A New Front Door

Add-ons are one of Firefox’s best features, and no matter which of the thousands you’ve tried, there’s one thing they all share: the Add-ons Manager. You know, this thing:

Screenshots of current Add-ons Manager

It’s where add-ons can be installed, disabled, removed, searched, and oftentimes tweaked. It’s used quite a lot, and is how many Firefox users discover the existence of add-ons. It has largely remained the same for a number of years, with the addition of the “Get Add-ons” pane in Firefox 3 that shows several recommended add-ons and allows for searching the Firefox Add-ons gallery for new add-ons. Approximately 20% of add-on downloads come directly from the Add-ons Manager, mostly from the recommended add-ons.

A number of folks on the add-ons and Firefox teams have been working the past few months on how to improve the way add-ons are managed in the browser in hopes of revamping this dialog in time for the next big release of Firefox.

Jennifer Boriss has led the user experience efforts of this project and has made several blog posts on this topic, including some huge plans to move the Add-ons Manager into a tab. This will give us much more room to expose additional data about add-ons and provide new functionality like letting add-ons place preferences right in their details view.

I started to think about how we could improve the “Get Add-ons” pane of this new Add-ons Manager design and provide much more useful content than a random selection of 5 featured add-ons. Content that is updated regularly, localized for the user’s country and language, and most importantly, useful.

I created a rough mock-up of what I thought this could look like, and Sean Martell turned it what we’ve nicknamed the Discovery Pane:

Mock-up of new discovery pane

The content area is dynamic and loaded from a remote source, so it can be updated anytime and easily localized. A few of the sections shown above include:

  • What are add-ons? – it turns out that right now we don’t really tell users what an add-on is before we show them 5 and suggest that they install them. This section fixes that, and will disappear after a user has installed a few add-ons.
  • Rock Your Firefox featured add-on – we recently launched Rock Your Firefox to showcase a new consumer-friendly add-on three times a week, and could show the currently featured add-on in this panel.
  • Top Add-ons – This is just a list of some of the most popular add-ons that are compatible with your version of Firefox and your platform
  • Links to view all Personas, themes, and add-ons – the links at the bottom will always be there and open the appropriate landing pages of the add-ons gallery in a new tab.

The panels that are shown will differ depending on what content we want to show at a given time, and in some cases we may have panels that rotate between several views. One of the new features I hope we’ll be able launch with this is Personal Recommendations, where users can opt-in to telling us what add-ons they have installed in exchange for recommendations of what add-ons they might like, based on what we know about other users who use the same add-ons and have opted-in to telling us.

I’m very excited about the potential for this new Discovery Pane and the new Add-ons Manager in general, as I think it will make a huge difference in how people find cool new add-ons to try out, and especially for new users who haven’t customized their browser yet. What do you think?

  • g

    looks swift… perhaps got the idea from chrome who does the same thing? πŸ˜€

    • If you’re talking about the discovery pane (the topic of this post), I’m not aware of a similar feature in Chrome. If you’re talking about moving the Add-ons Manager to a tab, the latest I’ve heard from our UX folks is they’re considering moving all of the Firefox dialogs and preferences to be in tabs and the Add-ons Manager is our guinea pig to see how it goes.

  • This is ridiculously awesome and I have to say I’m pretty excited πŸ™‚

  • Julie Choi

    whoever is behind this discovery pane deserves a mountain of cupcakes for how SWEET it’s gonna be!

  • It looks amazing! Once it’s implemented, I think you should work with the Metrics folks to see if you’re hitting your targets and meeting your goals. (But I’m sure you’ve thought of that already.)

  • Jeff

    Why does StumbleUpon get such prominent placement?

    • It’s just an example of what it might look like if we wanted to prominently feature a specific add-on. As noted in the mock-up’s footer, the add-ons used are just examples and it has no relevance to what we would actually use.

  • jrk

    “Personas, themes, and add-ons”. hmmm… are personas and themes not add-ons?

