Sync 1.4 and the status bar

(Note, this is cross-posted from the mailing list, comments should go there.)

As noted in the release announcement, for this release we’ve moved all of the UI in Firefox to the Tools menu, and out of the status bar in Firefox. As we expected, not everyone is a fan of this move, with the primary concerns being around syncing before leaving a machine and detecting when Sync encounters issues. These are valid concerns, and we will address them as part of the new UI design. As explained in more detail below, we feel the new UI is much closer to how Sync should work, and we intend to move forward with this new UI direction in future development.

We believe that Sync should Just Work, and not need manual intervention or frequent status updates. We did have a lot of work to do around performance and reliability, and having the status bar UI in place meant that we got a lot of feedback when Sync caused problems with performance in the app, so it was kept for much longer than we originally intended.

As we move closer to inclusion in Firefox 4, and the add-on continues to become more performant and stable, we feel it is the right time to move the UI into the background. An important factor in this decision is that we will be tuning Sync to update smaller chunks, more frequently, when you’re actually using a particular device. Currently we default to hourly syncs between multiple computers, which is something that will change very soon. At a greatly-increased frequency, the visual distraction (and the performance overhead of continuous UI updates) was not going to be acceptable, so we needed to make changes. That said, no first attempt is perfect, and we still have work to do on the concerns noted above.

We do understand that many users have come to rely on forcing syncs to happen, in order to make the experience of switching between devices better, especially as we do not sync before exiting the application. This is far from an ideal user experience, so our goal is to make this unnecessary, with the changes mentioned above. We’ll be posting more details on these changes in a couple of weeks, after the Mozilla Summit next week.

As for detecting problems, error notifications haven’t changed, and will still be displayed in the status bar as they always have been. We intend to expand these notifications to cover some cases identified by your feedback (i.e. delayed login due to master password, autoconnect being disabled for an extended period of time, etc). While our design goals are for Sync to live in the background, when user intervention is required we will continue to show UI in the main browser window.

Thanks to everyone for your feedback so far, we’ll be doing a better job of posting updates to the dev mailing list (http://groups.google.com/group/mozilla-labs-weave-dev is the current list) so people can get involved with earlier feedback or even jumping into the development process. We also have the development channel builds at https://services.mozilla.com/sync/install.php for anyone interested in following the tip of development.