and Mozilla Labs

One of the things I’ve been doing for the last month or two has been working with my colleagues at Mozilla Labs to figure out how best to start incorporating what we learn from Labs experiments into our core products. The technology transfer problem is well known to the tech industry, but it is fairly new to Mozilla, and as our focus is not on profiting from our research, the solution we need will probably be somewhat different.  One key aspect to acknowledge is that most of the Firefox project history has been more direct and iterative, rather than purely exploratory and R&D-like, within the core project.  We have taken some baby steps in terms of prototyping a few features as extensions, and the extension community itself has provided a lot of inspiration and some features and code, but that’s generally been a bit of an outsider’s space.

With the formation of Mozilla Labs, we’ve been better able to try things that we couldn’t really explore as part of our normal ship process.  That’s been great to see, especially as we have explored new and compelling features and interaction models, but now we need to figure out the right way of bringing the best pieces of these projects to all of our users.  Learning how to integrate R&D with the rest of our development process is going to take time and effort, but the goal is to establish a repeatable and transparent process that we can continue to use as we grow Mozilla Labs and the various Mozilla products.

This of course doesn’t mean we’ll take something from every project, or even that every project has to result in a core feature to be successful.  The primary goal of Labs is to explore and innovate and try things.  Sometimes that will be successful, other times it won’t.  Sometimes we will learn things that inspire a different approach entirely, and that is an important success state.  But when we create something compelling, we need to be prepared to learn lessons and adopt the best pieces in ways that make sense.

As our first pass, we have decided to focus on incorporating some aspects of three projects in particular: Prism, Personas, and Ubiquity.  The key defining characteristic of these three projects is that we’ve spent enough time exploring those spaces that we feel confident in identifying and uplifting the most useful pieces.  Users should expect to see these new features in the next Firefox release after 3.1.

Some preliminary work has been done on identifying key elements of all three projects, and we will continue to refine these plans in order to get a good jump on things as Firefox 3.1 finishes.  You can find these first passes here:


We absolutely crave feedback, so please feel free comment here, send mail or comment on the Talk pages on the wiki if you have questions or concerns.  We hope to get to a crisper and more tightly-scoped set of plans over the next month or so, and we’ll continue to point out when there are more changes that we’d like feedback on.


  1. Jigar Shah says:

    Few cents from me…
    I am little scared with those things. Being *bloated* is really bad. I am not sure real world is really ready for “command-line for web – ubiquity” Although i use it a lot.
    I would say make sure you have *some* as emphasis. Like say micro summary, really few websites really added support for them.
    What are the issues of keeping these things as addons ? And adding hooks for similar addons ? Same thing for Prism.

    Some improvement i would suggest are like UI for creating new profile. (Like integration of ProfileSwitcher – In this case we can have option for Prism like creating “Single page browser”.

    Secondly, related to Ubiquity. May be thats the future of addons ? NO restart needed..:) could be. Initially i loved idea of integration with location bar. But people are really scared on “Awesome Bar”. And as i said… I think ppl are not ready for “command line for web”

    And persona…Love it if it can replace themes. No Restart needed. More dynamism like persona changes “changes as website i visit” Or it changes based on “time of day”. Again, I would love this as extension to grow unless it can replace themes completely.

  2. Tristan says:

    Hey Mike,

    Being an absolute fan of Ubiquity, I really think these are fantastic news. I can’t wait seeing it in the hands of users.

    I think this post is an additional interesting point in what makes innovation work at Mozilla. It helps figuring out how innovation happens in the extension space, how Mozilla Labs help foster innovation and how ideas move from one realm to another.

  3. B.J. Herbison says:

    Sorry, but I don’t see a need for any of these.

    I don’t have a need for personalization beyond what I already have, the examples I’ve seen for Ubiquity are things I either don’t need or already do without Ubiquity, and making a stand-alone use for the browser doesn’t enhance my on-line use (not to mention that I’m not sure that Firefox without the chrome is still Firefox).

    How about this radical suggestion on future direction: Improve Firefox by fixing bugs, improving performance, supporting new standards as they develop (e.g., HTML 5), and perform user studies to see what barriers the current UI has for new users.

  4. Ed Hume says:

    I find that much of my time as a themer is spent making sure my text can be read against the various backgrounds I set up. This is especially true with themes that have dark backgrounds. Dark background images would be a problems for Personas, I think.

    Personas is cute, but I think it would be better left as an extension. Instead, as a set of built in capacities, might I suggest three:

    1. The ability to adjust the text size in chrome. There are many users who need larger text, and not just because they are getting old. As users get displays with higher resolutions without larger areas (would you believe a laptop with 1440 pixels?), it is going to get harder to read the default text.

    2. Make sure that all text windows and buttons can expand to handle large text. Some users set their systems to use larger text, and some of the places Firefox displays text do not expand to handle the larger text.

    3. A facility to accommodate more than two icon sizes. Again, as users have higher screen resolutions, they might want larger icons. Currently most of the demand is coming from old folks, but I do recall one user who commented that he had a 3820×2400-pixel display(!).

    Not that the default should include larger icons, but the ability to include small, medium, large and x-large iconsizes would be a nice accessibility feature.

    I believe I or others have filed bugs on these in the past, but as RFE’s they were not pursued. IMO it is time to look again at them.

  5. Jim Battle says:

    I’m in the camp of leaving things extensions if they can be, even if everyone withing Mozilla is convinced they have invented web chocolate.

    Sure, I can just ignore Ubiquity if it is built in, other than the extra bit of start up time, or the extra 100KB of memory, or the fraction of a ms on each keystroke while the keystroke event percolates past the ubiquity handler or whatever.

    Mozilla’s original vision was to have just the essentials, done well, with flexible extension mechanisms. Rather than adding more crap (even if the mozilla developers are in love with a particular flavor of crap) into the core browser, fix the extension mechanisms that are inadequate which prevent these things from staying addons.

    After that bitterness, I wanted to say I think it is great that people are experimenting with different ideas, and pushing in different directions, even if they ultimately are dead ends. Thanks!