Why I called Mozilla's change to the Firefox install process "sneaky"

Why I called Mozilla's change to the Firefox install process "sneaky"

Summary: Seems like some of you objected to my use of the term "sneaky" to describe the change made to the install routine of Firefox 3.0 RC1, while others thought I was being too easy on Mozilla.

TOPICS: Browser

Seems like some of you objected to my use of the term "sneaky" to describe the change made to the install routine of Firefox 3.0 RC1, while others thought I was being too easy on Mozilla.

Two emails from the Hardware 2.0 mailbag:

  • What's "sneaky" about the install process for Firefox 3??? If you can't or don't want to read the screens than that's your problem!
  • I think it's interesting that while you tore into Apple for making Safari available through the Apple Software Updater to iTunes users you choose to give Mozilla a get-out-of-jail-free card and only label this malware-like move as "sneaky."

First, some background. As most Firefox users will be aware, the choice as to whether Firefox was set as the default browser used to be set at the time when the browser was first run (this was true of Firefox 1.5, 2.0 and 3.0 beta - I can't remember further back than 1.5 though ... maybe someone else can remind me if the process was the same). Starting with Firefox 3.0 RC1 the default browser setting has been rolled into the install routine. As expected, the option is pre-checked:

So, why did I call this sneaky? Simple - because it caught me out, and not many things catch me out! I've carried out hundreds, if not thousands, of Firefox installs and handled each and every beta release of Firefox 3.0 and the install process has become second nature to me. This time, it caught me out and I only spotted what had happened when Internet links on my desktop that had previously been marked by the Big Blue E suddenly changed to the Firefox logo. Sure, I probably should have been paying more attention, but I wasn't. I guess I trusted Mozilla.

So why has the Firefox development team gone and made this change between the beta of Firefox 3.0 and the Release Candidate? Simple, it's because the old method made it far too easy for people to download Firefox, even install Firefox, but to then forget about it and never even run it. Also, when people are faced with a dialog box asking a simple Yes/No question, I guess that people were being conservative and choosing not to make Firefox the default browser. The only reason to change this process now would be that Mozilla feels that this move will help it turn some of those downloaders that aren't committed to running Firefox into regular users. 

Mozilla's own product planning document for Firefox 3.0 states that one of the objectives for the browser should be to "continue to increase usage share and broaden the Firefox audience" - seems like this change in the install routine is one way that Mozilla plan to use to increase market share.

Is this move deceptive? No, I can't say that it is, especially compared to Apple's move in pushing Safari through the software update mechanism. I don't like it, and this move offers yet another reason for me to hate the entire browser industry, but it's no deal-breaker. Browser makers only care about one thing - market share. It's all about a fight for market share, and in this big land grab the users are caught in the middle.

That aside, I'm still on track to make a complete switch over to Firefox 3.0 as soon as it hits final release. It's an excellent browser.


Topic: Browser

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  • It got me, and I read the article!

    I don't know where it was, but the option to not take over as the default browser is something I never saw. I even did a custom install.

    It was easy to fix but if that option is indeed in the install somewhere, I sure as hell missed it.
    • Holy **** it's fast

      The web app I'm building has over 6000 lines of Javascript, but FF3 doesn't even blink.

      Wicked !!!!!!!
  • RE: Why I called Mozilla's change to the Firefox install process

    It didn't do this on Mac, as it copies all your defaults when you do a drag-and-drop replacement of the previous Firefox.
  • RE: Why I called Mozilla's change to the Firefox install process

    I don't think it's such a big deal. If you already have a browser, and you install a different one, it makes sense (at least for the common user) that there's a decision being made to switch browsers. So why not make it simpler for the common user to always use their new browser? Plus, it's not spyware, it's not something hidden. It's right there out in the open, you can easily change it during install, and you can (relatively) easily change it at any time afterward.

    Plus, Firefox is the best browser! It's open-source, not an OS flagship like IE or Safari. Firefox complies with HTML/CSS standards a lot better than IE, and arguably better than Safari too.

    I'll never argue with a dominantly awesome & safe piece of software asking to set itself as a default.
    • A Response

      No matter how awesome the software, I prefer to think that I have
      a better handle of what I need and where the software fits into the
      way I want to use my systems.
      • And you do....

        That's why it <i>asks</i> you if you want to make it the default. It is just set up (like most programs) assuming if you are installing it, you want to use it. Nothing changes without your consent. Whenever there is a <i>yes</i> or <i>no</i> question being asked during an install routine, you should read it before answering. Why wouldn't you? It's your computer.

