Eradicating Start Up Dialogs

I’m starting up a new project, which from the title is rather self describing. Firefox’s purpose is to let you access the Web, but it unfortunately often blocks users from accessing the Web until they have responded to some form of question. This is particularly ironic given the massive amounts of time and developer resources that we’ve been pouring into improving our start up time. What’s the point of loading 300ms faster if the user is about to spend 7000ms on reading, 2000ms on thought, and 4000ms on interaction?

In many cases start up dialogs represent some form of failing, ranging from a failing of engineering (unable to find or implement a cleaner solution), a failing of design (unable to determine the best approach) or a failing of security (delegating a decision so that we can blame the victim). In all of these cases the dialog itself is simply the manifestation of a larger problem that we need to attack. So perhaps “eradicating start up dialogs” is an overly negative title, this is really more about “solving a range of complex problems, but entirely behind the scenes.”

To help up us prioritize and also make sure we have everything covered, I have two questions:

1) What do you think is the most annoying start up dialog
2) What do you think is the most obscure start up dialog that hasn’t been mentioned yet in the comments above the comment you are about to write :)


  1. Most annoying: Do you want to make Firefox the default browser? Mostly, because that shows up when I test things with a new profile from a tree I just built, where the answer is always no (I’ve got a perfectly fine Firefox installed system wide). Of course, that’s probably because my usage isn’t that of a normal user…

    Obscure: The prompt to choose which cert to supply to a server, which would appear if 1) your home page / session restore / whatever is https, and 2) you have two or more client certificates installed. This would be fixable if you could somehow store prefs on which servers go with which cert (including an option of not using certs except on specific hosts). Sadly, all the security stuff is in dire need of UI cleanup, but nobody has been able to actual take ownership of it.

  2. Fixing Bug 478284 would be a great start.

  3. Master Password.

    Between the focus problems on Mac and the multiple master password dialogs that might come up, it, by far, kills me the most. Sometimes I have to force quit the Firefox I just opened with 100+ tabs because focus has disappeared and I can’t get rid of the master password dialog.

  4. “An update to an addon is available”.

    Updates should be automatic, seamless and transparent.

    If the problem is that the user needs to know when addons have been updated, a gray systembar could scroll down, like on the first-run “these are your rights” screen, informing you that this or that addon has been updated. In fact, the same accounts for the Firefox update, which should also be seamless and transparent, but I imagine that’s a harder challenge.

  5. My nomination would be the add-ons “1 new add-on installed” behavior. Especially when an add-on opens 2 windows as part of the start process.

    We should be able to show the “add-on installed” message somewhere that doesn’t block your startup experience.

  6. I believe there’s strong support here for something that could be solved by removing application modal dialog, and making them tab modal.

    I already tried to convince the electrolysis team they needed to do that, without much success :-)

    I also support Mook suggestion about certs, it’s obscure for most people but an everyday problem for me.

  7. Without a doubt, the most annoying is the make Firefox default prompt (for lack of proper terminology). “Firefox is not currently set as your default browser…” For the reason that Mook gave, but more so because I’ve already unchecked the option to make it my default browser in the installer.
    That really needs to be fixed and my choice the first time around should be respected as an experienced or new Firefox user.
    I want to just get to using Firefox but as it is, I have to close the default browser prompt, maximize the window because for some reason (in Vista), Firefox never starts maximized when first run (new install or profile), then there are already 2 tabs loaded, plus the know your rights bar.
    It’s a lot of clicking to get things out of ones way just to start using the Internet. Of course the know your rights bar doesn’t have to be manually closed, but I doubt that many new users know that.

    Obscure? The newly installed add-ons notice. I think that the newly installed add-ons should be listed in the Installation tab instead of a user having to sift through the add-ons manager to locate what they just installed and explore the options for them. It’s not a major deal when installing just one, but with add-on collections gaining popularity and users being able to install multiple add-ons in one shot, being able to see what they just installed in one shot/area (Installation tab) would make things a lot easier.

  8. the Add-Ons update dialog is annoying. really.

  9. I’d second (or whatever it’s up to) making the master password dialog, sometimes more than one, more unobtrusive at start-up.

    I don’t know what the cause of the multiple master password dialogs is but it should only, obviously, be asked for once.

  10. Add-on updates.

    I’ve never really did anything, besides looking at the changes in the information panel and waiting for the updates to install. Auto-update with a notification would be okay. As an unreleated bonus I would like to revert the update if it broke the extension.

  11. Yesudeep Mangalapilly

    How about removing all start up dialogs? As a user nothing annoys me most than having to click through a dialog.

