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?