgotten how nice they were before they were yanked from Mozilla. Finally, after years of waiting, bug 28583 was fixed. Tabbing into text fields or focusing them (except with a click) now selects all the text as it should. This means JavaScript prompt with default text also works. This change affected both Mozilla and Phoenix.

All is not perfect with Phoenix, however. I’m quite disappointed that bug 171892 (the Phoenix version of Mozilla’s bug 65121) was wontfixed. I believe this is a big mistake and will continue to cause annoyance and confusion, especially for IE users trying to switch. I had noticed a while ago that the most troublesome dialogs (bookmark manager, javascript console, etc.) no longer have the exit menu item, so Phoenix is somewhat better than Mozilla. Thanks to the person that fixed them!

Thu, October 03, 2002

October status of the Mozilla world

The October 2 Mozilla Status Update provides a good, quick overview of all that’s going on in the Mozilla world. It mentions the quick progress of Phoenix, that the spellchecker may be coming to Mozilla soon, and the release of IBM Web Browser 2.0 for OS/2.

Phoenix Phun

Doug Turner’s pictures of Phoenix Evolution is especially funny now that Asa has released a screen shot of his Phoenix customization.

Wed, October 02, 2002

Phoenix 0.2 is out

It’s looking really, really good. The only changes I noticed from the previous build I commented on is that the sidebar now has a close button and the scripts and tabbed browsing preferences are now back. Go download it.

Mike Shaver writes what I’ve been thinking: “I guess it’s a little embarrassing that a handful of hackers can produce better autocomplete, better toolbar management, and much better performance than that found in the much more heavily attended Mozilla CVS tree. But we’ve always known that small, sharp teams are vastly more productive than those diluted with a few dozen mediocre-or-worse additions, so it’s certainly not surprising.”

I’ve switched from Mozilla to Phoenix as my primary browser (mostly to test it out) and miss a few things. Type ahead find which was working in previous Phoenix nightlies is now broken. Image blocking is also missing. Look for both in 0.3. I can’t wait to be able to add back some of the Mozilla extensions. I most miss having chatzilla a click of a bookmark away.

Mon, September 30, 2002

Phoenix is moving quickly

Wow! The latest Phoenix nightly builds have some terrific improvements (I played with 2002-09-29-15 windows):

  • Customize the toolbars by dragging and dropping the buttons directly on the toolbar (no dialog necessary)
  • Ability to add new toolbars (create a separate one for URL, for example)
  • History, bookmarks, and downloads can now be sidebars (and you can add toolbar buttons to toggle them on and off)
  • In-form field autocompletion as with IE (start typing in a field and it gives you suggestions from previous things you’ve typed)
  • An interesting search box to add to the toolbar (I think I’d rather have a Find button.)
  • Drag and drop bookmarks to the bookmarks menu (This may have been there for a while, but I just noticed it)
  • Did I mention that it’s fast?

Sat, September 28, 2002

Phoenix, Minotaur, and Mozilla

I’ve gotten some questions about how Phoenix relates to Mozilla. Here’s how I see things as an interested bystander that doesn’t have any inside knowledge about the project. (David Hyatt’s quiz may also help you understand the differences between Phoenix and Mozilla.)

The Phoenix Project’s goal is to build the best web browser for most people. The Phoenix readme says “the interface will not be ‛geeky’ nor will it have a ‛hacker-focus’. Nor will it be ‛minimal’.” The project was started and is run by some of the core Mozilla developers that were frustrated by the restrictions and pressures placed on the Mozilla browser. They didn’t like the compromises forced on Mozilla due to marketing and other pressures within Netscape/AOL. They also wanted to work more quickly and with fewer check-in restrictions. In some cases they wanted to experiment with optimizations that may also be applied to the Mozilla code.

Will Phoenix replace Mozilla? Well, I suppose that depends upon what Mozilla means to you. Phoenix currently builds on top of Mozilla and shares a bunch of the code. Most of the changes in Phoenix are related to the user interface (UI), which is the part of the browser that you see and interact with (menus, toolbars, buttons, dialogs, etc.) Phoenix is going to be just a browser, not an entire suite of applications (email, address book, news reader, irc client, HTML editor, slicer-dicer, julienne fry maker). Don’t let that disappoint you, though. The Minotaur Project is working on a standalone mail client. Other Mozilla components will likely be available as add-on extensions.

The developers hope that if they focus on a particular application they will be able to build it better and make better decisions. They recognize the importance of being able extend the application and are planning for it.

Wed, September 25, 2002

This is a 0.1 release?

On Monday the Mozilla Phoenix project released its first milestone, version 0.1. Download it and try it out. This is a terrific first milestone. Because of its heavy use of Mozilla, this browser behaves more like a 1.0 release in terms of the quality and capabilities of its page layout and rendering. Yes, there are many parts that still need polish, but this is awesome. Keep up the good work, guys.

Of all the things the Phoenix developers are doing, I believe the plug-in/add-on manager is one of the most important. It is getting more difficult for add-ons to integrate into Mozilla, let alone the Gecko-based browsers that they should also work with. In most cases, the add-ons make assumptions about what menus are available and add overlays. I was thinking the other day, what if Windows 95 had included a generic program installer. Every program does similar things when installing. It would have made more sense to just have a standard package format and script for the installer to run. Of course then InstallShield would be out of business and Microsoft would be charging for installs of everyone’s apps. In any case, it would be nice if Phoenix could set up well-defined hooks into the application that mean that the add-on doesn’t need to know much about the menu structure. Microsoft products, especially Word, have had this kind of extensibility for years.

