Why People Don’t Install Firefox – Part III

In Part I we discussed a framework around understanding the Firefox user experience at the moment a person installs Firefox.  In Part II we walked though our recent initiative – soliciting feedback from users when canceling out of the installer – and provided some high-level results.  With Part III we now want to dive into the details of the written feedback provided by users and discuss how these insights will translate into decisions, actions and next steps.

As we highlighted last time, about 330 users left feedback.  The vast majority of people also provided a written comment (which was not required).  In looking at the dashboard, there are some interesting pieces of information – e.g., most cancellations occur at step #2 of the installer, the two most common categories of responses were “Installation Problem > Other” and “I’m Confused > Didn’t Understand Instructions.”  While these findings are definitely useful, we found that the holy grail of this exercise turned out to be the written comments from users.

Here are some example comments:

“i already had the latest version of firefox installed! there should be something that tells you on the website that you have the latest version before the installer is downloaded”

“It keeps telling me to close firefox and it is closed..I even went to the task manager to be sure there wasn’t one running that i couldn’t see…”

“I do not have administrative rights”

“telling me i don’t have access to write to the installation directory and i don’t know what the installation directory is or how to change it”

Going through each individual comment, we decided to categorize them to see if there were any overarching experiences encountered by users.  Taking the top five most common experiences, here is a breakdown of what users cited:


Clearly, there are two key issues that have been uncovered:

  • Firefox not exiting/closing cleanly (e.g., a zombie process)
  • Directory location issues for non-admin users

Where do we go from here?

The Firefox product team is already discussing solutions to remedy these two problems.  This is perhaps the best example we’ve seen of data+insights driving decisions and actions.

In addition, we’re eager to hear your thoughts.  Perhaps there are some key insights we’ve missed in our analysis.  There is a lot of valuable information that’s come out of this initiative and there’s probably more that we can be doing here (seeking feedback from users when they’re encountering pain points) in the future.

35 responses

  1. Kurt wrote on :

    “The Firefox product team is already discussing solutions to remedy these two problems.” Could you please provide a link?

  2. Kurt wrote on :

    Submitted too fast.

    So 49% of the “failed” installations could potentially have been solved by UA sniffing to tell users that they already have the latest version and making users aware of the inbuilt auto-updater.

    Making users aware of the inbuilt auto-update also fixes the installations failing because of Firefox already running, that is why I added the two together.

    Fixing the underlying issue would ultimately fix that issue though.

  3. BobChao wrote on :

    I have another question: does people “read” the download landing page and the “first-run” page?

    Is there already a research about this?

  4. Dan wrote on :

    Not sure if the Firefox installer uses a manifest file or not, but I assume not since there is feedback on privileges issues.

    If you add a manifest file that instructs Windows to give the installer the highest available access rights, it will elevate the installer if the user is an Administrator which will fix that particular problem.

    If the user is not administrator it will not try to elevate (AFAIK) thus a user without administrative access can still run the installer and the installer could perhaps offer a different installation location.

    More details here: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb756929.aspx

  5. Kevin wrote on :

    In retrospect, Chrome’s decision to install to %USERPROFILE%\Application Data seems like a good one.

  6. Peter Lairo wrote on :

    Since the selectable answers weren’t so useful, perhaps reducing their number and making the free-form comment more prominent would be an improvement to getting better feedback. 😉

  7. Mark wrote on :

    Bad methodology.

    You are hearing from only a tiny and (more importantly) an insignificant slice of the target users.

    There is a much bigger pool of users who will never get anywhere near your studies.

    I suggest a different approach: find users who are miles away from Firefox, not those who are on the verge of installing it. Find out what their perceived issues are. If you can address just ONE of their top perceived issues, the number of users you can bring on will exceed all the users your studies are sampling from by 10 times.

    Here is an example of a perceived issue that remains unaddressed by any of the Mozilla marketing efforts. I hear this TEN TIMES AS OFTEN from naive users as any of the supposed issues you identified. Your study is totally blind to the issue, namely: “If I install Firefox, that means I am making a one-way choice and I will lose my ability to use Internet Explorer.”

    Seriously. Read the Craigslist computer forum, which is FULL of naive users along with a handful of geeks, and you will learn way more useful information than your studies are teaching you.

  8. Elijah Grey wrote on :

    The zombie process link is broken.

  9. Shawn Kirsch wrote on :

    Firefox does have a nasty tendency to leave a process running, and in my experience, most people don’t know to scan through the process list, or know how to identify the one they need to find.

    This could be compounded too, as Firefox 3.1 beta (pick any of them, 1/2/3) is worse than any previous installation I’ve used for processes. Although, that might have something to do with Windows 7 as well.

  10. Jens wrote on :

    Not directly regarding the installer, but the uninstaller: That has a survey by default, but the options there usually don’t apply to me.

    For me, the reason usually is: “I have another version of Firefox that I will continue to use in the future.”

  11. Allen Pike wrote on :

    I saw both of these problems this past weekend on my grandma’s Vista machine. I was trying to update Firefox 2.0.x to 3.0.x.