  • 1) I love the name. “Get add-ons” was hard to localize, even if it sounds so easy. “Discover” will actually be easier for L10n, I believe.
    2) What will the “Rock Your Firefox” thing be for applications other than Firefox, who are sharing the same Add-ons manager? (Say, Thunderbird, where it probably still might be a dialog, or SeaMonkey, where it also will be a tab)
    3) How will themes stuff be reflected on applications that might not support personas at this time? Do we force personas support on them? (SeaMonkey will hopefully gain support, but only if someone does some work on it)
    4) What is the space where StumbleUpon is shown in your picture? How is it defined?
    5) IMHO, “Rock Your Firefox” and “Top Add-ons” are reversed in size. The list of recommended add-ons should be larger than the singled-out one
    6) Search feels too small and not enough discoverable
    7) There’s a lot of visual distractions, I can’t get my eyes to settle on what’s actually up there when looking at this screen.

    I think there’s some good ideas in there, but it might need a bit more work.Also, I hope all those rounded things are not static graphics but something a theme that might not be so rounded can adapt.

  • Jack

    I see a big problem already: too many search fields in eye sight. Which one is correct. Awsome bar, the Search Field and another search field.

    If you (Mozilla) combine Awsome Bar and Search Field into one and then make the search addons more discoverable good. Give it relevance and center it! Will it have a keyboard shortcut?

    The page is another problem: overcrowded and lacks categories for example. You put a lot of unnecessary things in there and not enough of the important things. Just looks like an ad billboard.

    • Tiago SÑ

      If Mozilla combines the location bar with the search bar I will buy a ticket to wherever they are and spank them with my keyboard for braking my work-flow with their stupid ideas! There is absolutely no need whatsoever to merge the two together, unless you actually WANT to kill functionality. As it stands now, I just drag and drop something into the search bar and BAM! There it is! And if I want the results in a new tab, I just press ALT while I drop it. And I want a different engine, I simply drag into the icon, the drop down appears, and I drag into the engine that I want. I think this last one is because of an extension, but the former two are implemented features that are very good and raise Firefox above the competition.

  • I kind of agree with Robert, there is a lot of noise there in the Discover pane. I’m excited to see this come along though.

  • Mook

    It sounds like what you really want is just to have a giant web page embedded in your extension manager. Your whole page has nothing at all to do with local content, and is just all served from the server anyway. I also agree with Robert, the mockup is way too distracting – but then that’s sort of like the web site too.

    • It’s a webpage embedded in the Add-ons Manager, yes. I don’t think I tried to represent it as anything else.

      It will do a few local things, like hiding add-ons you already have and not showing incompatible add-ons, and for people that opt-in to recommendations it’ll have those. But yes, it’s primarily for new users to discover add-ons and existing users to find new add-ons they might like. Which I think is a huge improvement over what we have now.

  • Tiago SÑ

    I would like to provide some feedback on the new addons manager.

    – First, it’s not obvious enough, when you disable or enable a non-jetpack extension, that you have to restart the browser for the change to take effect. It should be more obvious.

    – Second, I was kind of hoping we would be able to browse through AMO more easily than before, now, with the new manager. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case with these mockups… Is it something that was purposely left behind?

    – Third, Rock Your Firefox’s webpage needs some serious revamping. I tried to contact them about helping them out, but apparently they all died in a car crash or something because I’ve received no reply.

    – Fourth, the “top addons” thing at the side of the manager, really needs a scroll thing, or an “expand” button, so people can easily see all recommended addons in one place.

    – Fifth, the title of an add-on means little in the case of many addons. Sometimes, the icon and how attractive it looks is even more important to call the user to try it. So I recommend you have some way of getting an expanded description of the selected addon in the “top addons” list. Maybe on the central panel?

    – Sixth, how is that particular manager in the mockup going to scale with the window’s size? I mean, minimum widths and heights are all ok, so that when the window is too little things don’t get messy, but if it’s big, I’m not seeing it working, to be honest. In my opinion, the basic design is flawed and doesn’t have a scalable page in mind. Scroll bars would definitely go a long way in helping that, but as it stands now, I think it would be better to build the manager more as a web page than as an application. After all, it’s loading in the tab, users will expect it to work as a webpage.

    – Seventh. I really didn’t test this, but PLEASE, in the “get addons” page, implement the normal right click menu. It’s bad enough to have a custom right click menu when browsing installed menus, but to have it here is simply not… no… not good. Since it’s loading in a tab, people will expect it to behave like a site. Build it as one. I mean, I’m ok with it, but you’ll definitely see unexperienced users be all confused because they don’t know they can right click stuff and have more options. Like the preferences of an extension, for example. If you don’t right click the extension, you don’t see it. That’s bad.