Off the top of my head, here’s a few application hooks that I believe will be important for add-on creators. I’m thinking new menus, new toolbars, and new buttons for specific toolbars will be heavily used, particularly now that toolbar customization is a reality. Event hooks to support things like mouse gestures and context menu changes also need to be considered. I suspect there are more exotic kinds of hooks that haven’t even been considered because nobody’s invented useful things for them yet. For example, I can imagine automatic spell checking of textareas and inputs or adding user page load filters. I’m hoping that Phoenix will provide an elegant mechanism for adding on to the application and managing these add-ons. If they do this right, I hope it can become a part of all Mozilla-based browsers.

Mon, September 23, 2002

Is it a Phoenix bug?

I’ve been trying out the latest nightly of Phoenix and was about to complain that form scrollbars were broken. Turns out that bug 170184 is undoubtably the cause. Sharing most of the codebase with the Mozilla trunk has many advantages, but running into this kind of problem when you’re trying to release a milestone has got to be frustrating. Since Phoenix contains so much of Mozilla, determining where a bug is may be challenging. At least they’re in the same bug tracking system so it will be easy to move them if they’re incorrectly classified.

Thu, September 12, 2002

Mozilla accessibility

Find out all about the accessibility work going on for the Mozilla project through the groovy shortcut URL of the day: www.accessmozilla.org

Tue, September 10, 2002

Phoenix for users

Thanks Blake for responding to my earlier comments about Phoenix. It’s always nice to get the scoop direct from the developers. I’m delighted to hear that Phoenix will be for “normal users” and that you’ll be working on it for a 0.1 release soon. I’m looking forward to it.

Mon, September 09, 2002

Mozilla UI better than IE

Asa pleasantly surprised me by pointing out the following:

mpt omits something that has to be one of the most important usability flaws in IE, that the main browser scrollbar has a fat border to the right of it forcing the user to actually look where he puts his mouse pointer rather than just tossing it against the edge of the screen and knowing you’ve hit your target.

Since I rarely use Mozilla or IE maximized, I wouldn’t have noticed this. Mozilla happily eliminates the typical window border and takes advantage of Fitts’s Law. In brief testing, it seems almost every Windows application suffers from the border on the edge of the screen. Oddly, Lotus Notes was one of the few that also got this right. With the inconsistencies between Windows apps, I’m not surprised that mpt missed this one. I agree that it is a major flaw in IE.

<rant mode="pet peeve">Speaking of Fitts’s Law, it’d be nice if Back were returned to the image context menu of Mozilla. The context menu is by far the fastest way to go back and I’d say used far more than scrolling. This is especially annoying when you have images blocked or a large image with transparent edges that takes up most of the page.</rant>

Start to finish

Matthew Thomas is “In search of the perfectly designed browser” and gives a brief recounting of browser history up to now. After describing progress in browser UI over the years, Matthew responds to claims that he wants Mozilla to be just like Microsoft Internet Explorer (MSIE):

I’m not ashamed to say that Mozilla should look more like MSIE, because it would be pretty hard not to…. If Mozilla looked just like MSIE, however, it would be much less usable than it could be. For the record, here’s my rough list of the top ten usability problems in Internet Explorer.

Matthew then lists a number of places where Mozilla UI can and should be better than MSIE–places where MSIE has usability problems. In most of his examples, Mozilla already has better functionality than MSIE. It isn’t always usable, though. Let’s say you know Mozilla supports popup ad blocking. Many users won’t look for anything in advanced preferences and even fewer would think that this is script related and find the unrequested windows item. Don’t try searching for popup in the help. It won’t get you any closer.

Asa and Blake have gotten stuck on number 6 of his rough list: “It’s extremely difficult to uninstall. More strategy tax.” Certainly uninstall isn’t something you do while using an application, but it is definitely a part of a good product. (An uninstaller was a requirement for Windows product certification starting with Windows 95. This is yet another place that Microsoft exempts itself from following the rules they place on their competitors.) A product should demonstrate that the user is respected from start to finish. Although you hope that your product is never uninstalled, it is rude to try to make it difficult or impossible to remove. Microsoft wagers that most users of its products won’t get so annoyed that they’ll go elsewhere. Mozilla (and its derivatives) still needs to gain users. When Mozilla gets plug-in install right, then maybe it will be time to worry about uninstall.

Fri, September 06, 2002

Bookmarklets are special

As asked for in bug 72374, bookmarklets (javascript bookmarks) should have a different icon than normal bookmarks. I figured out a way to hack the userChrome.css to do just that. See my comments in the bug. This rocks!

Phoenix: bug reports welcome

Asa posted:

Bug reports are wanted. But only if the bug is specific to Phoenix. If it’s a core Mozilla bug that happens to affect Phoenix (like a layout or toolkit bug) then it probably belongs in the appropriate Mozilla component.

He also pointed to the Phoenix Project Page. The readme/FAQ seems to contradict Asa’s comments, so you might take everything with a grain of salt.

Thu, September 05, 2002

Phoenix nightly builds

Asa announced that Phoenix nightly builds are available, so naturally I went and snagged one. Way back in May I had tested a build of Mozilla/Browser, the predecessor to Phoenix. Other than customizable toolbars and the ability to run it at the same time as Mozilla, I didn’t notice much progress. (Yes, I know the developers have had other things to do in the meantime.) The prefs dialog is much cleaner than in Mozilla; it doesn’t have the messy tree control and only has five panels. Menus are trimmed down and are virtually identical to the Mozilla/Browser build I looked at.