    1) The updater detected an update, but stalled forever on “Connecting to the update server…” This wasn’t a transient problem.

    2) When I manually downloaded the installer, it kept telling me Firefox was open, when it visibly was not. This was a cognitive problem of looking for Firefox windows, and not noticing the Downloads window.

    3) When I tried to install, it gave a privileges error instead of asking for an administrator password. I know the admin password, but Firefox doesn’t ask for it.

    I finally got 3.0 installed by logging in as the admin user, but the whole process was pretty time consuming.

  12. kkovash wrote on :

    Elijah — thanks for pointing that out. link is now fixed.


  13. Dale wrote on :

    The latest updates for both Thunderbird and Firefox went into an endless loop state on my Vista PC. I don’t recall the Thunderbird update, but the FF one was 3.0.8, and it was completely broken until I figured out how to fix it.

    It kept telling me I couldn’t install it until FF was closed (I think), but it was closed, and no matter what I clicked it would try to install again and give the same message. I stopped it with the Task Manager a couple of times just to verify, and then downloaded the latest version USING IE8 and installed it. That was the only way even to GET IT TO FUNCTION!

    This seems like a pretty serious malfunction, when your products are disabled by the automatic update process and you have to use a competitor’s product to make it work. Most people would just give up on something like that.

    I didn’t use exactly the same technique with Thunderbird. In that case, I downloaded the latest beta because I didn’t know at that time that just installing the latest stable release would work.

  14. Fowl wrote on :

    Certianly per user (non-pribliaged) install without having to resort to portable apps would be a great option to have.

    As would a way to automatically close running instances.

    The installer also has too many pages, even the Microsoft Office installer is one button!

  15. kkovash wrote on :

    Kurt — good question. as of now, there has just been one or two emails between me and Rob Strong (“discussing solutions” was maybe worded a bit too strongly). I’m sure that once there is something substantive, we’ll be discussing this very openly.

  16. Tyler Menezes wrote on :

    I always thought the “another instance of Firefox is running but is not responding” messages should be easy to solve. If you know which process is not responding, offer to kill it for the user.

  17. serge wrote on :

    there MUST be way to limit mozilla memory footprint. groving over 700mb over some days of use is a very bad behaviour, and – yes – then it cannot exit cleanly, i.e. I cannot await firefox process gone in 10 minutes after windows closed when I opt for Exit in File menu.

  18. Robert Strong wrote on :

    Kurt, the two numbers can’t be added together since the updater actually has more problems with installing when files are in use.

    Dan, we do use a manifest and actually do elevate when the user is a member of the admin group. We are looking at to always try to elevate and fallback when the user doesn’t have credentials to elevate.

    Mark, I agree but I don’t think it negates the results from this survey and the actions we should take because of the data.

    For myself, the zombie process issue is by far the one I am most concerned about as far as coming up with a fix but since the installer can complete the install on OS reboot we are likely going to take that route.

  19. David Tenser wrote on :

    Kevin wrote:

    “In retrospect, Chrome’s decision to install to %USERPROFILE%\Application Data seems like a good one.”

    It’s only good for Google, who skip all security of the OS to silently install the app without problems.

    Imagine a world where all applications did that — it would not be a pretty picture.

    Google solved the 41% admin rights problem by skipping the OS security. While it certainly works, it’s disrespectful to the user, who has no control of this. The OS security isn’t designed to annoy users — it’s there to protect. Google bypasses that protection.

    I don’t think Mozilla could ever get away with doing the same thing, seeing as we’re a good FLOSS citizen and respect and promote user choice.

  20. David Tenser wrote on :

    Seems like installing in a user folder is perceived as a good thing to some:

    “A tiny detail in the browser arena translates into a potential loss or gain of millions of users. In this respect, Chrome is the clear leader when it comes to keeping Chrome users up to date. Firefox’ six-step installer, dependencies on users’ privilege rights and a rather ineffective built-in updater leave a lot to be desired and are largely blamed for the fact that one in seven Firefox downloaders does not install the browser. Now that Mozilla and other browser vendors are starting to pay attention to such details is an interesting new trend, no matter how you look at it.”


    Installer admin/security aspects aside, I’m more worried about the other 42% that couldn’t install because firefox.exe was still running. Why can’t we just kill that process if it’s running _and not responding_? Should be very straightforward and would help thousands of people every day…

  21. Kurt wrote on :

    Rob, what I was getting at was if the users were more aware of the built in updater and didn’t download the new version manually to try and install over the previous then there wouldn’t be as many problems of Firefox already running. I’ve never seen an auto update fail because of Firefox already running. My other point was using UA sniffing to tell users that they already have the latest would also help with failed installations when users realize they already have the latest version.

    I thought about something else related to the installer having too many steps. I installed Office 2007 last night and was impressed with the installer and Firefox could really benefit from it. Give the installer some tabs like Office 2007 has so there aren’t as many screens. I can’t remember how many there were in Office but Firefox’s installer could be turned into two screens with tabs on the second screen. I could begin installing Office without even looking at the tabs which gave options of installation location and I think the other gave the options for which components to install. Firefox could and should do the same.

