Firefox 3.0 Installs As Your Default Browser…. Pot, Kettle, Black?

You’ll recall that Mozilla made a big stink about the fact that the Safari web browser was distributed to PC users via Apple’s Software Update application without actually being previously installed on the computer in question? It now seems that Mozilla has done something that sounds like the same thing. When Firefox 3.0 gets installed, it installs as your default browser (although there is a checkbox that turns this off). This is a deviation from the standard way browsers are installed which is NOT to be your default browser. When this was pointed out to Vince Vizzaccaro (Executive Vice President of Marketing for Mozilla), he said the following:

“The option is clearly displayed and labeled, unlike Safari, which misleadingly labeled the Safari install as an ‘update’ [but has] since correctly changed to an ‘install.’ However, this practice is a break from the traditional practice browsers employed of defaulting this option to off.”

Here’s the bottom line: Everything he said is 100% true. In the release candidate, the check box is rather obvious. Assuming you can read, you should be able to make a choice about whether you want it as your default browser. Having said that, “Joe Enduser” tends to be from the “click click click” school where they simply click through the install without reading. In any case if you’re installing a web browser, you likely have the intention of making it your default browser.

Too bad it doesn’t matter.

The optics of this suck if you’re Mozilla. You can’t call out Apple and then go do something that could be viewed as similar without expecting to get flamed. Someone is going to accuse them of being hypocrites and Mozilla is going to have to tap dance around that. Still, it’s better than making people use a web browser because it’s integrated into an operating system <*COUGH* Windows *COUGH*>.

10 Responses to “Firefox 3.0 Installs As Your Default Browser…. Pot, Kettle, Black?”

  1. Asa Dotzler Says:

    I don’t think they’re at all the same. We’ve always offered to make Firefox the default browser (and checked yes by default) and the only change since previous versions (going all the way back about 10 years, even before Firefox existed and it was the Mozilla application suite) is that now instead of in a modal dialog at Firefox’s first launch, it’s in the installer’s final installation panel.

    Your argument that people just click next would have to be applied to the previous option in the modal dialog as well as the installer panel. Given that’s the crux of your argument, there’s nothing new here at all.

    You’re making it sound like something changed here and it didn’t — nor is it really any different from the modal dialogs used by _every_other_browser_ on the planet. It’s just in a more obvious place now.

  2. The Modal dialog when the browser starts up is preferable for “Joe Enduser” as it’s in a place where are more likely to clue into the fact that they need to be a decision. By wrapping it into the installer, “Joe Enduser” is more likely to click right past it. Keep in mind that the average user (and even tech savvy users) just click click click through installers most of the time (if not all the time). I agree it’s pretty freaking clear in the installer, but that doesn’t mean that “Joe Enduser” will actually read it. From personal experience doing tech support, I can put stuff in bold red letters in documentation (which they won’t read) or in an Install Shield project and users will simply ignore it and click next and shoot themselves in the foot. That’s just the nature of the type of user you (and I) are dealing with.

  3. Asa Dotzler Says:

    The same “click click click” applies to dialogs in browsers as it does in installers. I’ve been involved in enough software usability studies to have seen it repeatedly with my own two eyes. Anything that asks yes or no is most often really asking “click the button that will get this out of your way the fastest.”

    There’s just no real difference when it comes to the click click click effect. The big difference here is that the question is being asked at a time when the user is actually thinking about installing new software and they’re more likely to be in an intentional state of mind and considering things like “I want a new browser” (or they wouldn’t be installing it) rather than “I want to get some browsing done.”

  4. Agreed. I even mention that in the original post. Here’s the thing. I too have been involved in a ton of usability studies, and during a few of these we’ve deliberately put in joke prompts in an install shield project that say things like “Installing this program allows us to get total access to your personal files. Continue?” and watched as 90% of test subjects just clicked yes. The reason why we did this is that we wanted to see what we needed to do to get users to actually read what was on their screen so that they wouldn’t shoot themselves in the foot and call tech support. So what we decided to have basic install options in the installer to keep users from doing dumb stuff, and moved the more advanced stuff to the first run of our apps as our testing found they payed more attention. That reduced tech support calls to a huge degree and limited the amount of trouble they could get themselves into.

    One other thing. As I said in the original post, everything Vince said is 100% true. The only thing that I pointed out is that from an optics standpoint, someone could spin this a Mozilla pulling an Apple. That’s all.

    BTW, you now officially beat the Dell VP as the most famous person to read this blog. 🙂 (For those who have no idea what I am talking about, click this:

  5. Asa Dotzler Says:

    Heh. I’m not famous.

    I think browsers are actually a special case.

    Web browsers are launched from tons of other apps and document types, not just from their program icon/launcher and primary doc type, so without being the default “web handler”, they don’t really exist.

    A user downloading and installing a browser with unfamiliar iconography (for its launchers) that doesn’t make that browser the default may and often does lose it in the litter of the desktop and start menu. It’s not like a game or some other app that only gets launched from it’s icon/launcher or from it’s one major document type and so it’s not enough to simply get onto the system and assume the user will easily find and use you.

    A user that intentionally goes to Mozilla and downloads Firefox probably wants Firefox to do what IE was previously doing — deliver her web content. That’s a pretty safe assumption — certainly the majority case. Optimizing for that seems eminently reasonable.

    When a user is in the install routine, she is thinking about exactly that, “I want to use/try out Firefox for my web content” and that’s the right time to say “do you want to use/try out Firefox for your web content?”

    Not doing so means that some set of users will never actually get to use Firefox even though they intended to because they won’t see Firefox when they click a link in email or IM and they won’t see Firefox associated with their local “web” files.

    For the users that want to go back to IE, they’re overwhelmingly already quite familiar with the blue E icon and the various IE launchers on the desktop and start menu and elsewhere that will give them their old experience back. IE will offer to re-assume those defaults the moment it is launched.

    And yes, your original point is legitimate. Because some people will not think about this in much detail or lack experience in UE/UX, (or willfully misinterpret Mozilla’s changes,) they may very well see it as hypocritical.

    There’s not much that can really be done about that except to accept a worse user experience out of fear. I think that would be unfortunate. I think that some misunderstandings and misrepresentations by pundits and bloggers is a price worth paying to improve things for hundreds of millions of users.

  6. okay I did that dumb thing of clicking away without seeing anything on the screen during Firefox 3.0 installation, and now a few of the bookmarks that I need to run in ie are not working very well in firefox. Is there a way to change this setting – so FF isn’t my default browser?


  7. Asa Dotzler Says:

    Pearl, just start up IE from the Start Menu or a desktop shortcut and it will prompt you asking to make it the default. Say yes there and now IE’s your default. Don’t like that? Just start Firefox up and it will prompt you to make it the default.

  8. Wow! Thanks for that!

  9. Hi, what about corporate installations? My firefox gets installed via GPO and there is no choice about making it NOT default, or?

  10. If your organization installs it via GPO, then I would imagine that you need to talk to your IT admin about changing that.

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