I’d hoped that Phoenix was going to be a browser that focused on users. Perhaps it will be. Based on the differences between it and the earlier Mozilla/Browser, I’m concerned that it’s going the wrong direction. The more usable separate address and navigation bars are joined again. Distinctive icons have been replaced with the round ones from the Orbit theme, which have fewer visual differences. Not only has the throbber been eliminated (not a bad idea by itself and you can add it back by customizing the toolbar), but all page loading progress indicators are gone. The search, history, and bookmarks sidebars are missing as well.

So that’s where it is now. Since nightly builds just started, I plan to wait and watch. (As I understand it, that’s about all we can do now… Last I heard the developers didn’t want feedback or patches, although there are a number of bugs for phoenix in bugzilla.) I’m looking forward to watching this develop. I’d love if some the improvements were applied to the mozilla trunk.

Mon, September 02, 2002

Blake’s blog

Hixie provided a link to an archive of Blake’s mysterious deleted post that I mentioned earlier. Blake also admits the post made a brief appearance on his site. It makes some fun reading, so here it is:

Oh, what a lovely day. Netscape 7 came out and incompetence is flying everywhere. There are lots of thoughts floating around in my tiny head, and I can’t compile them into a coherent blog. So here goes…

* On the one hand, there has long been a push by various Netscape engineers to turn on popup blocking. As you can guess from Netscape 7, this was a lost battle. “But reviewers will ding us on it when they see it in Mozilla,” they said. “But it will generate negative publicity.” Well, it it did. But let’s forego an extended “told ya so” for now in the interest of moving on.

* On the other hand, c|net is a joke. First of all, Netscape 7 is hardly competing with Mozilla; it’s competing with IE. In light of this, it’s absolutely ridiculous to list “No popup blocking” as a “con” unless they did the same for IE. They didn’t.

* It’s abundantly clear that c|net does not use the product. This became evident when Netscape 6 came out and they gave it a 7, then lowered it to a 4. They reaffirmed it this year with such gems as “We still miss the Netscape 4.x feature that let you right-click any GIF and save it as your Windows wallpaper.” Netscape 7 has Set As Wallpaper functionality. It’s sickening that these people are paid to influence consumer decisions in the tech industry, and they don’t actually use the products.

* This problem is not limited to c|net, it plagues most computer magazines. In pcworld’s quasi-review, for example, they note that “The Download Manager controls and interface are revamped for easier use,” but Netscape 6.x didn’t even have a download manager. All these publications just skim our marketing documents and write broad summaries of a product. It’s disgusting.

* c|net has some sort of vendetta against Netscape. This is not a “wah, they were mean” claim, it’s obvious. They’ve republished the same story three different times, worded differently and with different headlines; as already noted, they never truly use the product; their review is titled “Don’t Switch Browsers,” which presumes use of IE, and then ensures under that that “Most users choose IE.” (Choose. ahem); and they continue to compare Netscape to Mozilla, but have never bothered with IE-Mozilla comparisons.

* The “new” netscape.com is the “old” netscape.com and this took…how long? For a new bar at the top? When I visit in 4.x, there is no roadblock telling users to download 7.0. The extent of the promotion is a tiny “Download Netscape 7.0” link in the bottom left and – the ultimate insult – a popup ad.

* Even if Netscape 7 debuted to mixed reviews, I’d hardly be able to take much pride in it. How do you get worked up over a product when you sped it up by 50% overnight (Phoenix; Minotaur) and added 3 killer features in a week (bookmarks quicksearch; history quicksearch; toolbar customization).

* I wish Netscape would get serious about producing a killer product and assign the tiny team making Phoenix to make a killer successor to Netscape 7. I’d think the terrible 7.0 press, combined with current internal ongoings, would push them to do this. And I wish it would get out of the mentality that the only way to monetize a browser is to stick advertisements everywhere, instead of clever integration (see MSN, Windows XP).

Now I have to go home and hear my friends and family talk about how the press said Netscape 7 sucks. And I have to explain that we got rid of popup blocking because our one site, out of however many billions of websites are out there, has a popup. What fun.

posted by Blake R at 4:25 PM on Aug 29, 2002

It looks like my recollection of the post was only semi-accurate. The real thing is more interesting. I got the gist that he had quickly made large improvements in the browser, but was a bit wrong about the specifics. I also didn’t catch the part about the Phoenix team. Does this mean they are officially supported? I thought this was a free time only kind of project. This gives me some hope that an internal comparison may push management to want the better browser.

In a Douglas Adams-like paradox, now that I’ve found Blake’s post again, Tony Davis’s rant has been removed.

Fri, August 30, 2002

Mozilla bites the hand that feeds it?

Tony Davis complains (with much profanity) that All Mozilla does is steal Netscape’s thunder. Well, yeah. Read eWeek recently?

Tony says:

I am sick and tired of Mozilla…. Yes, Netscape makes bad decisions regarding problems that should be obvious, but their motivation is in the right place; to make money to pay for engineers…. Netscape engineers are paid to do things that no one else would do (if they weren’t paid for it). Period. Engineers who checkin patches composed of hundreds of files with thousands of lines of code. No kid working after school in his basement is going to do that…. Oh, and the majority of code contributed to Mozilla.org comes from Mozilla engineers PAID for by Netscape.