    I’d want the procedure to be as simple as:

    Double click on the installation file to install *and* run the browser for the first time in the maximized state *ready-to-browse*. For a Windows user the most irritating part is “oh god. now i have to download and click on all these ‘next’ buttons and carefully fill N setup wizard dialogs. Why would i do that when I have ‘e’ on my desktop already, and it works /perfectly/? don’t need firefox. ‘e’ is da internet. double-click ‘e’ and aaaah.. i’m surfin’ man.”

    This is what Firefox gets wrong. Why do I have to sit and convince people to use Firefox? It’d be easier for them to run Firefox if the installation and execution would happen in, wait for it, ONE, step. If I see a Website as soon as I click the installer, I get instantly gratified and would make me feel, “WOW. All installations should be this smooth. No setup wizard! That was so easy.”

    If you don’t believe this, wait till Chrome takes over. Google Desktop Search probably has the shortest installer. Click and it’s up in no time.

    Why show the EULA in the browser? Show it at the Website when people download Firefox and DONT make people “check” boxes to agree with them! Just say “by downloading the browser you agree with the blah blah blah.”

    Quite frankly, Mozilla has been gathering all these statistics about how people upgrade to newer versions of Firefox. How about statistics for why people don’t install Firefox? Oh, yes, I know they do that too. How about statistics for why people don’t *download* Firefox in the first place? Shorten the installer.

    Make the installer download the rest of the necessary files. You want to get to the user’s computer in the shortest amount of time. By offering a large download up-front as the default, people see that as “oh my god. a 10 MB download! if I download that, my system administrator will notice it or 10mb is too much to download on a slow connection or why do i need 10 more MB of yet-another-browser when I already have ‘e’?”

    How about “Download Firefox! 380 KB installer”? Hmmm, hmmm?
    Mozilla is worried about browser start up time. I think they aren’t focusing on the “user has not even downloaded the browser yet” part.

    I’m not ranting and I love Firefox (it has been my default browser for ages and still is), but this is what I have seen in many corporate places and told you exactly what my users did when I asked them to install Firefox.


  12. I’m not quite sure why the session restore dialogue appears when Firefox could just offer a slightly cleaned up version of about:sessionrestore

    Cleaned as in being able to see more than about 5 tabs and the dialogue a little more readable.

    I know this present privacy issues… but that’s the sort of problem you seem to be wanting to solve :)

  13. Yesudeep Mangalapilly

    Oh, and I forgot to mention the admin side of things.

    I have two friends that administer around 200-300 Windows workstations at their organizations. I asked them why they did not install Firefox for their users. One answer.

    “Kaun magajmari karega.”

    Quite literally, that means, why would I bother when they already have ‘e’ and are happy with it. Nobody wants to sit through learning how to install Firefox quickly on a multitude of computers and also click through 10 dialogs.

    The point is as simple as:

    By putting dialogs between my decision to download Firefox and see my favorite page in Firefox, you are simply delaying me from visiting my favorite Websites.

    Removing all those dialogs (yes, they are *unnecessary*), you do this for me. I download Firefox and wow, that page looks nice in Firefox! What settings can I change? Can I import my bookmarks from IE? This should be an *after-step*.


  14. Software Update’s “The Update was successfully installed”, which bugs me after every single nightly update, i.e. once for Firefox and once for Thunderbird, on my business and my home machine, which amounts to 4 times a day.

  15. Nickolay Ponomarev

    Annoying: update (application [bug 307181] and extensions), master password [bug 499233].

    Obscure: stumbled on bug 223636 (“automatic login for HTTP/proxy authentication”) today, which even has a WIP patch by dolske.

  16. The addon-update notification modal windows is particularly annoying.

    When you have 20+ addons, this windows appears almost each time.

    I think this is the point, this really have to be rethinked.

  17. 1. Profile manager. While i know this is not a default dialog, i think it can be improved, it should display right when you launch firefox, and firefox should be able to to load at least some data it’s gonna need anyway in the background while i choice what profile to use. The background loading idea count for most/all dialogues.

    2. Extension updates. a) The extension update dialog can use some improvement. First, a update should be downloaded in the background while i’m still running firefox, instead of solely checking if a update is available, and start the download once i said yet in the next restart. b) (this is a bug actually) when another new update to a extension is out in the time firefox found a update for a extension, and i start firefox again after a few days, firefox shouldn’t first download the old new extension only to mention there is another update out right after it downloaded and installed that extensions. It should download the newest version right away. Happens on my laptop all the time with no-script.

    3. Master password dialogue, but the bugs about that are already fixed on trunk i think.

  18. Kurt (supernova_00)

    In list of most annoying…
    1) Add-on update
    2) Make Firefox default browser (although this only shows once if the user actually reads and unchecks the box)
    2) Master password
    3) The prompt to choose which cert to supply to a server. I can’t use Firefox at work but IE does this and a crap load of sites I access for work require me to choose a cert and it is very, very annoying! Especially when our start page is locked to a page that requires a cert to be chosen.

