May 27, 2008

Download Manager in Firefox 3

The Download Manager has changed quite a bit, design-wise, for Firefox 3. Some of the most useful and prominent of these changes come in the form of additional functionality: a number of people have written about the great new ability to pause and resume downloads, whether manually or automatically (due to a computer crash or a laptop put to sleep).

Others of the changes are more subtle, and have more to do with simply lessening the effort involved in using the Manager. As always, improving the fit between human and software requires an understanding of what people are really trying to do — in the case of the Download Manager, people are usually involved in one of two main activities: (1) watching, and occasionally controlling, the progress of their downloads; and (2), finding files (or information about those files) that they've downloaded in the past.

Is it done yet?

In many ways, the best progress indicator is one that you don't actually have to watch. When a quick download finishes, it's useful to see the manager so that you can deal with the file right away. If a download is going to take a while though, people typically won't sit and watch — it makes more sense to get the Download Manager out of the way and get on with something else. It's still useful to have a cue that something is going on and an access point to the Download Manager, though, which is where the download progress indicator in the status bar comes from:

I remember downloading it...

The latter of the two main uses is that of finding files you'd downloaded earlier. To help out with this, we've surfaced details that correspond to what you might remember about the file you're seeking. Much of this information was previously available but obscured — you could see it once you'd found the file you wanted, but not when hunting for the file in the first place. For example:

  • The time or date, in a person-friendly format, is listed down the right-hand side of the window for easy scanability. If what you know is roughly when you downloaded the file in question, you can run down that column until you get to the range that's relevant.
  • The file name is obviously an important cue as to what a given file is — it's been made a little bigger so as to stand out amongst the other backup information we're now providing
  • When the file name is vague (document1.pdf?) or not meant for humans in the first place (xpz243ghb.exe), it can be very helpful to know where the file came from. To that end, we show the name of the site from which you got the file. For me, this is a bit of help that I now find I can't do without.

Once you've found the file you're after, you can open it (double click) or remove it (hit 'delete'), or, if you're after more information, right-click:

Of these options, the one that's new and that I find particularly useful is "Go to Download Page." If what you're after is not the file itself but where you got it, this will take you right there.

But I know what it's called!

Scanning through the list is made more productive now, but searching is even better. Here's an example of how searching, combined with the information we now surface, makes finding a downloaded file much simpler. Say I'm looking for take-out menus — I can just filter on menu:

What's interesting is that few of the filenames themselves contain the name of the restaurant, but I can see which one I'm after because we've listed the site names. These site names (along with all the text you can see on the screen) are searchable as well, which saves me in this situation: I'm looking for a menu from Juice For Life, but their name isn't in the file name:

And there's the file. Happy searching!

Posted by madhava at 01:18 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack