August 27, 2008

Decisions, decisions

Firefox has a lot of preferences. For illustration, here's a map of all of them that are accessible from the Preferences (Mac) or Options (Windows) windows:

Click for the legible version (large!)

That's seven tabs, one of which contains four sub-tabs (Advanced), over the course of which the user can click on buttons to bring up a further 23 windows or panels, one of which has a further five tabs. That's leaving out the Add-ons Manager, host to preferences for add-ons, and the monster-filled fathoms-deep sea that is about:config.

It's hard to get rid of preferences. Typically, there aren't any that are entirely without worth, and, on an individual pref-by-pref basis, it's hard to argue that removing functionality is worth the small ease-of-use gain of one less item. Over time, though, you're left with a situation that is the opposite of simple.

This is a problem to chip away at in Firefox; for Fennec, it demands immediate attention. The smaller screen on a mobile device and a button-density dictated by the size of a fingertip make it impractical to show a huge number of preferences — assuming that you'd even want to inherit that problem! Another defining characteristic of mobile is that the ratio of power-users to non- is skewed even further to non-power-users than on the desktop. Mobile users are just less likely to want to "configure" their mobile browsers.

For comparison, here's the full set of "Settings" in mobile Safari:

  • General
    • Search Engine - Google/Yahoo
  • Security
    • JavaScript - ON/OFF
    • Plug-Ins - ON/OFF
    • Block Pop-ups - ON/OFF
    • Accept Cookies - Never/From Visited/Always
    • Databases - lets you see a list and delete>
  • Clear History (button)
  • Clear Cookies (button)
  • Clear Cache (button)
  • Developer
    • Debug Console - ON/OFF

What preferences do you think are absolutely necessary in a mobile browser?

Posted by madhava at August 27, 2008 06:45 PM

Well, obviously, I'd want a form manager.

Posted by: Joe at August 27, 2008 08:41 PM


That screenshot brought Firefox to its knees. To actually pan over it, I had to, it in Safari. :/

Posted by: John Silvestri at August 28, 2008 12:40 AM

A little surprised that safari has debug console in it's preferences. But ok. I think safari got most of it. I would include the addons manager (if fennec has addons support of course :)), setting home page, ability to save form data, and password manager. (yeah, I know, adding 4 more options. Though you can consolidate clear cache/history/cookies to be 'clear private data').

Also, we have about:config, so it's all cool :)

Posted by: Cesar at August 28, 2008 01:53 AM

I would remove JavaScript & Pop-ups. Who wants to turn then OFF on mobile ? (and why ?)
No Debug Console too.

Posted by: Thomas at August 28, 2008 03:00 AM

The preferences dialog was one of the things I really loved about Firefox when I saw it (back when it was still called Phoenix or Firebird).

Posted by: Patrick Dubroy at August 28, 2008 08:40 AM

We can have a small subset of preferences part of the fennec but remaining preferences can be a different xul application. In that case, advanced users have the flexibility to set their preferences and at the same time, we don't overload the fennec.

Posted by: Niranjan at August 28, 2008 11:07 AM

Aside from relevant security/privacy settings... I'd say language preferences and default search engine.

Posted by: fantasai at August 28, 2008 08:56 PM

Hmm. Just curious... how did you make that image? Simply capturing screens and stiching it up by hand?

Posted by: Ville at August 31, 2008 04:58 AM

Ville -- I'm afraid so - screencaptures of the individual panels, and then pasting them into an ever-growing Omnigraffle document. The silver lining here, vs. an automated tool, is that, by the time you're done, you really know the diagram :)

Posted by: Madhava at September 2, 2008 10:42 AM
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