March 27, 2008

The AMO Experience

The new version of AMO (addons.mozilla.org) went live overnight:

Basil and Morgamic have already blogged about it, and what's new, but I wanted to pipe up and add my congratulations to the AMO/webdev team, AMO editors, and localizers for the really tremendous effort that's gone into overhauling the site.

This release is particularly exciting for me, partly because the wireframes and interaction-model for the site were the first things I worked on when I arrived at Mozilla. Also, though, because alongside the re-skinning and reorganization of the site, I think we've managed to improve the user-experience of finding and installing add-ons in a number of interesting ways:

  • Being smarter about version compatibility
    In the past, a user has had to check to see whether the current version of his wanted add-on was compatible with the version of the browser he was running. I suspect that most users don't really know what version of the browser they're running (especially in a world with auto-updating) - nor should they have to! Comparing numbers is one of those tasks for which we have computers in the first place.

    We've built some logic for this into the new "Add to Firefox" buttons — we detect what you've come to AMO with, and present you with more human-friendly options:


  • Making search more prominent

    A majority, or very nearly, of people looking for add-ons will search for them. In the past, our search field and controls have been hard to find. There's no missing it now:


  • Making it easier to see preview images
    For a user browsing through the add-ons catalog, there's really nothing that delivers quicker understanding of what an add-on does than screenshots. A preview image is now a prominent part an add-on's listing, wherever it shows up; thumbnails of an add-on's preview images are visible at a glance on its details page; and users can bring up full size versions of each thumbnail (and advance through a slideshow) without ever navigating to another page.


There's more that's new, of course, and Basil's post does a great job of itemizing them.

Between the new AMO, the recent additions to the Add-ons Manager, and cleaning up the install process (a clearer install confirmation dialog and doing away with the install whitelist), I think that it will never have been easier to customize Firefox with add-ons.

Posted by madhava at 01:57 PM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

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 07:21 PM | Comments (8)