things that interest me this week – 29 oct 2014

Quick Update: A couple of people mentioned there’s no Mozilla items in here. They’re right, and it’s primarily because the original audience of this type of thing was Mozilla. I’ll make sure I add them where relevant, moving forward.

Every week I put together a bunch of news items I think are interesting to the people I work with, and that’s usually limited to a couple wiki pages a handful of people read. I figured I may as well put it in a couple other places, like here, and see if people are interested. Topics focus on the web, the technologies that power it, and the platforms that make use of it. I work for Mozilla, but these are my own opinions and takes on things.

I try to have three sections:

  • Something to Think About – Something I’m seeing a company doing that I think is important, why I think it’s important, and sometimes what I think should be done about it. Some weeks these won’t be around, because they tend to not show their faces much.
  • Worth a Read – Things I think are worth the time to read if you’re interested in the space as a whole. Limited to three items max, but usually two. If you don’t like what’s in here, tell me why.
  • Notes – Bits and bobs people may or may not be interested in, but that I think are significant, bear watching, or are of general interest.

I’ll throw these out every Wednesday, and standard disclaimers apply – this is what’s in my brain, and isn’t representative of what’s in anyone else’s brain, especially the folks I work with at Mozilla. I’ll also throw a mailing list together if there’s interest, and feedback is always welcome (your comment may get stuck in a spam-catcher, don’t worry, I’ll dig it out).

– k

Something to Think About

Lifehacker posted an article this morning around all the things you can do from within Chrome’s address bar. Firefox can do a number of the same things, but it’s interesting to see the continual improvements the Chrome team has made around search (and service) integration, and also the productivity hacks (like searching your Google drive without actually going there) that people come up with to make a feature more useful than it’s intended design.

Why I think people should care: Chrome’s modifications to the address bar aren’t ground-breaking, nor are they changes that came about overnight. They are a series of iterative changes to a core function that work well with Google’s external services, and focus on increasing utility which, not coincidentally, increases the value and stickiness of the Google experience as a whole. Continued improvements to existing features (and watching how people are riffing on those features) is a good thing, and is something to consider as part of our general product upkeep, particularly around the opportunity to do more with services (both ours, and others) that promote the open web as a platform.

Worth a Read

  • Benedict Evans updated his popular “Mobile Is Eating the World” presentation, and posits that mobile effectively ”is” everything technology today. I think it needs a “Now” at the end, because what he’s describing has happened before, and will happen again. Mobile is a little different currently, mainly because of the gigantic leaps in hardware for fewer dollars that continue to be made as well as carrier subsidies fueling 2-year upgrade cycles. Mobile itself is also not just phones, it’s things other than desktops and laptops that have a network connection. Everything connected is everything. He’s also put together a post on Tablets, PCs and Office that goes a little bit into technology cycles and how things like tablets are evolving to fill more than just media consumption needs, but the important piece he pushes in both places is the concept of network connected screens being the window to your stuff, and the platform under the screen being a commodity (e.g. processing power is improving on every platform to the point the hardware platform is mattering less) that is really simply the interface that better fits the task at hand.
  • Ars Technica has an overview of some of the more interesting changes in Lollipop which focus on unbundling apps and APIs to mitigate fragmentation risk, an enhanced setup process focusing on user experience, and the shift in the Nexus brand from a market-share builder to a premium offering.
  • Google’s Sundar Pichai was promoted last week in a move that solidifies Google’s movement towards a unified, backend-anchored, multi-screen experience. Pichai is a long time Google product person, and has been fronting the Android and Chrome OS (and a couple other related services) teams, and now takes on Google’s most important web properties as well, including Gmail, Search, AdSense, and the infrastructure that runs it. This gives those business units inside Google better alignment around company goals, and shows the confidence Google has in Pichai. Expect further alignment in Google’s unified experience movement through products like Lollipop, Chrome OS, Inbox and moving more Google Account data (and related experiences like notifications and Web Intents) into the cloud, where it doesn’t rely on a specific client and can be shared/used on any connected screen.


