Salon on Mozilla

Tuesday March 12th, 2002

A number of people have submitted this article, and while it's not really news, it's just another example of how Mozilla is starting to win people over. This is also beneficial to the evangelism efforts going on.

#49 This reply is too long, but what the hell

by mpthomas

Thursday March 14th, 2002 12:42 PM

You are replying to this message

"Hmm, no users think we have better image and animation controls?"

Mozilla's image and animation controls are better than MSIE's in one respect -- they let you block images from particular servers. (Neither browser lets you filter by image dimensions, natch.) Unfortunately, that is outweighed by several aspects in which MSIE's controls are better. (1) They're in a `Web Browser' category branch (together with prefs for sounds, frames, and style sheets), rather than being nonsensically hidden in a `Privacy & Security' branch. (2) They don't encourage masochism by offering a bizarre `Ask me before downloading an image' option. (3) They're much more obviously and concisely worded. (4) When you specify that animated images should not loop, and you load a page containing an animated image, MSIE waits until you have (a) brought the window to the front and (b) scrolled to view the image, before animating it -- so that you don't miss anything. You may need to reread that last sentence to grasp the level of polish we're talking about here.

> Or better cookie management?

Again, Mozilla's cookie management is better in one respect: Mozilla lets you set a maximum lifetime for cookies. Again, that is outweighed by several aspects in which MSIE's cookie management is superior. (1) MSIE lets you accept or decline all cookies from a particular domain the first time such a cookie is sent; Mozilla does not. (2) MSIE lets you examine the cookie data in the cookie alert; Mozilla does not. (3) MSIE avoids using the evil `Yes' and `No' as button text in its cookie alerts; Mozilla does not. (4) MSIE fits all its cookie UI, *including* the list of accepted/declined cookies and sites, comfortably into a single preferences panel; Mozilla sprawls it over a preferences panel and two badly-laid-out tabs.

Hopefully Doron will be working on (1), (2), and (3) in the near future, implementing a more convenient alert design than that used in MSIE (read: fewer clicks required), so that Mozilla will become the browser of choice for the cookie connoisseur. At the moment, though, it's not.

"Or better javascript and window (popup) controls?"

Sure, in that respect Mozilla kicks MSIE's posterior. :-) That's the main reason why I designed them and encouraged Doron to get them implemented and checked in. (The other reason was that I was reasonably confident I wouldn't be wasting my time, because Netscape UE people wouldn't care enough to get involved and foul it up.) However, they are still a feature for relatively advanced users, especially since they're hidden in the `Advanced' category (fixing that requires redoing the prefs dialog completely, alas). And for just toggling Javascript on and off occasionally, MSIE is quicker than Mozilla, because MSIE remembers which preferences panel you were on last whereas Mozilla does not. Mozilla could easily be *much* better than MSIE in that respect, if the Preferences Bar was checked in to the trunk.

"Or better history and bookmarks management?"

Mozilla's bookmarks management is conceptually much better than the Organize Favorites dialog MSIE for Windows (organizing bookmarks in a *dialog*? WTF?), and its Bookmarks menu is considerably less convoluted than the Favorites menu in MSIE for Mac OS, though in both cases the bugginess of Mozilla's implementation leaves them about even.

As for history, however, there's no contest. It's late evening. How do you find a page you visited early this morning in MSIE? (1) Bonk the `History' button in the toolbar. (2) Open the server's folder (Windows), or scroll down to the morning's pages (Mac). (3) Click the item you want. You're done. Now, how do you find a page you visited early this morning in Mozilla? You can't use the Sidebar, because the History panel isn't in it by default, and (being an average user) you haven't figured out how to customize it yet. So. (1) Open the `Tasks' menu. (Wtf is `Tasks', anyway?) (2) Go to the `Tools' *submenu*, and choose `History'. (3) Click the triangle next to the folder (not the folder itself, of course) for `Today', which is annoyingly collapsed by default. (4) Click on the triangle next to the folder (not the folder itself, of course) for the server you want. (5) Click -- whoops, no, *double*-click -- on the item you want. You're done, eventually.