All Mozilla does is steal Netscape’s thunder. They release a product that is in reality Netscape 7.0…. If Mozilla.org had never released a browser with pop-up blocking in it (no matter how cool that is, and no matter that it doesn’t work correctly - it breaks Netscape Radio and several other features) no one would be using that same feature to slam Netscape.

But Mozilla’s not Netscape, right? Let’s be frank: Netscape 7 is getting slammed because it deserves it. Instead of focusing on the customer, Netscape 7 annoys the customer. I don’t want a dozen AOL advertisements sprinkled around my system. Adding them will not improve your chances of gaining my business. I do want popup ad blocking. The differences between Mozilla and Netscape are few. Mozilla, however, doesn’t annoy me (other than the UI problems that it shares with Netscape 7), and is ahead of Netscape in features I want (popup ad blocking, incremental find, chatzilla, javascript debugger). Mozilla just shames Netscape 7 by pointing out that it didn’t have to be frustrating.

The motivation for Netscape 7 seems to be desperation. Blake pointed out good ways to make money from the browser. Hint: they benefit the user in convenience not annoyance.

Blake Ross censored

It looks like Blake pulled his rather venomous August 29, 2002 blog entry about the Netscape 7 release. It’s a shame the blog is gone, I thought it was one of his better ones.

Mike Pinkerton apparently saw it too:

Jinglepants writes:

Are you paying attention now, you ignorant, stupid, incompetent buffoons?

Yeah, i pretty much agree. The management chain at Netscape deserves this one 110%. It was only a matter of time before CNet (who are also incompetent and obvsiouly didn’t even run the product they were reviewing) called us on the carpet and made us pay for our greed.

We told you so. We told you so. We told you so.

David Hyatt also rants about how Netscape managers refused to listen. It sounds like the same story.

Blake ranted about the decision to pull popup ad-blocking technology from Netscape 7. He characterized it as making Netscape look money-hungry and stupid. Reading between the lines, it sounds like many Mozilla developers pointed out that because it was in Mozilla, it would be more noticable when it was pulled, and therefore shouldn’t be removed.

Blake also rightly critiqued the competence of the review at CNet, saying that it was obvious that they never used the browser. He asked why the review compared Netscape 7 to Mozilla instead of more appropriately to IE 6.

Most interesting of all was his comment that it’s hard to feel good about the Netscape release when in 3 days of working on his Phoenix project (formerly mozilla/browser) he’d made a 50% improvement in speed and added a history sidebar as well. He was advocating that management get some people working on real improvements.

Hopefully he pulled his comments because he realized he was a bit heated and not because of management pressure. If anyone has a cache of the story, I’d love to look at it again.

Thu, August 29, 2002

Get a grip

Idiotic bug comment of the day: “I for one will not use mozilla for browzing until the splash is changed, or more sensibly just deleted.” You’re not using a product because of the splash screen!? Just add -nosplash to the command line options and go on. First impressions matter, but there are thousands of problems more important than replacing the fire-breathing mozilla splash screen.

Tue, August 27, 2002

Mozilla 1.1 released

Awesome. I read some groovy news about gecko feet and now this. Mozilla 1.1 is finally out. Go get it, use it, and spread the word. The Release Notes for 1.1 tell you what’s new. There are many improvements from 1.0.

Mon, August 26, 2002

Don’t give up

After a week of silence, I’m wondering if Matthew Thomas has really given up. Perhaps he’s just having connectivity problems or taking a vacation. Come back soon, mpt!

Wed, August 21, 2002

Need a smile?

In response to Asa and mpt’s conversation, Basil rants that user interaction != user interface. Basil makes a good point: broken pages cause usability problems, regardless of whether it is the web developer or browser that is at fault. Having some indicator in Mozilla that the page has problems seems reasonable, but I sort of agree with Asa that users will think it reflects their feelings and will do nothing to help them. I doubt most users even notice the little triangle warning on the status bar in IE that says there are script errors. Still, informing the user is better than not. Even Asa is arguing for more information for the user when he describes the problems with installing plugins.

Tue, August 20, 2002

Search at record speed

Yay! The bugzilla search form has been updated to the new and much improved version. It’s about time! I wish they’d first fixed bug 155502 so that the search field was focused immediately as with every sane search engine in the world. Oh well, the old one didn’t give focus either.

The incremental find that I mentioned earlier has also been checked in. No UI yet, but you can add the accessibility.typeaheadfind pref to turn it on. Cool.

Mon, August 19, 2002

Marquee wasn’t bad enough

Now we have suggestions for the BLINQUEE tag. Not only will it scroll, it will blink, too. Ha ha.

Thu, August 08, 2002

Ooh. Shiny.

Asa added another screen shot of toolbar customization work that is going on. This new screen shot shows toolbar customization working while using the Orbit 3 theme. Nice.

Wed, August 07, 2002

XHTML 2!?

The first public working draft for XHTML 2.0 has been published. Amazingly, Sjoerd Visscher has created an XHTML 2.0 page that works today in Mozilla, Opera, and IE6. I’m not sure whether I should be more impressed by his implementation or by the extensibility of the browsers.

XHTML 2.0 makes a number of changes from XHTML 1.1. Among the more interesting are new tags for <section>, a generic heading tag <h> to work with section, navigation list tags <nl> and <menu>, <line> replaces <br>, and the <quote> tag to replace the short-lived and buggy in IE <q>. “Dive Into Mark” has more about the changes from XHTML 1.1.