Mozilla Firefox – Reset Your Profile, Recharge Your Browser

One of the best features in Firefox is one of its least-known. Many, many people complain of Firefox feeling slow and bloated over time, and in a number of cases, they’re not wrong. They just don’t know that surfing the web can be analogous to playing Katamari Damacy, where simply browsing can accumulate cruft until you have this big ball of metadata that slows you down.

If you find your Firefox experience is sub-par and a little more pokey than you’d like, you should try resetting your profile before moving over to another product. You should know that your preferences, extensions, and themes will be reset/removed, but since you’re planning on installing Chrome or another browser, I’m willing to bet that’s ok (and you should back your profile up before you do this, just in case). Your browsing history, bookmarks, and form info will be saved, and that’s the important thing.

To reset your profile, open up Help->Troubleshooting Information from the Help menu, and click the reset button. This simple procedure will cure most things that ail you performance-wise with Firefox. You should also read our support article on Resetting Your Firefox Profile, which will give you the the full scoop on what happens when you click.

There, doesn’t that feel better?

Repurposing Build Your Own Browser

Over two years ago we launched Build Your Own Browser as a way to create customized versions of Firefox that could be shared with friends, family, and affinity groups. Since that time we’ve had almost 6,000 individual registrations and almost 4,000 customized versions of Firefox submitted for distribution. We’re very happy with the response we’ve received, and have learned a lot during the time since we launched.

Moving forward we’re going to be re-focusing Build Your Own Browser as a customization framework, and will be shutting the current website down at the end of this month. The product will live on, but future versions will be the engine that creates customized versions of Firefox behind other web applications instead of web application in its own right.

Customized versions of Firefox that have passed review will continue to be available through 20:00 Eastern on June 30th 2012, after which the site will be closed and all account and build information deleted. If you’ve been using Build Your Own Browser to create customized builds for your organization, we recommend that you join the Enterprise Working Group mailing list, where browser customization for organizations is discussed at length.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who’s used Build Your Own Browser over the past two years. It’s been a great learning experience, and we hope to take what we’ve learned with Build Your Own Browser and use it to power newer, easier-to-use customization applications in the near future.

Mozilla Firefox Extended Support Release

Just a quick note that the Mozilla Firefox Extended Support Release (ESR) is now available. The ESR is based on Mozilla Firefox 10, and is intended to be used by organizations that deploy Firefox in a managed desktop environment. You can read more about the Windows, Mac, and Linux installers from the Mozilla website, and additional information can be found in the Firefox ESR FAQ. Organizations who use the Firefox ESR are also strongly encouraged to join the Mozilla Enterprise User Working Group; a discussion group focused on sharing information related to Firefox deployments.

firefox release dates

Update: Asa put a calendar up that is much better, as it covers all release channels, not just the main line.

because I am always, always trying to figure out when a particular release of Firefox is coming out.

big-assed disclaimer: this assumes unwavering adherence to releasing every six weeks. I will update this page if something happens.

also, New Year’s Day in 2013 is gonna hurt.

Firefox Beta Aurora
27-Sep-11 7 8 9
8-Nov-11 8 9 10
20-Dec-11 9 10 11
31-Jan-12 10 11 12
13-Mar-12 11 12 13
24-Apr-12 12 13 14
5-Jun-12 13 14 15
17-Jul-12 14 15 16
28-Aug-12 15 16 17
9-Oct-12 16 17 18
20-Nov-12 17 18 19
1-Jan-13 18 19 20
12-Feb-13 19 20 21
26-Mar-13 20 21 22
7-May-13 21 22 23
18-Jun-13 22 23 24
30-Jul-13 23 24 25
10-Sep-13 24 25 26
22-Oct-13 25 26 27

Adobe Security Updates for Flash, Reader, and Shockwave Plugins (plus bonus Silverlight & Java updates)

On June 14th 2011 Adobe released updates for its Flash, Reader, and Shockwave plugins to address critical security vulnerabilities in those products. Also getting in on the update fun recently was Microsoft, with a new version of Silverlight and Oracle, who released an update to Java last week that addressed 17 security vulnerabilities.

