March 7, 2016 § 8 Comments
I remember a time, not so very long ago, when Gecko powered 4 or 5 non-Mozilla browsers, some of them on exotic platforms, as well as GPS devices, wysiwyg editors, geographic platforms, email clients, image editors, eBook readers, documentation browsers, the UX of virus scanners, etc, as well as a host of innovative and exotic add-ons. In these days, Gecko was considered, among other things, one of the best cross-platform development toolkits available.
The year is now 2016 and, if you look around, you’ll be hard-pressed to find Gecko used outside of Firefoxen (alright, and Thunderbird and Bluegriffon). Did Google or Apple or Microsoft do that? Not at all. I don’t know how many in the Mozilla community remember this, but this was part of a Mozilla strategy. In this post, I’d like to discuss this strategy, its rationale, and the lessons that we may draw from it.
November 6, 2015 § Leave a comment
In part 1, we discussed the design of time measurement within the Firefox Performance Monitor. Despite the intuition, the Performance Monitor had neither the same set of objectives as the Gecko Profiler, nor the same set of constraints, and we ended up picking a design that was not a sampling profiler. In particular, instead of capturing performance data on stacks, the Monitor captures performance data on Groups, a notion that we have not discussed yet. In this part, we will focus on bridging the gap between our low-level instrumentation and actual add-ons and webpages, as may be seen by the user.
Designing the Firefox Performance Stats Monitor, part 1: Measuring time without killing battery or performance
October 27, 2015 § Leave a comment
For a few versions, Firefox Nightly has been monitoring the performance of add-ons, thanks to the Performance Stats API. While we are waiting for the greenlight to let it graduate to Firefox Aurora, as well as investigating a few lingering false-positives, and while v2 is approaching steadily, it is time for a brain dump on this toolbox and its design.
The initial objective of this monitor is to be able to flag both add-ons and webpages that cause noticeable slowdowns, so as to let users disable/close whatever is making their use of Firefox miserable. We also envision more advanced uses that could let us find out if features of webpages cause slowdowns on specific OS/hardware combinations.
July 16, 2015 § Leave a comment
School year 2014-2015 is ending. It’s time for a brief report.
July 13, 2015 § 31 Comments
A long time ago, XUL was an extraordinary component of Firefox. It meant that front-end and add-on developers could deliver user interfaces in a single, mostly-declarative, language, and see them adapt automatically to the look and feel of each OS. Ten years later, XUL has become a burden: most of its features have been ported to HTML5, often with slightly different semantics – which makes Gecko needlessly complex – and nobody understands XUL – which makes contributions harder than they should be. So, we have reached a stage at which we basically agree that, in a not-too-distant future, Firefox should not rely upon XUL anymore.
But wait, it’s not the only thing that needs to change. We also want to support piecewise updates for Firefox. We want Firefox to start fast. We want the UI to remain responsive. We want to keep supporting add-ons. Oh, and we want contributors, too. And we don’t want to lose internationalization.
Mmmh… and perhaps we don’t want to restart Firefox from bare Gecko.
All of the above are worthy objectives, but getting them all will require some careful thought.
So I’d like to put together a list of all our requirements, against which we could evaluate potential solutions, re-architectures, etc. for the front-end:
- Get rid of the deprecated (XUL) bits of Gecko in a finite time.
- Don’t break Firefox .
- Firefox should start fast.
- The UI should not suffer from jank.
- The UI should not cause jank.
- Look and feel like a native app, even with add-ons.
- Keep supporting internationalization.
- Keep supporting lightweight themes.
- Keep supporting acccessibility.
- Use technologies that the world understands.
- Use technologies that are useful to add-on authors.
- Support piece-wise, restart-less front-end updates.
- Provide an add-ons API that won’t break.
- Code most of the front-end with the add-ons API.
 I have heard this claim contested. Some apparently suggest that we should actually break Firefox and base all our XUL-less, Go Faster initiatives on a clean slate from e.g. Browser.html or Servo. If you wish to defend this, please step forward 🙂
Does this sound like a correct list for all of you?
June 3, 2015 § 17 Comments
Gerv’s recent post on the Jeeves Test got me thinking of the Firefox of my dreams. So I decided to write down a few ideas on how I would like to experience the web. Today: Beyond Bookmarks. Let me emphasize that the features described in this blog post do not exist.
« Look, here is an interesting website. I want to read that content (or watch that video, or play that game), just not immediately. » So, what am I going to do to remember that I wish to read it later:
- Bookmark it?
- Save it to disk?
- Pocket it?
- Remember that I saw it and find it in my history later?
- Remember that I saw it and find it in my Awesome Bar later?
- Hope that it shows up in the New Tab page?
- Open a tab?
- Install the Open Web App for that website?
- Open a tab and put that tab in a tab group?
