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Firefox's About window
By Dave Winer on Thursday, August 18, 2011 at 8:55 AM.

A picture named eggMcMuffin.gifI love to follow Hacker News, and I have an RSS feed for it that you're welcome to use. I love it because it's a mix of eclectic, esoteric and important links. Where TechMeme is centered on the wars between the tech giants, and the personalities of the mega-rich, Hacker News wanders into the nooks and crannies of tech, and sometimes far off-topic into areas of human interest. As a human being who loves tech, Hacker News hits a very sweet spot.  Permalink. #

And then there's the occasional glimpse into the communities that make the products we use. #

Like this link to an newsgroup thread about whether Mozilla should remove the version number from the About window in Firefox. #

The thread includes some hard data about the rate of adoption of the new versions of Firefox.  #

Here's the deal as I understand it. Firefox wants you to think of the browser as if it were a web app, where you have no control over what version of the software you're running, and therefore have no need to know the version number. The Mozilla guys cite GMail as prior art. As a GMail user, I can testify that they are correct. I don't know the version number, and have never felt a need to know the version number.  #

However... #

Firefox is not a web app. It's installed on my Mac and Windows machines. They put code on my machine that could possibly broadcast all my private info anywhere they want, or destroy it, or install keyloggers that capture every keystroke I type, etc etc. It's an attack vector that GMail never will be. Now I've never not installed a version of Firefox because I believed it contained malicious bits, but I am aware that it could contain them. I even talked about this in a podcast I did yesterday. Sooner or later it's going to happen, one of the companies I trust to install bits on my machines will get hacked and their entire user community will get infected. Could be Microsoft, Apple, Google, Mozilla -- even Growl. It's going to happen someday.  #

A picture named firefoxAboutWindowSmall.gifThe question I kept wanting someone to ask on the mail list is this. You've given us all the reasons why it's not a problem to remove the version number, but why would a user want you to remove it? It's information you used to provide, and now you don't want to provide it. When a government does that, alarms go off. Same thing with big companies. Your goals and your users' goals here are not necessarily aligned. I don't find that the version number in the About window in Firefox is in my way. So if I have a vote (clearly I don't, but let's play What If) -- I say it stays. #

Anyone who supports users knows that information like this is pretty important. When users click OK to installation dialogs they never should, you get malware on your LAN. Sure the malware is going to patch whatever it needs to (like version numbers), to fool the user. But removing the version number is something a bad actor does, not a company you're supposed to trust. #

Reading the thread, and seeing how the Mozilla people address people in their community makes me want, more than ever, to not be using Firefox. I see it's not just me that they dis, it's pretty much everyone. I think what Firefox needs more than anything is to find a good role for itself in the community. Clearly they're scared of Google. So are many users. There's a natural affinity. But being more of a bully than Google is a good path to marginalization. If I have to choose between bullies, I'll choose the one that isn't changing the rules on users seven years into its product life. #

A suggestion that perhaps they might want to ask people who support users about this, not just "UX experts." It's there for support, not necessarily as part of the user experience or to meet Mozilla's competitive objectives.  #

I've left comments on for this post, but will ruthlessly delete comments that are personal or argumentative. If you question my right to have this opinion, you may state that -- on your own blog. And Mozilla employees should not post in this thread. They always say they're speaking for themselves only even when it's completely obvious that they're speaking for their company. I see their comments as spam and will treat them like I treat all spammers. So don't bother. :-) #

Update: This is what the Firefox 6 About window looks like. #

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