Simplifying and Polishing the Add-ons Manager’s List View

As we approach the release of Firefox 4, the last few polish and stylistic changes are happening in the add-ons manager.  Some are simply graphic cleanup, while others are the result of beta testing the new manager for the past several months.

I wanted to highlight one change in particular that you’ll be seeing in the Firefox nightlies soon.  The date an add-on was last updated, rather than being displayed in list view, will now only appear in the detailed view of an add-on.  This also means that installed add-ons can no longer be sorted by last updated date.

Old vs New Add-ons Manager: Removal of Sorting Bar and Last Updated Date

For some users, this change is substantive and will feel disruptive.  So, I wanted to give the rationale behind this design decision.

1. Providing a simplified overview

The intended purpose of the add-on manager’s list view is to give a brief overview of the users’ add-ons and to provide only the minimal, most used information and functionality.  This minimal information is the name of an add-on, its icon, and a short description.  The minimal functionality is the ability to disable and remove an add-on.  Even the author name we’ve removed to provide the simplest, most visually scannable design.  By removing the last updated date, we not only visually clean an add-on’s list entry, but also eliminate the need for a sorting bar at the top of list view.  This gives back both whitespace and a cleaner appearance at the top of the list.

2. Updated date does not provide important functionality for most users

For most users, the last updated date does not give information meaningful enough to justify its placement in list view.  It allows users to see which add-ons have been updated automatically most recently, but does not give any details about the updates nor provide tools to interpret the information.

Some advanced users use the last updated date as a diagnostic tool to identify which add-on updates may be causing a recent problem in Firefox.  However, the date makes a very poor diagnostic tool. One reason is that the date does not give any information about the size nor scope of the update, and thus can only be used for diagnosis by disabling one add-on at a time to isolate a problem.  In many cases, a problem in Firefox caused by an add-on are instantly identifiable as being caused by a particular add-on.  Even in the rare case where a problem suddenly appears in Firefox, the chances of it being from an add-on update are not large.  A problem could be caused by any number of online events, which is why Firefox provides tools such as the Error Console and about:crashes to help diagnose them.  And, even if we were to give fuller information about updates in the add-ons manager and make it into a better diagnostic tool, why should this tool be so far removed from other diagnostic tools?  How could a new user figure out that, to access diagnostic tools related to add-ons, they should go to the add-ons manager rather than a more comprehensive diagnostic tool?  It would be wildly inefficient to apply this elsewhere in Firefox by placing diagnostic tools only on the interface elements they relate to.

What we should do is add diagnostic tools about add-ons to comprehensive tools such as about:support.  Then, we could  provide expert users the information they want in a better format while keeping one-off diagnosis away from list view in the add-ons manager.

3. The goal of removing updating entirely for most users

The intended purpose of automatic updates is to remove updating from the list of items the user has to care about and remember.  By exposing the updated date in list view, Firefox insinuates both that the updated date is very important that this is a process the user should manage.

Actually, the actual reason sorting and the last updated date were initially proposed in the add-ons manager design was to give users the ability to sort their add-ons by performance, not updated date.  Sorting by performance would allow users to find out how their add-ons effect Firefox on metrics such as startup time and memory.  However, the ability to rank an add-on’s performance is going to be a part of FIrefox after the 4.0 release, making the remaining sorting categories (alphabetic and updated date) much less useful.

By the way, Firefox 4 beta 10 is out, so please try it out and tell us what you think!


Chime in Leave a Comment

  1. Yeah, that’s sensible.

    It looks like the Preferences button will be going away too—is this right? If so, what prompted this change?


  2. jboriss says:

    Preferences will be in detailed view also. So, it can be accessed by clicking the name of an add-on once. It’s basically the same reasoning – that this is functionality that isn’t basic, scannable, most used-enough for list view, but is perfect for detail view. Detail view is essentially for more complex interactions with add-ons, while list-view is for overall summary. Preferences is an example of a more complex interaction. In the future, I’d like to have Preferences merely be *on* detail view, rather than launching a separate window.

  3. Lozzy says:

    I don’t see anything wrong with this change. I don’t think updated date has much relevance for addons you currently have installed.

    However, when searching for a new addon, it’s much more useful to know what date an addon was last updated. It’s important because it’s a very good indication of whether the addon is still supported by its developer.

    In particular, if I’m looking at two addons who both have similar functionality, the date when it was updated will probably help me decide which addon to choose. If I’m choosing between an addon that’s old or new, I think I know which one I’ll choose.

    This was my original concern when I first heard that the date was going to be removed. But as it appears, this change doesn’t affect search results. So it seems like a sensible change.