        Suppose you are writing a program that is competing with another one. You have a choice of making the install routine default to "yes" use my program as the default, or "no" use the other guy's program. Which would you set it to?
        Flying Pig
        • There's another choice

          The install program should not pre-check either "yes" or "no" for program default. Have the user make a choice. Often the license agreement dialog is like this--neither option is pre-checked.
          • Does Microsoft Give a Choice?

            If you do a clean install of XP or Vista, if I recall correctly IE is the default Browser. It doesn't ask you if you want IE as your Browser. It may be an annoyance for Firefox to change your defaults without asking, if you are doing a clean install, but in the realm of software that's the status quo in a lot of instances.

            Probably the only "sin" of version 3.0 is that it doesn't ask on a fresh install. If that is their only sin, I'm sure it can be forgiven if the product is worth its salt.

            What I hate is when inferior products take control of your system.
          • you are an idiot for making that comparison

            as my subject states, you need to be flogged with the logic stick for making that comparison.

            a "clean install of cp or vista" has IE as default browser, yes congratulations genius, what other browser should be set as default from a _clean install_ of an os?

            why would they bundle someone else's software with their os, when they have their own version? if MS did not have IE, then i could see them maybe bundling firefox. like what they did with hyperterminal back in the day (i dont know if its bundled with vista still).

            "Probably the only "sin" of version 3.0 is that it doesn't ask on a fresh install. If that is their only sin, I'm sure it can be forgiven if the product is worth its salt.

            What I hate is when inferior products take control of your system."

            sorry, but i dont like being hijacked by sneaky software, regardless of wether its good or not.
    • precisely the point......

      "I'll never argue with a dominantly awesome & safe piece of software asking to set itself as a default. "

      Thats exactly what it doesnt do on an auto install!! - ask!!

      I can see where you might be coming from BUT most people install a new browser to see what it will do (I have at least 5 browsers on my system) - with all other browsers I have installed there was a choice each time at start up - thats where it should be so that you make the decision after you have road tested it. I for one have never liked firefox much but keep trying each new version to see if it looks a little slicker
    • Imagine

      Image in some near future, Firefox being the best browser domiantes the industry and has 90%+ market share (quite possible I say). Now suddenly Microsoft releases IE 10 or something (which is nowhere as good as FF) and Apple and other companies release their respectice browsers for their "specialized OS". Now imagine if their installations have this "Make this browser your default browser" option checked by default in their installations. I for one may find it annoying (after all it's my personal decision to use any browser I want even if it isn't as good as FF).

      I personally like FF but there are some legacy intranet sites in my company which don't work in FF. I would hate to see FF take on the default link for those sites on my 1000+ user's desktops. For the purists, there is no way I can feasibly rewrite those sites to be FF compliant as I know they are badly written and they were written well before poeple could spell FF (actually they were written for Netscpae and IE) and the rewrite cost if unimaginable. The good thing is that IE6,7,8 (yes the substandard browsers) work efficiently for that intranet site and thousands of users are happy with it.

      I am sure we need to look at things objectively rather than the single minded approach of "I love FF". Personally, "I love FF" too but this is real life and real world and nothing can change some things which are beyond one's control so just be honest and impartial when judging something!
    • Not necessarily

      You could be installing a browser to try it out, but not wish to switch from your main browser until you were sure.

      As for your comment that FF is the best browser and the implication that it is okay to exhibit this behaviour (your last paragraph)- this is an entirely subjective point. I know I'll get flamed for this, but I have preferred IE7 for a long time now - I find the interface more intuitive, and the overall experience quicker, slicker and less crash prone.

      Having said that, with the exception of Mozilla sticking this option in an unexpected place in the install program (which I think is more the problem rather than them assuming that you want to make it default - after all, the old way, asking you on first run, assumed you wanted to make it the default) and with the "new-FF" problem that my favoured OS integration themes don't yet work and I am stuck with the hideous new interface, it is a rather slick, quick and problem free browser.

      I have, in the days since RC1's release, used it more and more. I still think IE7 does RSS in an easier to use way (at least to my personal preferences) and FF3 does still sometimes trip up when it comes to embedded flash video players (such as iPlayer on the BBC website) more than IE7 does (which is not at all for me) but these are teething problems.

      It's the first FF since 1.5 that has me convinced it can gain serious ground on IE and will keep the IE team on their toes (in the same way that FF1.x forced IE6 to evolve into IE7 to compete). This can only be a good thing - let's hope the dark days of the rubbish FF2.x are behind us.