One change that concerns me and digiboy | marcus is that <acronym> is treated exactly like <abbr>. Perhaps this is just an admission that IE has supported acronym for quite a while but not abbr. I thought the point of having both of these tags was to help screen readers better pronounce the abbreviation. Otherwise, I see no need to have both.

Update: Evolt.org has an interesting article about the difference between abbreviations and acronyms.

Tue, August 06, 2002

Mozilla/Browser becomes Phoenix

Just the other day I got around to joining the MozDev Mozilla/Browser mailing list and got excited about helping to improve the user experience of Mozilla. Today I read that the original “em be” project has come back to life as Phoenix. It is great to see more projects working on Mozilla UI, but it’s getting a little confusing. Amusingly, the MozDev M/B project is also debating a name change.

Hyatt and Asa are teasing us with screen shots of customizable toolbars. This will be great. I can hardly wait. I hope we hear more about Phoenix soon.

Wed, July 31, 2002

Where does trivial stupidity lead to?

As usual, Matthew Thomas is on the money with his concerns about the recent addition of animated rendering of the Marquee tag in Mozilla. Where’s this lunacy stop? I don’t know. The box has been opened. Perhaps it will lead next to ActiveX controls in Mozilla. Support for ActiveX would be both a blessing and a curse. Being able to embed some of the Internet Explorer controls, particularly the HTML editor, would be nice. It might also serve to even out the differences between IE and Mozilla, particularly on intranets. With the growing capabilities of DHTML, ActiveX is becoming less and less necessary, though. Even if Mozilla had ActiveX support it would still lack support for IE’s document.all DOM. But then that could be added, too. Please…

Make the madness stop…

Yes, I promise, this is the last time I’ll use the Marquee tag.

Tue, July 30, 2002

Strange covert operations

Basil informs me that some, er, less-enlightened employers require the use of IE and therefore making Mozilla look like that other browser is a Good Thing. In that case, complete the look with the IE icon pack. The same site provides icons suitable for the classic and modern skins.

Mon, July 29, 2002

Strange…

Not sure why you’d want to, but you can make Mozilla look like Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE).

Thu, July 25, 2002

Tabbed browsing’s killer feature

I’m a reluctant and occassional user of Mozilla’s tabbed browsing feature. I agree with Matthew Thomas that tabbed browsing is cluttering the UI of Mozilla. It could have been easily predicted that Open in New Tab would start to appear everywhere that there was Open in New Window. This adds to the complexity of the UI for little gain: new windows and new tabs give almost identical results.

Tabs do have a killer feature that may explain why people enjoy using tabs: open links in background. The idea is simple–instead of having new tabs open and take focus immediately, you can click a few links and have the tabs load while you continue reading the current page. This more closely matches the behavior I want. When reading a page, I often open links in new windows so that I can look at them later and not be distracted from the current page. When doing this with new windows I have to explicitly return focus to my previous page.

Bug 56690 is working to allow background loading of new windows, much like the tabbed browsing feature. As with many UI bugs, there’s more discussion than coding going on. Yesterday, Jesse Ruderman posted a cool bookmarklet that converts all links on a page so that they open in new background windows. Unfortunately they would open in reverse order: the last one clicked would end up being topmost behind the current window. I tweaked his bookmarklet to create a new open behind bookmarklet. Mine places the windows in the background in the order they were clicked; the first one clicked will be the first one visible behind the current window.

Wed, July 24, 2002

Mandatory UI reviews before check in

Blake Ross posted that Netscape has lost focus and proposed that all developers should be required to attend usability testing. He also says that there should be manditory usability testing and UI approval before check ins. Absolutely. Both of these would help improve the product. Even if only the Netscape developers attend usability testing, it would help. It’d be interesting to see Netscape do usability testing to evaluate UI developed outside Netscape.

Blake also mentions the pain of fixing UI bugs. He complains about bickering in bug reports. I feel there’s a place for everybody having a say about the UI. Certainly problems in the UI should and do get feedback. The challenge is to trust knowledgable and skilled UI designers to develop appropriate fixes. Having non-designers debating solutions isn’t profitable and leads to some wacky proposals, as Blake points out. UI review and approval before check ins would make a world of difference. This could be done explicitly, or just by module owners bowing to the UI designers.

I was starting to get worried about agreeing so much with Blake. But it makes perfect sense now. The world is ending.

Revising Mozilla

Asa pointed to a somewhat misguided but interesting rework of the Mozilla menus. This may just motivate me to put together a rework that is closer to MPT’s menu specs. That the current context menu for images does not have Back is driving me crazy. I made some of the modifications prior to Mozilla 1.0 but then Mozilla/Browser came along and stole much of the thunder. Perhaps I should just work on the Mozilla/Browser project on Mozdev. It looks like they are working to improve the Preferences.

Fri, July 19, 2002

Coming soon to a browser near you…

Mozilla may soon have support for the Microsoft-inspired MARQUEE tag. Bug 156979, which is working on this support, is a microcosm of the problems with Mozilla development. We have claims that this will never be enabled by default, comments that we should have Standards über Alles, worry that Mozilla will be perceived as irrelevant, insightful UI comments, a fascinating (but incomplete) discussion about what criteria Mozilla should use for implementing and adding non-standard extensions, and recommendations to check it in now and broadly enable it despite several saying we shouldn’t. I am surprised that it has remained generally civil and relevant.