  19. Available addons updates (Damn NoScript) and master password (Why not just ask for it when trying to login to a site that has a stored password on FF?)

  20. I’m not so bothered by the default browser prompt in general, but I am bothered when I install Firefox, uncheck the “default browser” checkbox there, and then when it launches it asks me again.

    If the user doesn’t want Firefox to be the default browser when installing it, set the preference to false so that they don’t get asked again when it first runs (with the default option set as “yes, please steal my default browser from me”!)

  21. HTTP password dialogs.

    If you, like me, work on a ticketing system that uses HTTP authentication (i.e. non-cookie), restoring a session in which 15 plus tabs are open to the same site basically shuts my computer down. The OS X windowing system seems to struggle as firefox asks me for the password to the same site 15 times. Try it–it’s a soul crushing experience.

    Generally speaking, it would seem like any event–javascript alerts, addon updates, new browser windows–that opens more than 3 dialogs within the span of a second is malfunctioning and should probably be stopped.

    We users appreciate your blogging all these minutiae :)

  22. Hi Alex.
    Thanks a lot for your interest in our opinion.
    The mainly, incredibly annoying startup dialog i see is the Master Password one.
    As Ben wrote, when you have 15+ tabs open (sometimes 30-40 as far as i am concerned, sometimes from the same domain), at startup master password is asked as many times as you have open tabs…
    I know this bug will probably be fixed soon. But i still wanted to mention it as one of the most annoying one, as far i am concerned.

  23. The single most annoying dialog to me is the question for updating add-ons. It comes up even before the browser itself is shown, and prevents me from even getting to anything in the browser. May we should check for add-on updates once a day in some idle time and just activate updated add-ons on a restart, but not also check for that in that critical path.

    What I also dislike is the HTTP Auth dialog. I have some server monitoring page that’s just behind HTTP Auth in my always-open tab set, and I always get that dialog on launch of the browser, always just pressing “OK” there. Can’t we be more intelligent than that, at worst case use an in-tab replacement page with those fields instead of another dialog?

  24. Yeah! Sartup add-on update dialogs are ridiculous. They require me to click 2-3 times and you in 99% cases it’s obvious that I want to update so asking me about it is not necessary. I would love to se just small notification that ‘5 updates installed, click to see more’ on top of current page like when you install extenstion fro untrusted website

  25. The notification that a program update was successful is completely redundant, since Firefox opens a tab saying basically the same thing (but in a more graphical way).

    Add-ons should be downloaded and installed automatically. Why should they have a different update mechanism that involves notification? Firefox doesn’t (by default) inform the user before downloading an update.

  26. I really can’t stand that you have to press “Update” and “Continue” when updated add-ons are ready. Fair enough giving the user the choice to either update now or skip… but when the add-ons are updated successfully it should just close the window and launch Firefox, not get me to click “Continue”.

  27. Not a start_up_ dialog, but:

    In OS X, if I try and shut down the OS without closing Fx sufficiently, I’ll get a dialog box that pops up and asks me if I want to quit, cancel, or save & quit. Thing is, S&Q is enter-highlited, but Quit isn’t, so if I want to Just Quit(tm), I have to futz around with shift-tab and eventually the spacebar. This sort of thing ought to have either Quit or S&Q enter-highlighted and the other with the spacebar halo (Cancel is–or should be–Escape, as always).

    If I don’t get to the blasted thing in time, Logout times out because Firefox isn’t ready to quit yet.

  28. Why can’t all these dialogs be changed to the new “information bar” that doesn’t block the user? This would work for:

    * Master Password
    * 1 add-on has been upgraded
    * Firefox is not your default browser

    Aside from this, one of the most annoying dialogs for me is the site password dialog (e.g. restart Firefox and have 10 tabs open with pages loaded, and you’ll be prompted with TEN modal dialogs to click OK on (because interestingly the password is already stored, but Firefox doesn’t just log in anyway).

  29. The updates are definately the most annoying. Both browser and addons should update automatically(preferably without reboot).

  30. Most annoying : Add-ons compatibility check when you start a new FF version.
    There should be a small thing (like the “Know Your Rights” one) at the top of the start page saying “Some add-ons have been disabled because they are not compatible…” or something like that. Asking if I want to check for newer versions is ridiculous – 99.99% of users will click Yes.

    Most useless : Know Your Rights thing.

    PS : Sorry if my English is bad, I’m from Switzerland.

  31. I was gonna say (the infamous 3 years old proxy modal prompt issue) but I see it has been fixed. \o/

  32. I never see start up dialogs, but the dialog that upsets me every time is the message that Firefox will resubmit a form if I want to go back.

