Remember the first time you loaded Windows 8 or 8.1? If you’re anything like me (and millions of other users) you were utterly baffled at first because the interface is so different. Compare that irritating and time-wasting experience to the learning curve required of users who upgraded to Mozilla’s new Firefox 29 browser; there’s almost none. I upgraded on a busy workday and simply started using it the way I always do. Yes, there are some nice new features, which I checked out as soon as I had a few moments. But I did my work, which always requires lots of browser time, without really noticing the difference.
All of this makes it sound like the new version of Firefox isn’t very different. It’s not a top-to-bottom redesign, but Mozilla says Firefox 29 is the biggest upgrade since version 4 was released in 2011. It is noticeably different in a number of respects, but the Mozilla folks managed to make changes in such a way that users naturally discover them as needed without work-stopping bumps. (For a detailed look at Firefox 29, check out this slideshow.)
I’m not writing this to bash Microsoft. Developing a new version of an OS is a much, much, bigger and more difficult task than revving a browser. Still, I do think Microsoft could learn a thing or two from Mozilla, which is a relatively small, open-source development community.
Innovation should delight users, not freak them out. The biggest problem with Windows 8 from a user perspective is that it forces you to unlearn habits you’ve developed over the years. When I was a lot younger, I loved learning new software and found climbing those learning curves quite satisfying. Not so much anymore.
I simply want my digital stuff to work so I can do what I need to and spend as little time as possible making it work. So when I heard that Firefox 29 was rather different, I was hesitant to install the upgrade. Overall, it’s been a good experience.
I like that Firefox is now easier to customize. The Customize menu lets you drag objects around and place them where you want them — or banish them from your sight. The main menu was redesigned, giving users easy access to what Mozilla says are the most commonly used commands. Those are improvements I used (and liked) immediately. You can now create an account with Firefox to enable browser sync across all your devices, which is probably handy, but doesn’t appeal to me, so I haven’t used it yet.
All in all, this is an upgrade that Firefox users will like. Will it convince Chrome or IE users to switch browsers? Probably not, but I suggest giving it try. Let’s hope Microsoft catches on.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.