In comment 58, Brendan Eich fails to see how implementing this impacts usability. For those unfamiliar with the tag, marquee converts a text message into a scrolling string of letters that dance across the screen like the blinking lights in a theater marquee. If implemented as in IE, there’s likely to be no way to make it stop. Brendan’s argument seems to be that any tag or behavior added to the browser that occurs only in the web page content area does not affect usability or UI. Support for marquee seems to me to be a choice between usability and flashiness. I honestly question the assumptions of the bug: 1) that sites are currently broken without support for marquee and 2) that they should be evangelized to use standards-based means to achieve this scrolling behavior.

I’m curious what Matthew Thomas will have to say about this.

Fri, July 12, 2002

I know it’s here somewhere

It appears that Mozilla will soon have an incremental find feature that will find text on a web page as you type. You can download an initial version of this now or try the bookmarklets by Jesse Ruderman. I have mixed feelings about this. It sounds nice to be able to jump to links by typing a few letters from the link text, but seems like this has the potential to be really annoying. I seem to frequently get focus in the wrong window and start typing. Up until now this has been no problem in Mozilla. I wonder whether this will be a big usability win. It feels transparent, so perhaps it will be cool. Alan Cooper says, “A dialog box is another room. Have a good reason to go there.” And Jef Raskin has a similar suggestion for finding in a list.

Tue, July 09, 2002

Hope?

With the fix for bug 62495, Mozilla now has the best URL bar editing behavior of any browser. Single-click still selects the entire URL bar (unless you turn it off). Even better, selection works as expected. I find it hard to believe that Mozilla 1.0 shipped with very broken right-click context menu behavior (bug 96446) but that’s fixed now too. I’m glad to see these basic usability problems getting fixed. It’s about time. The URL bar has had broken behavior since 2000 or earlier.

Wed, July 03, 2002

Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it

Mozilla apparently took this saying to heart and decided to prevent it by never expiring history entries. Did you wonder where your disk space was going or why Mozilla seemed to load slower and slower? Now you know. Hopefully this will be fixed in 1.0.1.

Tue, July 02, 2002

Almost-standards mode

In a remarkable show of good sense, Mozilla added the “almost-standards mode” to support XHTML 1.0 Transitional, HTML 4.01 Transitional, and a bothersome IBM system doctype. (See bug 153032, the revised doctype sniffing documentation, and the evolt.org article about this.) For the first time, some of the IBM pages I use daily look perfect. And there was much rejoicing! Too bad this didn’t make 1.0, but 1.0.1 may be good enough.

Standards for standards sake

When is a JavaScript console no longer a JavaScript console? When it becomes the “Error” console. David Baron finally “fixed” Bug 154942 and added a CSS warning message to the console. Having a warning message is helpful. At least now developers will have a clue about what’s wrong. It still feels broken to have quirks mode happily handle “incorrect” MIME types and simply adding a valid doctype will break the page. For the sake of compatibility, I’d think Mozilla should handle some commonly broken, but reasonable, MIME types, such as text/plain. There’s more discussion about this confusing issue in Bug 113399.

I’m gonna miss the JavaScript console if it gets renamed. It has been a good helper for many years. I think I’d rather see a page compliance console like in iCab and keep the JavaScript separate.

Thu, June 27, 2002

Resizability

I have been reading the newgroup thread about window and dialog resizability. I’m particularly impressed that the preferences dialog will not be resizable anytime soon and I am somewhat amused by all those that want it to be.

I just wish that Mozilla would actually show the resizer in the status bar. For whatever reason, it really bothers me that it’s not there. Maybe I miss it because it provides a larger click target than trying to resize from the teeny window edges. Maybe it is because I usually resize the window from the corner. Or just maybe it is because I keep clicking the lock icon when I really want the scroll arrow. Without the resizer, Mozilla feels incomplete. Now I know that it exists on Windows XP and only XP. Like many things in Mozilla (did someone say download manager?) it appears nobody tested the feature: maximized windows should not be resizable. Last I saw, Windows 98 still had more than half of the Windows marketshare, but no resizer there. I use Windows 2000 and miss it there, too. Inexplicably, no one seems to be working on the problem. I would have thought it should be catfood and mozilla1.0.

Fri, June 14, 2002

Tweak your browser

User style sheets can be powerful tools in browsers that support them.

Tue, June 11, 2002

Happy birthday Netscape 4.0

Scott Andrew LePera has created a tribute to Netscape 4.0 for its fifth birthday:

“Happy birthday, Netscape 4.0
Now please go away.”

Some tribute, Scott.

Despite its limited standards support, we should still try to accommodate Netscape 4.x. Yes, this goes against the philosophy of the resurrected Web Standards Project and many developers will think I’m crazy. Here’s some of the reasons that Netscape 4.x should still exist and be supported:

  • It’s in the best interest of the Web to have viable alternatives to the dominant web browser from you-know-who. How well Netscape 4.x is competing is subject to debate, but an argument can be made for supporting it. Stats I have seen indicate that Netscape 4 still have greater usage than Mozilla and derivatives combined, depending on the site. As other web designers and developers will affirm, it is getting more and more difficult to convince customers and bosses to support anything other than IE. And I don’t see the trend toward supporting standards, I see it toward being IE-specific. In commercial sites it makes no sense to turn away part of your audience, though, so this may even out, especially if AOL actually moves to using the Gecko engine.
  • Netscape 4.x in notable areas still has better usability than Mozilla 1.0 and derivatives: a navigation bar that is not combined with the URL bar, bookmarks drag and drop that works as expected, fewer preferences, text widgets that work as expected with platform cursor positioning, a stop button that stops image animation, a find in page that positions the found text so it is reasonably visible, etc.
  • Netscape 4.x may be somewhat less resource intensive than Mozilla on older machines. And Netscape 4.x has a pretty good security record as compared to IE. For security concerned users, IE isn’t a reasonable choice and Mozilla/Netscape 7 may be too bloated.

