Is Firefox Too Customizable for its Own Good?

by Ostatic Staff - Mar. 21, 2013

Alex Limi, who heads up product design for Mozilla, asks an interesting question in a new blog post: "If I told you that a company is shipping a product to hundreds of millions of users right now, and included in the product are several prominent buttons that will break the product completely if you click them, and possibly lock you out from the Internet — can you guess which product it is?"

The answer to Limi's question, of course, is the Firefox browser. He asks the question as a springboard to his real set of questions, which surround whether software is now too customizable or users' own good. Is it?

"In the currently shipping version, Firefox ships with many options that will render the browser unusable to most people, right in the main settings UI," Limi notes. He cites how easy it is to turn off the ability to load images automatically in the browser, and how quickly disabling JavaScript features can funkify a browsing experience.

Limi says:

"The people that need to do these things should use add-ons, or at the very least an about:config tweak...."

 There are a lot of us who use Firefox, of course, who chose it originally precisely because of the rich array of customization options and extensions that were available for it. But Limi cites hard survey data showing that the majority of users don't use the customization options, and asks why they should be easy to toggle on and off when they can break Firefox. 

Limi knows a lot about design, Firefox and the Firefox audience, so is he right? I suspect people will disagree. But he may have a point that Firefox should be delivered in a less flexible version for the average Jane and Joe, and a fully customizable version for tinkerers.