"Or a better sidebar?"

Yet again, Mozilla's sidebar is better in one respect: it's more customizable. (If you can work out how to customize it, of course -- right now I'm looking at a `Tabs' menu which is grayed out even though it's enabled. Hmmmmm.) And yet again, this is outweighed by several other aspects. Mozilla's sidebar is uglier, it doesn't slide in and out so that a beginning user knows where it came from, it's on by default, it has a close box which looks like a refugee from MS Windows, there's no Scrapbook panel, there's no Page Holder panel, and in every case where Mozilla *does* have an equivalent to a MSIE panel, MSIE's panel is better designed. For example, in the Search panel there is no visible Search button (it's *completely* outside the default sidebar width), the results appear in the content area *as well as* the sidebar (if I wanted them to appear in the content area, I would have DONE THE SEARCH in the @#$!ing content area!), the results don't wrap (because it's a XUL tree rather than HTML) and can't be scrolled (because the scrollbar is completely outside the default sidebar width), and the button at the bottom says `Bookmark t'. Bookmark *what*?

"Or better search plugin support?"

MSIE's toolbar has an optional `Sherlock' button. Is Mozilla's search plug-in support, or search UI, better than Sherlock's? Not bloody likely. (Even though Sherlock's UI is pretty bad.)

"Or a better javascript console?"

[end-user] A better *what*? [/end-user]

"Or better at not taking out the Windows taskbar or desktop?"

Sorry, I'm not omniscient enough to understand what you mean here.

"No users prefer our tabbed browsing or choice of themes or think we just look nicer?"

Hah. If Mozilla looked as nice as MSIE (or as nice as Chimera, even), it wouldn't need themes, as those browsers don't. Unfortunately you can't theme away basic poor UI, such as the clutter of the component bar, or the non-centeredness of the address field.

"No users think that bookmark custom keywords or our password manager make Mozilla more usable than IE?"

Oh, a few users think custom keywords are cool (I know you're one of them), especially those users who regularly enter commands such as `ls' and `mv' elsewhere. (Custom keywords are also available in MSIE for Windows, but you need to hack the Registry to enable them. I wonder why.) As for the Password Manager, I estimate that in its current state removing it from Mozilla completely would result in a net increase in users.

"I guess they're lying or confused when they make these claims."

That's not very charitable of you, Asa. You should treat your users with more respect than that. Certainly, there are users who prefer the features in Mozilla -- such as they are -- to the features in MSIE. Currently those users amount to what, about 0.9 percent of the browser-using population? For the vast majority of end users, however, those occasional advantages just aren't *noticable*. By the time they realize that they can set a maximum lifetime for cookies, or block images by server, or customize the sidebar, they've long since given up because they can't even have a Home button in the toolbar without having the whole @#$! `Personal Toolbar' turned on.

Now, our job is to increase that 0.9 percent -- by designing, fixing, testing, documenting, and distributing improvements to the many areas where Mozilla is deficient. Fanatically denying that room for improvement exists won't get you anywhere.

"Maybe we should work really hard to convince them ... that they would be much better off using IE."

No thanks -- MSIE isn't Free Software, and it's currently being used to maintain a harmful OS monopoly.

"I wonder how it is that cnet users rate IE 6 so much lower than Netscape 6"

Let me enlighten you, then. I've been trying IE 6 over the past couple of weeks at work (not my choice). As far as I can tell, overall it's *worse* than IE 5 in several respects. So even though it remains dauntingly better than Mozilla, people are likely to express their disappointment in it by giving it a poor rating. Conversely, Netscape 6.2 and 6.1 (which, you remember, CNet infamously conflated into a single entity) are massively better than Netscape 6.0, so people are likely to express their approval of the improvement by giving Netscape a good rating.

-- mpt