    – Eight and last, the little black and gray dots in the rock your firefox board aren’t really noticeable. They are important so that people know there is more than one thing, because you’re surely not going to implement an auto changer on that one! That’s the last thing you’ll want to do, because people mentally block moving things in webpages. And there is a very easy way around that fact: do not create moving and blinking things in your webpage! So make those dots more obvious.

    I seriously hope somebody reads this, and at least gives it a though. As I said, I’m ok with the mockup as it is, I don’t use the “get addons” tab at all, and very few hardcore users do. So, remember that you’re doing this for the mainstream, so you have to prepare it having in mind their way of thinking and browsing and using the browser. This IS a webpage, this addons manager. It has to be. You’re redesigning it because there is a need for it to behave like a webpage (the old manager would load on a tab absolutely no problem, after all, I use it on a tab on 3.6.3 myself), so don’t go and forget about that.

    P.S.: If you read this and you’re a dev, please reply so I don’t despair πŸ˜› Thanks a lot and good luck!

    • Hi Tiago,

      This blog post is really only about the “Get Add-ons” pane, not the rest of the add-ons manager. Your feedback on those other parts is probably be sent to Jennifer Boriss, who has been blogging about it: http://jboriss.wordpress.com/

      On Rock Your Firefox’s design, you can email rockyourfirefox@mozilla.com if you have specific concerns, but overall we’re pretty happy with its design and haven’t heard any complaints.

      As for the feedback on the Get Add-ons pane, the mockup pictured above is not final. The little dots will be replaced by arrows for navigation. A description of the add-ons will appear when you hover over one. Scaling will be different than is currently in the prototype scaffolding.

      This pane isn’t meant to replace AMO and we’re actually trying to reduce the amount of content in it. It’s simply a way to quickly learn what add-ons are and see a few of the best to try them out. For everything else, we’ll still point to AMO.

      • Tiago SÑ

        I see. Thanks a lot for the reply.

        About Rock Your Firefox… Well… I think a design without complaints isn’t necessarily a good design. I think you could have a front page that’s way more effective in showcasing extensions and how cool they are. But that job, or part of that job, will probably be left for the “Get Add-ons” pane, so I don’t know if my input is really necessary. I did contact them at that email address, btw.

  • ΓΒΓΒΓΕΎΓΒΓΛœΓΕ“

    I don’t like new add-ons manager at all, because it look like store.

  • alexx

    So I’m actually using the alpha preview with this and the ‘add-ons manager’ seems to be shaping up nicely.
    Only think that’s getting me is not having just an icon view on the left… I know I can re-size the thing but it’s a ONE PIXEL field!
    So annoying to click on.
    That’s the only real issue I have at the moment.
    And I can see the languages tab and it looks like a great idea… Like actually having the different languages built into firefox then having different installations. Gratz on that one.
    Want to explain to me what my ‘Search Engines’ tab does?

    • alexx

      Oh woops. Just read up.
      Will post this on the blog.

  • 10snoopy1

    This is very cool – I am using the Minefield 3.7 that has it but the Nightly tester tools do not work. Is there a way to fix this?

  • The benefits of using add-on manager is greater task orientation and greater ability to start the process of finding and getting add-ons from within the browser proper.

  • Robert D. Martin

    I sincerely hope that
    (1) the user’s ability to scroll through the plethora of addons / extensions and
    (2) also the display of categories of such addons / extensions
    be reinstated as a prominent feature of this and future Firefox versions’ functionality.

    I personally grievously miss those functions in this current developer version of the add-ons manager. Were the finished version to remain as functionally truncated as this, then for my vote the previous add-ons management method should rather be reinstated and this version dropped. imho

  • Jonathan Alfonso

    Wow! Can NOT Wait for this one!

  • I seriously hope this doesn’t end up being the add-on manager. There’s no functionality to drag/drop plugins into the pane (manually install). Why does every component of a web browser have to be implemented as a web browser? Having it show in a tab is just another way for me to lose the tab containing the addons when I have a ton of tabs open.

    Yeah, it looks pretty. But it’s not usable.

  • 10snoopy1

    I am using Firefox 4 beta 2 and it works okay. But it is unusable and should be an option. Similar to tabs on top. It looks like Chrome but since I know what Chrome looks like and I don’t like Chrome, I don’t Firefox to be a clone of Chrome or to even look like it. Tabs tabs tabs are all I think you ever think about now.. πŸ™

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