Wow, that’s 9 ways of fulfilling the same task. Having so many ways of doing the same thing is not a very good sign, so let’s see if we can find a way to unify a few of these abstractions into something more generic and powerful.
Bookmarking is saving is reading later
What are the differences between Bookmarking and Saving?
- Bookmarking keeps a URL, while Saving keeps a snapshot.
- Bookmarks can be used only from within the browser, while Saved files can be used only from without.
Merging these two features is actually quite easy. Let’s introduce a new button, the Awesome Bookmarks which will serve as a replacement for both the Bookmark button and Save As.
- Clicking on the Awesome Bookmarks icon saves both the URL to the internal database and a snapshot to the Downloads directory (also accessible through the Downloads menu).
- Opening an Awesome Bookmark, whether from the browser or from the OS both lead the user to (by default) the live version of the page, or (if the computer is not connected) to the snapshot.
- Whenever visiting a page that has an Awesome Bookmark, the Awesome Bookmark icon changes color to offer the user the ability to switch between the live version or the snapshot.
- The same page can be Awesome Bookmarked several times, offering the ability to switch between several snapshots.
By switching to Awesome Bookmarks, we have merged Saving, Bookmarking and the Read it Later list of Pocket. Actually, since Firefox already offers Sync and Social Sharing, we have just merged all the features of Pocket.
So we have removed collapsed items from our list into one.
Bookmarks are history are tiles
What are the differences between Bookmarks and History?
- History is recorded automatically, while Bookmarks need to be recorded manually.
- History is eventually forgotten, while Bookmarks are not.
- Bookmarks can be put in folders, History cannot.
Let’s keep doing almost that, but without segregating the views. Let us introduce a new view, the Awesome Pages, which will serve as a replacement for both Bookmarks Menu and the History Menu.
This view shows a grid of thumbnails of visited pages, iOS/Android/Firefox OS style.
- first the pages visited most often during the past few hours (with the option of scrolling for all the pages visited during the past few hours);
- then the Awesome Bookmarks (because, after all, the user has decided to mark these pages)/Awesome Bookmarks folders (with the option of scrolling for more favourites);
- then, if the user has opted in for suggestions, a set of Awesome Suggested Tiles (with the option of scrolling for more suggestions);
- then the pages visited the most often today (with the option of scrolling for the other pages visited today);
- then the pages visited most often this week (with the option of scrolling for the other pages visited this week);
By default, clicking on an Awesome Bookmark (or history entry, or suggested page, etc.) for a page that is already opened switches to that page. Non-bookmarked pages can be turned into Awesome Bookmarks trivially, by starring them or putting them into folders.
An Awesome Bar at the top of this Awesome Pages lets users quickly search for pages and folders. This is the same Awesome Bar that is already at the top of tabs in today’s Firefox, just with the full-screen Awesome Pages replacing the current drop-down menu.
Oh, and by the way, this Awesome Pages is actually our new New Tab page.
By switching to the Awesome Pages, we have merged:
- the history menu;
- the bookmarks menu;
- the new tab page;
- the awesome bar.
Bookmarks are tabs are apps
What are the differences between Bookmarks and Tabs?
- Clicking on a bookmark opens the page by loading it, while clicking on a tab opens the page by switching to it.
That’s not much of a difference, is it?
So let’s make a few more changes to our UX:
- Awesome Bookmarks record the state of the page, in the style of Session Restore, so clicking on an Awesome Bookmark actually restores that page, whenever possible, instead of reloading it;
- The ribbon on top of the browser, which traditionally contains tabs, is actually a simplified display of the Awesome Pages, which shows, by default, the pages most often visited during the past few hours;
- Whether clicking on a ribbon item switches to a page or restores it is an implementation detail, which depends on whether the browser has decided that unloading a page was a good idea for memory/CPU/battery usage;
- Replace Panorama with the Awesome Page, without further change.
So, with a little imagination (and, I’ll admit, a little hand-waving), we have merged tabs and bookmarks. Interestingly, we have done that by moving to an Apps-like model, in which whether an application is loaded or not is for the OS to decide, rather than the user.
By the way, what are the differences between Tabs and Open Web Apps?
- Apps can be killed by the OS, while Tabs cannot.
- Apps are visible to the OS, while Tabs appear in the browser only.
Well, if we decide that Apps are just Bookmarks, since Bookmarks have been made visible to the OS in section 1., and since Bookmarks have just been merged with Tabs which have just been made killable by the browser, we have our Apps model.
We have just removed three more items from our list.
We are down to one higher-level abstraction (the Awesome Bookmark) and one view of it (the Awesome Page). Of course, if this is eventually released, we are certainly going to call both Persona.
This new Firefox is quite different from today’s Firefox. Actually, it looks much more like Firefox OS, which may be a good thing. While I realize that many of the details are handwavy (e.g. how do you open the same page twice simultaneously?), I believe that someone smarter than me can do great things with this preliminary exploration.
I would like to try that Firefox. Would you?