If you use any of these plugins, you should update them as soon as possible.

If you are unsure of what plugins you have installed and whether they need to be updated, you can visit Mozilla’s Plugin Check. Plugin Check is a web app which helps you identify what plugins you have installed, whether they need to be updated, and where to get the updates.

Related Links:


I joined Mozilla in early 2007 to work with a number of our partners, assisting them with creation and distribution of customized versions of Firefox. My role also involved outreach with organizations that interact with Firefox, a little liaising between orgs, and a lot of advocacy of the Mozilla Foundation, it’s principles, projects, and its goals. We’ve come a long way since I started and, with the introduction of Build Your Own Browser and the framework behind it, custom distributions will require less care and feeding moving forward.

As a result, I’ll be re-focusing a little bit, and will be working with the Products team under Jay Sullivan. I’ll still be interacting a great deal with our partners, but will be focusing on improving interactions between Mozilla’s and our partner’s products and services end-to-end, with the end goal of improving the user experience. Mozilla Firefox for Android is going to be awesome (heck, it _is_ awesome already), and I’ll be working with Android OEMs to help integrate and distribute Firefox with their products. Finally, I’ll continue with outreach to our various partners to make sure they’re aware of what’s coming with Firefox 4 and beyond, and to make sure they’re aware of (and participate in) initiatives like Content Security Policy (CSP).

Some things won’t change. I’ll continue to work with our distribution partners, customization policy, and on Build Your Own Browser. With a bunch of folks in the community and here at Mozilla, I hope to push on Enterprise uptake, as well as product and service changes that will facilitate adoption behind corporate firewalls. I’ll also continue to act as a liaison where needed, and will help folks at Mozilla track down people in our partner’s organizations.

There’s a tonne to be done, and it’s almost overwhelming, but it’s also exciting as all get out. I’m really happy I have the opportunity to work in the areas I am. I’ll be posting an awful lot more, and might even post useful information finally on Twitter (although I make no promises).

So, those are my changes. I’m chuffed.

on using Firefox at work

We’ve had some good press in the last month or two, notably IBM’s announcement of Firefox as its default browser, and a Forrester Research report stating that Firefox has a 20% share in the companies they surveyed. I think it’s important that we have a good story for getting Firefox into the hands of people in the work environment, but the story needs to be put together. This is where you come in.

At the Mozilla Summit a week and a half ago, I gave a 30-minute talk on some of the challenges the IT groups that support us face with deploying Firefox. It’s not a new discussion by any means, but it’s something I’d like to raise awareness on within the community and actively contribute to addressing. I wanted to get people thinking about all the bits outside the product at a high level, and called out what I think are the important parts along with what we’ll need to do. It’s not exhaustive, but I think it got the point across, and there were some great follow-on conversations that are on-going.

Our mission is to promote openness, innovation, and opportunity on the web. Making it easier for organizations to use our products in their workplace is a great opportunity to take that message to them. There’s a lot of people who use us at home, but who’d also love to use us at work. I want to help make that happen and, thankfully, I’m not alone.

The end game is to improve support for groups that are looking to get Firefox into the hands of their organization’s users, and to get the working group that addresses these problems spun back up to share how they do it with everyone else. There’s interest from organizations that want to use Firefox in their workplace, and a need for information on how to do it repeatably. The latter part is the tricksy bit, and I’m hoping to work on this with some like-minded individuals in the short and long term.