I look forward to improvements in Mozilla usability and performance and I hope for more diversity in web browsers. If we can gain diversity as on the Mac while at the same time increasing the available standards support, it will be terrific.

Happy birthday, Netscape 4. Go Mozilla!

Cowards

So close and yet so far.

It seems the bugzilla administrators want to snatch defeat from the jaws of success. Perhaps they’re trying to make bugzilla as confusing as the browser by adding multiple ways to search. The default search interface should not be the broken old version. We know the old version intimidates newbies and causes them to skip looking for existing bugs. This leads to duplicate bug reports and time wasted. Having to scroll the old form to get to the submit button also wastes time.

I should have expected this type of leadership. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a product make a huge overhaul of a feature like this and then hide it behind the old interface. We know that the new design is the better one, otherwise it wouldn’t be planned for it to be the default interface in the future. Let’s hope the future is soon.

Mon, June 10, 2002

A better bugzilla

Sometime today, mozilla.org will update bugzilla to version 2.16. This version should have the greatly improved query page thanks to design work by Matthew Thomas. Among other changes, the most commonly used fields are now at the top of the form and submit buttons are conveniently placed at top and bottom. The submit button change allows you to once again complete the form by pressing Enter in Mozilla and IE. Accessibility for checkboxes and radio buttons is improved: you can click the text labels.

The query page changes provide tremendous usability improvements. But people are now used to the pain, and unbelievably want to keep the old query form. As mpt says:

“When something has an inefficient design, people get used to the inefficiency, and complain when it becomes efficient. As a result, more user preferences get added, making the interface worse.”

Myk Melez makes an interesting observation about the user impact of website redesigns:

It’s bad form to significantly change an interface to which users have grown accustomed without giving them time to switch to it. In the desktop software world, users can forego upgrades or run two versions of a program at the same time until they have the time to retrain themselves on the new version. Web software should provide a similar mechanism.

In this case, I believe the redesign is so much improved that everyone should just be forced to use it. But I understand the sentiment. I’ve noticed that many website redesigns are far worse in usability than the original.

It is terrific to see usability improving in bugzilla, even if it took more than 6 months for b.m.o to update. This gives me hope that Mozilla’s usability will also improve over time and probably with drastic changes when it does.

Sat, June 08, 2002

Tweaking mozilla 1.0

If you’re using Mozilla 1.0, you’ll notice that every window has a blue blob in the upper left corner. (Is that supposed to be a gecko?) It’s much nicer to have real icons that vary per component. You can fix this: go get the Grayrest/Giovanni icon set. You’ll be glad you did.

I was surprised what a big difference this made. It makes Mozilla feel more polished and really helps when you have multiple components such as the browser, JavaScript console, DOM inspector, and IRC chat all open at the same time.

Fri, June 07, 2002

Grumble grumble…

Brendan Donohoe on May 1, 2000: it’s all the little "minor" details that make a product feel good. Skip the minor details and you wind up with a rather frustrating product…. Just registering my UI vote so these things don’t slip through the cracks.

Me on October 1, 2001: So does this mean the attached patch is just getting thrown away? I’d much rather have some dialogs automatically do the default text selection than none, <rant>especially if it means waiting another year until some progress is made</rant>.

No, Mozilla still does not select the text. Here: try it out. This bug makes some bookmarklets painful to use.

Thu, June 06, 2002

The toaster popped

Mozilla 1.0 has been released and is available for download (alternative download locations). The Mozilla 1.0 start page has more information about Mozilla.

Fri, May 24, 2002

To the pain…

Ouch. David Hyatt had a horrible experience trying out Netscape 7. That he had been using Netscape 6 makes this even worse. I agree with him, the kinds of annoyances he experienced are why I use Mozilla.

And speaking of Mozilla, Release Candidate 3 is out.

Thu, May 23, 2002

Netscape 7 PR1

As I guessed a few days ago, the next version of Netscape will be 7. PC World has written a generally favorable first look at Netscape 7. I’m more interested in Mozilla 1.0, but I’m glad to see that Netscape is putting 6.x behind them.

Fri, May 17, 2002

Netscape changes and rearranges

Netscape.com has a new look. The colors are somewhat darker than previously and the home page is quite different in layout and shorter.

There are rumors that the next version of netscape will be 7.0. This has been suggested by the Netscape/7 useragent string in several bug reports. I suppose it is remotely possible that these are from AOL testing Gecko in AOL 7.0, but don’t think they’d use a Netscape 7 identifier for the AOL client.

Thu, May 16, 2002

What a dull name…

I’ve been testing out a Windows build of mozilla/browser. It has a number of usability improvements, including a return to having the URL entry box in its own separate toolbar, simplified menus, a slightly improved reload icon, and easier access to history. Check Blogzilla for screen shots and additional information. It’s clear that it needs a lot of polish, but it is somewhat better than Mozilla, if only because of the URL bar change. Update: If you download the build, make sure you launch it with mozilla.exe -chrome chrome://browser/content/ or you will not see any differences.

Trying to search Google for more information about mozilla/browser (or even mb) yields less than useful results. It makes me wish this project had a more interesting name.

