December 3, 2009
In my last post, I described some of the ways that we’d like to improve the add-ons manager. First, we’d like to fix some of the add-ons manager’s usability problems, such as confusing installation processes and distracting notifications. There’s also some new functionality that the add-ons manager needs to provide, such as better information about add-ons and incorporation of newer projects such as personas. It was clear from the feedback that developers as well as users would like to see the maintenance and configuration of add-ons become easier.
The Add-ons Manager as a Tab
A few commenters on my last post highlighted problems caused by the add-ons manager being a separate window. It can get lost among other windows, be as distracting as a pop-up ad when giving a notification, and means part of the browser UI being modified is obscured. A potential solution that I think addresses these well is moving the add-ons manger into the content area of the Firefox, so that it runs in a tab. Here’s a few benefits this design provides:
- Gives more screen real estate to the add-ons manager. This would allow enough room for useful add-on information, scanning an entire add-ons inventory, and functionality like add-on preferences.
- Presents a less fragmented browser experience. Firefox’s chrome is basically a frame in which users go about their online life. But to modify that frame, users have to jump outside of it and onto a floating window. Modifying add-ons in the content space means the user never has to leave their tabbed browsing. Also, they can see all changes their add-ons make rather than having those changes obscured by a window.
- Allows for a similar add-ons experience across different devices. Running the add-ons manager in a tab means that an internet-capable device does not need a separate window or menu to modify add-ons – any device which can open a window can use add-ons in the same way as a desktop computer. Add-on management on mobile devices, tablet computers, and fullscreen mode would all provide the same experience. This is a huge win as the web becomes less about the device it runs on and more about the user, who may access the web on multiple devices.
Designing such an add-ons manager is a challenge we’re actively engaged in. The final design must feel like it’s a part of Firefox rather than a website, even if it’s displayed within a tab. It must also be unspoofable. Below is a rough wireframe of the design direction that we are considering.