      So, for me at the moment, on Vista:
      1. IE7
      2. FF3
      3-992. A plate of rotten vegetables
      993. Safari

      'nuff said! ;)

      P.S. Now, Thunderbird on the other hand? Can't praise it enough - love it!
  • RE: Why I called Mozilla's change to the Firefox install process

    Sneaky was a good word. Regarding Safari, it was bad, but I
    don't think it was as evil as the members of the I Hate Apple
    Marching and Chowder Society made it out to be.

    One wishes that the browser makers, in fact all software
    providers, would cooperate with facilitating giving the user a
    dialog that said "You just installed a [browser], which of the
    following installed [browsers] would you prefer as the default?"
    There should be two other buttons besides the usual suspects:
    "ask me tomorrow" and "don't care, keep the current default."
    Asked once when something installs and done.
    • It was hypocritical

      I agree with you. Adrian is on target. Not as underhanded as
      Apple and not a deal breaker. Also easily fixed. The
      "damage", if any, is to the reputation of the FF leadership,
      who have proven themselves hypocrites after their big outcry
      over Apple's tactics.

      I look forward to the Freetard Zealots falling all over
      themselves excusing/justifying/denying this poor behavior.
      Marcos El Malo
      • No, it wasn't.

        The outcry from the FF leadership was about Apple trying to sneak Safari onto user's systems without them asking for it. The "problem" here is FF changing where and when it asks the users who specifically go out of their way to obtain the browser whether or not they want it to be the default browser. Big difference.

        For that matter, what's the freaking deal? All they did is move the question to the freaking installer. I mean, go ahead and make IE or some other browser your default and then open up FF2. The default answer for the default browser question? YES.

        I can see why people who just breeze through installs MIGHT get a bit annoyed, but it's your responsibility to PAY ATTENTION during installs.

        Hypocritical? No. Spyware? HELL no. Sneaky? No, just different.
        • The point <-------


          It's spyware/malware-esque because like everything that tries to sneak 'bundled options' into an install, it chose to make you uncheck an unneccessary install option. That's release checklist 101 if you don't want to be lumped in with bonzai buddy and google toolbar, sorry.
          • ...which was promptly missed.

            I'm sorry, but no. Installing Bonzai Buddy and the Google Toolbar are extraneous crap lumped in with other installers. This check box is very much a part of normal Firefox operations.

            You fail it, your skills are not enough, please try again.
          • And missed by many others...

            So, by all accounts the reasoning of this checkbox and calling it sneaky -- do you call all those applications which automatically install desktop and start menu icons whenever and wherever they want sneaky?

            I like to to have a clean, uncluttered desktop and my start menu is really short, albeit deep, with all of my applications organized categorically -- do most applications allow me to choose where to install icons or even to not install them at all? NO. This is not sneaky, annoying, yes, if you are doing automated installs, but definitely not sneaky. Sneaky would be making it nearly impossible to set another browser as the default (like loading a service that would regularly check if FF the default browser and to set it the default browser if it has changed)....
      • It's not hypocritical; it's use friendly.

        Developers have the following choices:
        1) Don't offer to make the browser the default ever.
        2) Ask at installation whether the wants the browser to be the default.
        3) Ask everytime the user opens the browser and it detects that it isn't the default.

        If the developer selects 1 then why develop the product?

        By asking when the browser is installed, the browser only pesters the user once.

        By asking each time the browser is opened and it isn't the default the browser pesters the user repeatedly. Yes, I know you check the box that says don't re-display this message, but how many average users are going to do that.

        For the average user, asking whether to make it default or not is user friendly. Also, automatically making it default on the quick install makes sense for the average user. It's only a irritant to geeks.
  • RE: Why I called Mozilla's change to the Firefox install process

    The change to Firefox may not make a lot of difference to "vanilla" users of browsers. However, as a free-lance computer consultant, I can tell you that many people, especially older users, can be thrown into confusion by a sudden change to their familiar interface. (I have driven twenty miles to find that someone only needed a different box checked on their interface). Futhermore, they will have no clue as to how to get their original browser back. Who do you think we get the blame? Firefox.

    Other users, who require special security settings may find themselves having to reconfigure Firefox to match the security to which they are accustomed.

    In summary, it is OK to offer a Yes/No choice but it is ESSENTIAL to make a clear, bold statement that this action will, in the future, change how your interface looks and operates whenever you open a browser link or a browser is opened for you by a help program or othe application. All this requires is a few lines of text and would eliminate the definite "sneakiness" of default browser change.

    As an alternative, Firefox could offer to change back to the default browser every time it is opened for the first week. This would give Mozilla a good gauge of how many people are actually finding their browser superior.