  4. IT Pro says:

    I think it’s great that you’re simplifying the interface. Even for me, an IT pro who has used Firefox since 1.0, the new interface is a little cluttered and it’s difficult to find what I need.

    A couple more requests (though I’m sure you have plenty to do between now and the release!):
    * The command menu button at the top looks like it was copied from Mac OS X. It doesn’t fit with Windows aesthetically and Windows end users won’t know what it does until they click on it.
    * If I enable/disable an add-on, it’s hard to find the Restart command. It’s small enough that I have to remember to look for it — I don’t notice it; typical end users won’t know it’s there. Also, on my long list of add-ons, if I don’t restart right away I have to come back and scroll through the list (or remember which add-on I changed) to find it. I’d much prefer if the restart widget was at the top, above the list; that also makes sense logically, because it’s a global command — it’s not just restarting one add-on.

    Thanks, and thanks for all your hard work.

  5. yamaban says:

    Well, this is a change, we’ll see if it’s OK with the userbase or not.
    Still beyond this change, for me on Linux (SUSE 11.2_64, KDE4.5.5) the left side (ltr) is still too wide.
    The longer descriptions could easly be folded as two liners with negative text-indent (second line indented).
    Or the font of the left-side text and the Addon-titles reduced by about 2 percent (better 5%).
    The difference in the font-size between addon title and the other text is a bit to glaring for me.

    That my personal take on this, others may differ, none the less thanks, the new addon-manager is a definite step-up from FX3.6 & Co.

  6. yamaban says:

    Update to that last comment: For me the font-size on the left side (Get Add-ons,Extensions,Plugins,Appearance,Languages) is the same ans the titles of the Add-ons/Themes on the right.

    What has gone wrong? – in a fresh profile with no userChrome.css, etc. no less?

    On my Dad’s win7-box it’s Ok. I haven’t the foggiest Idea why.

  7. Gondorff says:

    First off, I’d just like to say amazing job with everything. FF4 is shaping up to be a great release.

    There is a usability issue that I’ve been having with the add-on manager that has really been bugging me though, and I wanted to make sure that it’s been noticed.
    Reproduce it as follows:
    1) Open add-on manager
    2) Start on any of the pages except ‘Get Add-ons’
    3) Click to the ‘Get Add-ons’ page
    4) Follow a link from the ‘Get Add-ons’ page.

    Now, how do you get back to the default ‘Get Add-ons’ page? Hitting ‘Back’ will return you to the page you were at before the ‘Get Add-ons’ page. Furthermore, clicking on the tab for ‘Get Add-ons’ will return you to the page opened from the link. In order to get back to the ‘Get Add-ons’ page, it seems that you have to close and reopen the Add-on Manager.

    …or am I just crazy?

  8. Girish Mony says:


    I like the concept to remove, unwanted clutter from the add on manager. I don’t care much about the add on getting sorted by last updated date. But I wish to get it sorted alphabetically. For advanced users with more add ons this will make the task to find the add on easier.

    For example, if I am looking to change option of zemanta firefox add on, if sorted alphabetically I will just scroll to the last and change there. I hope you are getting my point.

    To implement this I wish to have alphabetical sorting by default and have two way button named Performance or something related to it. When pressed this button for the first time it should sort add ons by performance. On the second click it should sort alphabetically.

    Hope my suggestion is not too difficult to implement. If I am wrong please correct me!

  9. mynthon says:

    And what about co called “addons bar”? This feature is really useless. You can turn it of, ok, but if you have any addon like adblock or weatherfox installed you have to open it. So you will have opened it all the time. Now if it is opened all the time what is the difference between addons bar and status bar except for missing progress bar and link info? If you want make better addons bar restore status bar from SVN, add “close” button (if you want it so much) and option to autohide (like option for task bar in windows).

    status bar:
    – link info: yes
    – progress bar: yes
    – addons info: yes
    – can be hidden: yes
    – close button: no

    status bar:
    – link info: no
    – progress bar: no
    – addons info: no
    – can be hidden: yes
    – close button: yes

    so why remove better feature and replace it with worse?

  10. mynthon says:

    of course second list shows “addons bar”

  11. Ellen says:

    I am an elderly woman who finds your product not as easy as it once was, to use. Clicking the return box does not work in a speedy way and not being able to just dispense with the last page is no longer possible in that scenario. You get the message about 2 windows will close and then you are back at the desk-top. I find this very inconvenient. I really prefer a back page that works for what you want it to.

Trackbacks for this post

  1. log » Removing the ‘last updated’ text from Firefox 4’s addon manager

Comments are now closed for this article.