March 10, 2008
Installing add-ons: closing the loop
My last two posts about the Firefox 3 Add-ons Manager have been mostly about the new Get Add-ons tab, and the ability it provides to our users to get recommendations and search the add-ons catalog without leaving the Manager. No surprise there, really — those features are the new exciting additions.
Alongside that work, though, has been quite an effort to iron out some of the usability wrinkles in the process of installing add-ons. Some of these fixes have been in Firefox since beta 3:
- Simplifying and clarifying the message of the install confirmation "trust decision" dialog
- Making it clearer when a restart is required, and providing a convenient restart button at that point
- Automatically enabling the last-installed theme rather than requiring users to restart twice
- Eliminating the complicated "manage your whitelist" dance
But one of the worst ones on my list has remained as yet unironed: that Firefox abandons users after the restart required by add-ons installation. In the Firefox 2 task flow, a user interacts with the browser in a reasonable back-and-forth until he or she is required to restart the browser. After that point, the user is left hanging — the browser comes back up, but it doesn't offer any visual indication of whether the user has actually accomplished anything. In some cases, the newly installed add-on itself offers up a preferences window or steers the browser to a welcome webpage, but this is by no means universal. Regardless, it's the responsibility of the browser to complete this transaction with the user and to ease him or her back into the restart-interrupted train of thought.
As of today's nightly build, thanks to Dave Townsend and a merry band of reviewers working through Bug 408115, the Add-ons Manager will present itself, post-restart, to confirm that installations have taken place and will, helpfully, point out what's new:
Users can launch into setting preferences, start working with their new add-ons, or just get on with browsing, but, in all cases, they won't be left hunting in the interface for some sign of what just happened.
As usual, I humbly request your feedback — please tell me what's what here in comments or over in the discussion.
Posted by madhava at March 10, 2008 07:21 PM
Have you thought about a interaction model that add-on authors might pursue for a welcome message? It would be delightful to have a well thought out way to introduce users to the features they've just gained with an extension addon. I'm thinking of a "human interface guideline" for the initial post-installation addon experience.
Another thing that I think would increase the users confidence when installing addons:
Make it clear that no information will be lost when restarting.
This polish. This contributes to the mature feel of the product.
Thanks for your work!
Whoa, you have Weave installed :-D
Since you're on Mac (it has an outstanding issue on Windows), you might want to try out the latest development snapshot:
It would be helpful if after a restart it showed you which version it had updated from. I like to check version histories to see what changes to expect.
In fact while I'm asking, how about being able to view the release notes and changelog/version history in the Add-ons Manager.
(Posting this here because I don't want to publicise my email address on usenet, I get enough spam thanks :)
Andyed - that's a good thought for the future. We don't want to constrain add-on developers too much, I suspect, but there are clearly already some better and worse approaches, especially when multiple new add-ons are installed at the same time.
David Naylor - it's true, we're more anxiety-provoking than we probably need to be at the moment. Some slim comfort is that the browser explains that "Minefield will try to restore your tabs and windows when it restarts," but, of course, they see that only once they've screwed up the courage to click "Restart" in the first place.
Sam Hasler - this is more to do with feedback after installation rather than after update. I believe that there's been some work to allow users to see more information about add-on updates before they accept them. I will check into that again.
Sam Hasler - see this image:
That's looking interesting. That would save a lot of time tracking down plugin's changelogs if that was populated.
Could whatever appears on the right also appear on the Software Installation dialog when you click on a link to an XPI file? Or maybe there should be different text when you're installing for the first time than when you're upgrading.