Moving Forward

It seems that since Firefox 2.0 has shipped, everyone is really taking some time to think about the future. Not that it wasn’t on peoples minds before 2.0. For me 2.0 was really a maintenance release. End users got some great new features and fixes, but all I really contributed was a small fix or two, most of the time I could allocate was spent on planning and server side development (more on that some other time). Mike Connor and I seem to have overlapped on feelings towards future improvements:

  • Site compatibility We’re doing pretty good, marketshare helps, but we need to be better. We need to push Reporter, and put real time into analysis of the top sites showing up there. Sometimes its our fault and we need to prioritize bugfixing, sometimes its Tech Evangelism (and we need to get back to doing that too).

I mentioned a few weeks ago it’s important for end users to report problems, and got some traction. But I’m still looking for ways to get more casual users reporting problems they encounter. Anyone with ideas on how this could best be accomplished, without annoying the user or adding intrusive UI should let us know. Either leave a comment here or contact me. We can’t help what we don’t know.

To help improve the quality of analysis of reports, I have gotten pretty close to a new reporter webtool. This version has much more flexibility and allows for easier viewing and manipulation of data. I hope to give it more time in the next few weeks and make a drive to go live with it. It’s been delayed several times (my fault), but it’s now in the final stretch. Future revisions will be much more incremental to prevent such delays again.

To further help improve the quality of reports, Gavin Sharp wrote a patch to capture the character encoding of web pages reported. I wrote one to allow users to send a screen shot of what they see. Both I believe should make 3.0. I think these changes will help improve things in the long term. Knowing the charset can help improve character related problems users experience (since charset detection is somewhat of a messy game), and having actual screenshots of what users see is of course beneficial for rendering issues.

Hopefully some of the bigger Gecko changes taking place on the trunk will further improve site compatibility. Of course growing marketshare has and will continue to help websites adopt a policy of cross browser compatibility. That has in the past, and will continue to be a driving force. So remember: don’t spoof your useragent more than absolutely necessary. Make sure webmasters know who you are. “Stand up and be counted”.

My personal goals for Firefox 3.0 are these:

  • Get new reporter webtool in place. Sooner the better. It’s been delayed to many times. At least now it’s close.
  • Get charset and screenshot support up and running. Investigate if there’s something else that would be really beneficial.
  • Find new ways to get more end users to let us know when they encounter a problem, rather than just keep quiet.
  • Keep reading, playing around and getting new ideas. IMHO that should be a goal for anyone doing anything in life.

I think that’s a rather obtainable set of goals with a definite positive impact.

I’m also working on an update to MozPod to allow for synchronizing your iPod calendar with Lighting (in Thunderbird) or Sunbird. It’s somewhat working but still rather buggy. There are also several fixes for other issues since the last release of MozPod. I hope to have that out by the end of the year (which would be 1 year after the last release).

On a more personal note, last month I accepted a position with CBS Digital Media as a developer at CBSNews.com. For those wondering, yes I am working on improving the experience for Firefox (and Mac users) among other development work. It’s not too bad right now (personal opinion), but being better is of course welcome. The usual disclaimer that the views on this blog are mine alone and do not represent those of my employer of course apply (but I’m sure you knew that already).

So there you have it. I plan to write a few more posts in the next few weeks more specific to individual things discussed here, but for now that should give everyone an idea about what I’ve got cooking. It’s a rather interesting mix of things I get to work on.

4 thoughts on “Moving Forward

  1. A few thoughts:

    1) Make ‘Report Broken Website’ easier to discover. I’d bet most users don’t know it exists. I put the button on my toolbar, but that UI real estate might be too expensive.

    2) Most users can’t differentiate Firefox incompatibilities from other problems (e.g., browser problems, networking problems, websites that are just broken, etc.). You might consider renaming it to ‘Report Problems’. Signal-to-noise would get worse, but you’ll get many more responses.

    3) The Quality Feedback Agent only activates in the event of a crash. It might be useful to automatically collect data for non-crash errors. You couldn’t interrupt the user with a dialog too often, so it might have to happen invisibly, which means a very clear, careful opt-in would be required (and anonymization of user data).

  2. Hi Robert,
    talking about reporter, your website looks miserable if you increase the font size – which I do as I have a large screen…
    I think you need at least a break (or clear:both) before the page title so that the content does not flow after it…

    Is the ‘font-size’ or something like that included into the reporter tool to allow reproducing bugs similar to this one?

  3. Congratulations on the new job, Robert – hope you enjoy it 🙂 .

    As for Reporter, would there be some way of currently detecting the window size, and if it’s an acceptable size but a web page requires both horizontal and vertical scrolling, pop up a yellow information bar saying ‘Firefox thinks this web page is not displaying properly. [More information]’, like when a popup is blocked. The more information screen could then describe the role of the reporter tool and walk the user through the reporting process.

    I know the need for horizontal scrolling isn’t the only way a web site can be broken but it’s a common one, and one I imagine would be easy to detect.

  4. Having two scrollbars does not always, or even usually, indicate that a site is broken! Any page that embeds a large image, such as a screenshot, will have to scroll both vertically and horizontally.

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