Mon, May 13, 2002

Preferences humor

Someday Mozilla will include every app you could ever want to have! Coming soon: peg board games. Matthew Thomas has more about the war against preferences.

Fri, May 10, 2002

Google + Blogs

I stumbled across the musings of Andy Edmonds and got stuck for a while. Good information about Mozilla and UI design. I was intrigued by his suggestion of a scripting solution to the problem John Robert Boynton describes:

Google should recognize weblogs as a document and site structure, and link to the archive url, not the main page of the weblog… Thus it would be better to point to the archive. This would require a convention similar to the robots.txt convention. Google is perfectly placed to initiate the convention.

Tue, April 30, 2002

Open Source UI, patches not welcome

David Hyatt raises some interesting questions in his recent “It’s just the UI, stupid” blog. He says that Netscape is being hampered in user interface development for the Netscape browser of fights with random Mozilla contributors who block bugs and make comments that some features are “bad for Mozilla.” He notes that no company develops a product this way and says Netscape should have complete control over the UI of their product. Okay. The sticking point is what happens with Mozilla. Mozilla is not a company.

So far, Mozilla has been fairly open to anyone logging UI bugs and submitting patches. Unfortunately, these patches frequently cause usability problems. There are no UI review and polish requirements other than module owner approval. This needs to change. Matthew Thomas has already pointed out many of the problems with free software usability and its design process. A better process needs to be worked out.

If Netscape and Mozilla were to fork UI, what would happen with nightly builds? Would they continue to have the Mozilla UI? Would there be more than one UI? The current interfaces are similar enough that Netscape may feel it’s getting resonable testing. If they were to diverge more, how would Netscape react?

Fri, April 26, 2002

Mozilla/browser!

Blake Ross describes work he’s been doing on the mozilla/browser project and includes a screen shot. It was uncanny to compare the screen shot with a theme I’m hacking on and notice that they are virtually identical. (I have Address instead of Location as the label for the URL box and haven’t yet revised the sidebar.) Hooray! It looks like mozilla/browser is going to be quite cool. I’m particularly impressed with Blake’s comments about improved startup and new window speed. Now if only we could get some builds…

Wed, April 24, 2002

More variation is good for Mozilla

Matt Judy defends the development of Chimera for Mac OS X as good for the Mozilla project. I believe he’s right. The more browsers that are using the underlying Gecko engine on various platforms, the better the code will become. As long as the Mozilla derivatives just swap out the UI but keep the Gecko engine it still helps to build a better and more standardized web. My only concern is that these new browsers will be perceived as separate entities with small marketshare and therefore dismissed by web developers.

Mozilla ’zilla Blogzilla Banana Fana Blogzilla

Blogzilla has good and timely content about Mozilla with beautifully clean page design. Go. Read it. Enjoy.

Sun, April 21, 2002

You’re a luser if you can’t use this

Matthew Thomas has posted an article identifying additional reasons that open source software has poor usability. Unlike the previous list, this one is more specific to the open source development model. (Failing to design the interface before coding is a problem that also affects commercial software.)

I believe both of these lists have missed the biggest reason for poor usability: difficulty of coding. Creating custom controls and behaviors are more time consuming than using whatever common controls are provided. Common controls are therefore frequently misused. When the interface is designed in advance, developers have a good idea for how things should work and can plan to create custom widgets as necessary. However, if developers are just hacking something up to be functional, as likely as not they’ll just use any easily coded control whether or not it is appropriate. This is especially evident with the standard Yes/No dialogs. Even with excellent interface design, developers will often take a shortcut and use a control that is easier to code than writing a special one as dictated.

In an ironic twist, the converse is also likely, especially with multiplatform products. Instead of using a system standard common control, developers go out of their way to create widgets that work on all platforms, but resemble the common ones. Inconsistencies between platforms and expected behaviors yield additional user confusion and frustration. The problem is still the same: lack of developer energy invested in completely duplicating expected platform behavior.

Wed, April 17, 2002

Yeah, but can my mom use it?

I started a discussion with mpt about why open source software has such poor usability and agree with his response. Much of what he says also applies to the closed-source commercial software world where good interface design is also rare. The main distinguishing characteristic seems to be polish. In comparing two programs that have similar functionality, it’s the little things that make or break it. I had hoped that Mozilla hackers would concentrate on polish bugs prior to 1.0, and to some extent that has happened. There are still too many usability problems that directly relate to polish.

Usability problems need to be considered as important as broken functionality bugs. If users cannot use the feature it matters little that it technically “works”. David Hyatt’s comment that Chimera can automatically detect and offer to block evil popups is an example of 1) understanding the target user and 2) devising elegant solutions. Disclaimer: I haven’t seen this in action. If only this user-focused mindset was more prevalent in software development.

Hmm… I forgot some.

I apparently overlooked Scott Collins’s Journal/Hacking Outline thingy. Makes me wish I kept such complete records about my work.

Joe Hewitt also has a website with beautiful photos and some Mozilla dhtml. Perhaps he’ll join the party?

Tue, April 16, 2002

Blogs, blogs, and more blogs

Looks like many in the Mozilla community have blogs or recently started them. Chris Waterson has had a hardcore log of what he’s hacking for quite a while. There’s also Ben Goodger, Mike Pinkerton, Stuart Parmenter, Andrew Wooldridge, even Blake Ross. And it looks like David Hyatt’s and Asa’s blogs have moved to Mozillazine. There’s been a lack of news about the Mozilla project and now we have all these blogs. The more the merrier.