A few people have asked for the slides, so I figured I’d post them here. My presentation slides can be viewed using Google Docs, and if you want them in an editable format all you have to do is ask. I’d love to hear what you think, and would also love for you to get involved. If you’re interested in participating, add your name to the Working Group’s Participants section; I hope to reboot the group at the end of the summer, and will be in touch.

build your own browser maintenance jun 27 and 29, 2010

just a quick note that the build your own browser application will be down for maintenance on Sunday, June 27th between 0700 and 0900 Eastern (1100-1300 UTC), and Tuesday, June 29th between 0700 and 0900 Eastern (1100-1300 UTC). we’ll be increasing storage for customized distributions and pushing code updates (respectively), and the application will be unavailable for the duration of both windows.

if you think there’s any reason why this maintenance shouldn’t proceed, please let me know in the comments, or drop me a line via the BYOB contact form. I don’t foresee the maintenance taking longer than the allotted time, but sometimes stuff happens that can extend the window, and I’ll update this post if any additional time is required.

revisiting search

Mozilla Firefox has had a search bar since its initial release, and has helped to change the way our users look up information by giving them a single interface to a variety of search services. It’s also had search services in the location bar, but they’re not as accessible or (arguably) useful as what’s offered by the search bar. There have been minor tweaks along the way to how these work, but nothing fundamental has changed with respect to search features in Firefox since its original release. We need to change that. Starting now.

Search behaviours have changed, and there are a number of new – and sometimes even different – search service providers out there. Unfortunately, our users don’t always realize how many options are available to them through Firefox, the websites they visit, and search-related add-ons. Our users today are using search to find other people, stuff that’s close to them, what everyone’s talking about right now, and a host of other things, and we should be making that as easy as possible for them.

Aside from the great UI work being considered, like moving the search bar into the location bar, I think there’s considerably more we need to do across a number of domains. I’d like for us to start exploring how we improve the use and utility of search in Mozilla’s products and services, particularly:

1. What kind of information are our users searching for, and who is best-positioned to provide the most relevant information for those searches?

The web has matured in the last five years, and people are using different search services for specific tasks. We should categorize the search services that are available in Firefox, and ensure they’re relevant to the task at hand for the people who use them. The Fennec team has developed its search interface with this in mind, providing search services for different tasks that our user base performs on a regular basis, and I think this is something we should build on.

2. Are we doing a good job meeting the needs of the users in each locale we support?

Every locale we support starts with the default list of providers we offer in the US English version of Firefox. Our amazing localization teams have created these lists to add search services that are more relevant to their locales and the users in them, and they do a great job. I’d like to ensure we all have a better understanding of who those providers are, and what, if any, alternatives there are per locale. From there we can build on the categorization process, and provide a truly global list of search services for our users.

3. How can we help our users discover and use the options available to them?

There are several search features in the browser, along with search options other than what we provide by default in our search bar. We need to make it easy for users to add to the list of search engines to the list of defaults we provide, to discover that there are add-ons that enhance search utility, and that they can change things like the default search provider(s). The mechanics behind these features could be improved considerably, and we should make changes to both to make them more usable by our publishers and users alike.

4. What does our search wish list look like?

We should think hard about what we’d like to change in Firefox to make search better, as well as where we should incorporate search services and which services should be offered. We don’t need to constrain ourselves to how we’ve done things thus far, and should consider including anything and everything that will help. If we could get things just by asking, would they include things like:

  • add-on searches and discovery
  • suggestions on error pages
  • better user control of search preferences
  • context-sensitive searches by website
  • searches from within new tabs
  • insert your idea here (and in the comments!)

The net result of this process should be a list of new services and features we can incorporate into the Mozilla project and its individual products, and would encompass all of the information assembled. The idea is to get people thinking, and come up with a public plan for improving search across the board to keep our products relevant and useful.

None of these ideas are new, and have been considered at different times by individual groups or people. They touch the user, the product, our content providers, localization and add-on communities, and almost every functional organization at Mozilla, and requires the input of same. As such, they’ll always be considered individually unless we shift from a tactical mode of thinking to something a little more strategic. I’d like to kick things off so we can start driving towards that.

The sky should be the limit, and we shouldn’t constrain ourselves to any particular mindset.

So, how do you think search should work?