  22. Arthur wrote on :

    Whatever you do, don’t copy what Google does with Chrome. i.e. install the application to the user’s %AppData% folder and have an updater running in the background all the time. As a system admin the last thing I want is thousands of copies of Firefox cluttering up the server and user’s getting prompted to update Firefox when they don’t have the rights to do so. Also, at home, I would rather have everything installed to %ProgramFiles%. Microsoft called it “Program Files” for a reason.

  23. Robert Strong wrote on :

    David, we can’t kill the process because it has led to dataloss in the past. We can install and require an OS reboot to complete the installation as I have noted before.

    note: the normal case has less steps than six and we are looking at reducing this to just a couple.

    Kurt, I highly suspect the people that have trouble with the firefox.exe process still running when they try to install after closing the browser would also be affected by the process still running during a software update… we’ve open bugs on that.

    As for the installer we are looking at ways to simplify it but I doubt we will try to go with something overly slick like Office… Office has a lot of separate apps with lots of individual sub-components which would be overkill for Firefox especially when compared with the effort it would take to implement that for Firefox.

    Arthur, I highly doubt we would ever install into the user’s appdata dir. The only thing that can help with is when the user doesn’t have privileges and for Vista we need privileges for fully integrating with the OS which iirc chrome didn’t do when I last tried it out.

  24. Kurt (supernova_00) wrote on :

    Rob, here is what I mean


    Standard on top, custom on bottom. Only two string changes and I got standard install down to two steps and custom to three.

  25. Kurt (supernova_00) wrote on :

    Better version:


    More polished. Only one string change shown but I’m done messing with this. The head for the first dialog after the into just needs changed.

  26. Christopher Berry wrote on :

    BobChao wrote:

    I have another question: does people “read” the download landing page and the “first-run” page?

    Is there already a research about this?


    Everything I’ve seen on this subject is proprietary.

    In general – “it depends”

    If the page is from a trusted source, people will hit ‘download update’ with a surprising degree of speed.

    Mozilla can generate it’s own research about this behavior through a concerted web analytics effort.


    Christopher Berry

  27. Anon wrote on :

    Perhaps you could add an option to automatically stop FF processes?
    And something that detects the current version of FF?
    Just few ideas…

  28. Anon wrote on :

    You could automatically close all FF processes & you could check for the current version of FF in the installer.
    Just suggestions, im not comp wiz

  29. Nathan wrote on :

    One possible explanation I’ve never seen is one that has burned a number of people I know who were using an older version of FireFox.

    Yes, they weren’t shutting down the old copy, BUT it is easy to FORGET that the “Downloads” dialog is also keeping the firefox process running even though you have already killed the main window.

    Shouldn’t the “Downloads” Window ALSO close when a user closes the main application window?

    I’d have to think this would help out a number of those who get confused by seeing that it is already running when they think they had shut it down.

  30. Robert Strong wrote on :

    We were considering just having two buttons… one to start a standard install and another to start a custom install which simplifies things without adding tabs to the installer… this is simpler than adding tabs to the installer which would be a PITA while still lessening the number of steps.

  31. PBEAN wrote on :

    HELLO I SAW in FIREFOX version it has FUNNELCAKE does this mean information is sent to MOZILLA CORP about how I use this product??? If it is please tell me and I need to get rid of this ASAP…. I don’t want any program to send information about me over the internet without telling me!!

  32. kkovash wrote on :


    good question. a Funnelcake version of Firefox does *not* send any information to Mozilla about how you use the product.


  33. Daniel Shefer wrote on :

    Allow me to offer a different approach – virtualization. By virtualizing Firefox, you can do several things –
    1. Easily convert the current installation into one that does not require administrator rights.
    2. Wrap Firefox into a single executeable that can be run without an installation or admin rights. This could be offered on your site as a link – “If you have problems installing Firefox, try this…”
    2. Run Firefox inside the Mozilla web page in what we call “surface mode”. This can be done regardless of the browser they are using or its version. It can even be embedded into other sites/blogs etc.
    For examples of all of the above, please see xenocode.com.
    Your feedback is appreciated.

  34. Anonymous Coward wrote on :

    “In retrospect, Chrome’s decision to install to %USERPROFILE%\Application Data seems like a good one.”

    NO!! NO!! NO!! (I’ll go on if you like…)

    This is why I don’t use Chrome.

    If Firefox did it I would switch to Safari.

  35. cuz84d wrote on :

    AFAICT Mozilla default installs in the program files folder, but profile data goes in the user folder specific to the OS defaults.

    -Downloads window should be checked for a zombie process.

    -I agree we should check the current version of FF before installing on top of it, so the user don’t have to. And making check for updates run silently to check and inform the user of an auto-update ask the user if they want to auto-update firefox. saying there is a new version available on the notification bar or when they start FF, it just update like the add-on’s check.. though, maybe we do that by now.