UPDATE: I’ve already gotten a very thoughtful reply to this post – check it out in the comments below.
Lately I’ve been having some trouble with Firefox 3 – basically, when you click a link in some 3rd party program (that is, not in Firefox itself) and it tries to launch Firefox (because it’s not currently open), it hangs. Apparently, it’s hanging while trying to show the profile manager.
I use the Firefox Profile Manager to keep multiple profiles – I have one for when I’m working, one for me (personally), and one for Amanda – it’s nice because it keeps saved passwords, bookmarks, and so forth all separate, without all the hassle of full-blown Windows user profile switching. This way, I can exit the browser, get up, and Amanda can sit down and load her profile and her sites quickly.
I filed a bug on this, only to find out that it had already been reported (under a totally different description that no one in their right mind would have found without inside knowledge, but that’s neither here nor there) and fortunately it had been fixed and would be available in the next version of Firefox (3.1). The next version was not going to be released for a while yet, though, so I did some more digging on the issue.
After doing some digging and searching, I came across some disturbing comments:
Do not reopen this bug. Public opinion doesn’t really matter, it’s a design decision that has been made. (Comment 12)
Yikes. That’s really harsh – and not at all what I’d expect from an Open-Source project as high-profile as Firefox. In fact, it reeks of the same sort of developer arrogance that infected the Pidgin project not too long ago – and that ultimately caused a fork in the codebase over one very simple, minor UI change – but one that the user base and developers had very, very, very strongly held opinions on.
There’s also a lot of this sort of sentiment:
For windows XP and linux users, the typical users will presumably use XP login accounts to separate individuals.
Which, as I (and many other people) have pointed out, is a very narrow and incorrect view. Switching profiles in the browser takes a second. Switching user profiles in the OS can take much, much, much longer. And when all you want to do is separate browser profiles (not whole user profiles), why should you be forced to use the larger, more cumbersome method – especially when the more precise, quicker, easier one already exists?
Now, being incorrect is one thing – but a narrow view like this is bad, bad, bad. It’s this sort of thinking that results in UI disasters (having recently read The Design of Everyday Things has made me very cognisent of this sort of thing). When developers try to second-guess their users, they often get it (badly) wrong.
I don’t want to see this happen to Firefox. It’s not just about the profile manager – that’s just how it got started. I don’t want to see this sort of mentality infect the project, turning developers against their users (and vice versa). I agree with Jeff Atwood on the idea of “Strong Opinions, Weakly Held.” I can totally understand the technical reasons why the developers of Firefox would want to abandon the profile manager entirely – but being technically difficult isn’t an excuse that goes over well with users, who don’t care how complex something is on the inside – they just see how it works. And in this case, they’ve seen it work, used it, and like it. So there’s no excuse for trying to get rid of it, just because it has some difficult problems. Figure it out! Do something crazy! Re-work the entire profile system from scratch! After all, that was done with bookmarks in Firefox 3 – why can’t it be done with profiles?
Unfortunately I’m just a lowly user – I have no power within the Mozilla Firefox project (surprising, I know, for a community-driven, open-source project). I can only voice my opinion.
Which is just what I’ve done. Now, I just hope that the Firefox developers are still capable of listening…
UPDATE: In case anyone thinks I’m bashing Firefox or the developers here – I’m not. I’m just being… questioning… as part of keeping people on their toes. Sort of like how you should occasionally question your leaders. And if that doesn’t satisfy you, let me offer you this:
- If we shadows have offended,
- Think but this,—and all is mended,—
- That you have but slumber’d here
- While these visions did appear.
- And this weak and idle theme,
- No more yielding but a dream,
- Gentles, do not reprehend;
- If you pardon, we will mend.
- And, as I am an honest Puck,
- If we have unearned luck
- Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
- We will make amends ere long;
- Else the Puck a liar call:
- So, good night unto you all.
- Give me your hands, if we be friends,
- And Robin shall restore amends.