March 2009


Back in — oh, I think it was around 1991 — I had a book called Stupid Mac Tricks, which came with a 3.25 inch floppy disk of INIT files that you could drop into the System Folder on your (or your victim’s) Mac to make it do strange, funny, annoying, and useless things. It was a cool demonstration of what the Mac was capable of, and it inspired me (at age 11) to start on the road to hackerdom.

Stupid Mac Tricks was the inspiration for a presentation I did last Monday for the Design Challenge. It featured the following extensions:

  1. Menubar Madness, which turns all your menus names backwards.
  2. Dodgy Navbar, which makes the buttons in your navigation bar randomly reorder themselves when you click on them.
  3. Kittens Everywhere, which replaces every image on the web with random LOLcats images.
  4. Bookmarks and Preferences, which… actually, this one doesn’t do anything too wacky, it just shows how an extension can set bookmarks and preferences.

For each extension, I took the students through the source code, explained how it worked, and had them do a few simple modifications on each one to get a little hands-on experience. Even though you would never want to, you know, install any of these extensions (at least not on any copy of Firefox you want to be able to actually use…), each one demonstrates techniques that are very useful for advanced extension development. My intention was to make a follow-up to Myk’s Extension Development Bootcamp. Techniques demonstrated include dynamic manipulation of both the XUL and HTML DOM trees, using XPCOM, setting up event handlers, using overlays to replace attributes of XUL elements, using DOM Inspector to find elements you want to overlay, running code on page load, and using XmlHttpRequest. That’s a lot of stuff! I probably erred on the side of trying to cram too many contents into one presentation.

Oh well. It’s all online now, so you can peruse it if you’re interested in learning more about extension development. Here’s the links:

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Labs is currently running a Design Challenge, in which design students from around the world are taking their ideas for the interfaces of the future from the initial concept through to a working prototype.

We’re doing a series of web seminars to help these students learn the skills they’ll need to complete their prototypes.

One of these tutorial sessions, taught by Myk Melez, is now up on the web in video form for public consumption:

Extension Bootcamp: Zero to Hello World! in 45 Minutes

If you’ve ever been interested in writing a Firefox extension, but never knew how to get started, then this is the one for you. Despite the title, it’s actually over 90 minutes long. Nevertheless, I highly recommend finding 90 spare minutes to follow along with Myk’s awesomely thorough tutorial. I honestly don’t think there’s ever been a better way to learn the basics of extension development.

Fennec Beta 1 was released yesterday! And there was great rejoicing!

To go with it, we’ve released Milestone 5 of Weave, including a lot of bug fixes and UI polish improvements to the Fennec version, and an improvement to the caching algorithm that makes syncing up to 3x faster. Weave is now hosted on addons.mozilla.org, so you can get it there.

Anyway, I noticed that a lot of people have been linking to my previous post, with its embarassingly ugly proto-UI for selecting a tab to open. I wanted to show you the new and greatly improved UI, with a more informative display, selectable sort order and much larger click targets:

new_fennec_weave_tab_ui

I wrote up a tutorial explaining how to install Fennec on an N810, and how to install, configure, and use Weave on Fennec, in case you’re interested in helping us test it out.

Since the fall quarter of last year, HCI student and Ubiquity community contributor Zac Lym has been doing good work testing Ubiquity on new users. Although the study included only a small number of users, it’s an important one since it’s the first and only rigorously derived usability data we have on Ubiquity. The users in this study had no prior exposure to or preconceptions about the Ubiquity interface, and the experimenter gave them no help using it; so the problems and frustrations they encounter give us insight about the specific areas where Ubiquity needs improvement in discoverability and learnability.

The primary material resulting from the research is a series of videos of users in action. Zac has made these videos available on the Mozilla wiki along with write-ups of his methodology and his findings. These findings are well worth reading in full for anyone interested in improving the Ubiquity user experience.

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