    I sometimes really need to go back but I don’t want to send an order or a mail twice (which is I believe it will do). Really maddening.

  33. Most annoying AND most obscure start up dialog ==>

  34. Most Annoying is the Addon Compatibility check for every new version

  35. Addon compatibility check, that’s my vote too. Especially that it also shows up if !extensions.checkCompatibility, which is totally wrong.

  36. I have seen one thing , chrome loads quickly , i mean it is quickest to open , but after loading, it slowly opens its new tab page , and /or the homepage , it is something like what Windows Seven does , it delays all the process for the sake of fast boot up.

    I think this ideology should be implemented in firefox 3.6 development too…

  37. Definitely the master password boxes – I always seem to get multiple ones at startup – not sure why!

  38. Something that I think would be almost as useful as this is to remove all of the application modal dialogs. As jmdesp says, especially once FF goes to multiprocess, there really is no reason to have application modal dialogs. Most of the application modal dialogs in FF are “old” anyways in the sense that they deal with things that were designed a long time ago (HTTP Authentication for instance) whereas most of the new stuff seems to use the infobar setup.

  39. Just like the previous comment, this idea using the InfoBar for more things makes a lot of sense, dropping the dialog before FF opens’ update Add-ons. Which is being done for Fennec as I write this. I get a dialog to check for new add-ons almost everytime I switch between FF and Minefield and updating builds. I don’t care about my add-ons that much. And its annoying.

    “An update to an addon is available”.

    Updates should be automatic, seamless and transparent.

    If the problem is that the user needs to know when addons have been updated, a gray systembar could scroll down, like on the first-run “these are your rights” screen, informing you that this or that addon has been updated. In fact, the same accounts for the Firefox update, which should also be seamless and transparent, but I imagine that’s a harder challenge.

  40. 1. Master password
    2. Add-on update

  41. Wouldn’t it be quite easy to make all updates automatic. Just add options to disable automatic updates, and no one will complain.

  42. I think the Updates reminder is pretty annoying, as is the New Add-On Installed dialog, which does virtually nothing of use since it doesn’t focus itself to the Add-On which is installed. It seems to randomly appear with updated Extensions. I don’t think all updates should be automatic. There are actually really good reasons for not automatically updating everything… like if you know your system has compatibility issues so you are using an older version of an Add-On… while that may be only 0.5% of the users, what’s the point in screwing them? Automatic updates can be the default setting, but an opt-out is very important, and the opt-out should not cause the startup dialog.

    Honestly the biggest reason to avoid the startup dialog is not speed. It’s confusion. Many people use machines where multiple people use the same machine and only one person understands how to do the maintenence end of the browser. Yeah I know Bill Gates wants everyone in the universe to use separate login profiles, but that’s just not the way the real world ends up working. Grandma and or co-workers who just want to check the weather shouldn’t be bothered with this stuff. In fact, many of these dialogs are worded to where inexperienced users might even fear that something bad is happening like a virus downloading itself… after all, how many times have we told them do NOT click on the OK button when you see a weird popup? I would dare say that the popup format itself lends to being misinterpreted as spyware simply because of it’s overuse for such purposes.

  43. i’m with ben and jmdesp. app-modal HTTP password dialogs are a pain in the ass (even if they’re not necessarily startup dialogs).

    some legacy systems still use basic auth, and as soon you have to browse to another page or even just switch to another tab to get the username/password out of the internal database, you’re stuck. opening another instance of ff is not nearly as nice as the tabmodal solution (gchrome shows how it should be done).

    other than that, the startup dialogs (default browser, plugin updates) aren’t really a problem for me.

  44. I agree with those who say that add-on updates should have the ability to be set as automatic, without confirmations needed before OR after installation! How annoying to have to go through all that each time you start Firefox. Why don’t they offer that option in your tools menu?

  45. Like others, I find other update dialogs is really annoying. At least make them non modal. Better, make them a tab. I heard they plan to do in on closing. Good.

    Another one is the tab letting you know you are in offline mode but does not let you go back to online mode. Very boring. Because Firefox decides (often stupidely) to go “offline”, you have to clic on “File > Work Offline”. Every time you are connected without a network manager, it does that. At least put a one clic button go back to online mode in the error message. I don’t even know what is the purpose of offline mode anyway. Anybody knows ?

    Eventually, one for Thunderbird, if you ever meet its team: why are all messages modal and not a yellow bar like in Firefox ? Every time Thunderbird starts before Wifi gets connected, I have to close 5 windows saying “can’t connect to”. Very stupid and irritating.

    Anyway, the work on Firefox 4 is very promissing. Good luck !