January 2010

For Firefox 4, we’re thinking of replacing the home button with a home tab. It would be a mini-tab, not taking up any more space than the current home button; it would still be “click to go home”, but “home” would be a special page that is always open in a tab.

If the contents of that special page are useful, this could be a great feature. Because the home tab is part of the browser, like an extension, it would be able to do things that a normal web page can’t, like use statistics about your browsing habits to show you useful things. On the other hand, if the contents of the home tab aren’t useful, then it’s a pointless feature.

Given that… what would you put on the home tab?

That’s the question asked by the latest Mozilla Labs Design Challenge, which is open right now. If you have some ideas, go check it out!

We’re not having a Design Lunch this week, because no topics were submitted.

If you want to see more Design Lunches, then submit a topic! Just let me know what you want to talk about, and add yourself to the Design Lunch schedule wiki page. Simple as that. Remember, design lunch is a service that we run; the purpose is to get more eyeballs and more feedback for your design problem. It can’t exist without design problems to talk about!

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for something to do this Thursday during lunchtime, I encourage you to go to Murali’s brown bag talk on risk analysis of the code changes in Firefox in 2009.

Blake (who generated all the cool graphs I’ve been using to present Test Pilot results) has used the session data from the Week-in-the-Life study to form an interesting hypothesis: That Firefox crashes per user follow a power-law distribution. If true, the power-law distribution means that “mean crashes” and “typical experience” are two very different things.

I should emphasize that the Week-in-the-Life study was not really designed to look at crashes, so I’d rather do a follow-up study specifically targeting this hypothesis before I support it with any confidence. But, as Blake says:

If our crash data follows a similar distribution, the average crash per user metric tells us little about the experience of a typical Firefox user.

Anecdotal evidence supports this hypothesis. While we all know people who swear by Firefox’s stability, we also know people who complain of frequent failures.

With this in mind, I suggest we use Test Pilot to run a longitudinal study of true Firefox crashes.

Agreed! And it’s great to see more hypotheses coming out of the Test Pilot data!

We’re having a Labs Night tomorrow evening, starting at 6pm PST, at the Mozilla Mountain View office. It’s the first one in a while.

Jinghua, Blake, and I will be presenting some Test Pilot results there. It should be pretty fun. There’s free food, too, as long as you sign up in advance.

See you there!

Lost Garden is a blog worth following if you’re into usability topics. It’s primarily about video game design, but it’s game design from a psychology perspective and its insights are highly applicable to other kinds of software design as well. I first heard of Danc, the author of Lost Garden, through his presentation called Princess-Rescuing Applications, which is about how video games are actually highly targeted teaching tools in disguise, about how the sensation of “fun” comes from self-directed learning in a safe environment, and how we can apply that lesson to make productivity software easy and even fun to learn.

Now it seems like someone at Microsoft -specifically Microsoft Office Labs – has taken that lesson to heart and created a game meant to teach Office skills. It’s called Ribbon Hero. Lost Garden has an in-depth post about it here.

Even if “Ribbon Hero” doesn’t sound very exciting to you, I think this is an idea with a lot of potential and an exciting approach to improving usability of large, complex apps. I’ll be keeping a close eye on its development.

Edited to add: After watching the Office Labs video, I think one thing they’re missing in the current prototype is that the way the tasks are described to the player uses a lot of Office jargon, e.g. “change the orientation from portrait to landscape”. This jargon is in itself one of the barriers to learning complex productivity apps, so I think Ribbon Hero would be better if it described challenges without jargon, and made learning the terminology part of the game process too.

Mozilla has a Design Lunch every Thursday at lunchtime. The idea is that one or more people bring design questions that they’re working on – whatever is currently puzzling them. They present their design questions and the audience provides feedback and suggestions. I’ve been the MC of these lunches since we started them last year.

From now on I’m going to be announcing all the design lunches on this blog so that they’ll show up on Planet Mozilla. (This seems like such an obvious thing that I don’t know why I haven’t been doing it until now.)

So! Today’s Design Lunch will be on the Support.mozilla.org forums and how to improve them. It will be broadcast on air.mozilla.com starting at 12:30 PST today.

We’re broadcasting a launch event right now on Air Mozilla. So far it’s a lot of people at a table typing on laptops, so a little like watching C-Span, but later (9PM PST) I’ll be doing some live interviews with various folks who contributed to making 3.6.

Today also happens to be my 30th birthday. It’s a good day all around!

Edited to add: you can watch the progress of 3.6 downloads on an animated world map.

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