Content Preferences, Now With Toolbar Widgets

Last weekend I updated my Content Preferences extension to work with Firefox 3.

Along the way, I finished up an additional feature for it: pref widgets you can add to your browser toolbars. The widgets let you set page zoom, page style, and character encoding directly from visible browser chrome, and you use them by customizing your toolbars to include them via the View > Toolbars > Customize command.

Here’s the page style widget in the menubar on Linux:

Here are all three widgets on their own toolbar on Mac:

As with page zoom in Firefox 3, these widgets are site-specific and persist across browsing sessions. And as with earlier versions of the extension, they’re also available in a sidebar that follows you as you browse around the web and also lets you set global defaults:

UI like this has three possible futures:

  1. If it’s useful to a broad range of users a significant percentage of the time, it belongs in the default chrome.

    The page zoom widget is a candidate for this placement. Among other indications, a number of popular sites, like CBS News, provide a version of it to their users within the default “chrome” of their content pages:

  2. Otherwise, if it’s useful enough to enough users (a fuzzy definition, to be sure), it belongs in optional chrome, either via an extension or in well-concealed parts of the core product (hidden preferences, the browser toolbar palette, etc.).

    The character encoding widget perhaps satisfies these conditions, as it might be very useful in certain parts of the world where automatic charset specification and detection is not yet up to snuff.

  3. Otherwise, it doesn’t belong in the chrome at all.

    I wonder if that’s the case for the page style widget, since browser UI for website skinning has never caught on.

    But there’s a chicken and egg problem here, since sites don’t have impetus to provide multiple skins without useful browser UI for applying them, while browsers don’t feel pressure to implement good UI when so few sites take advantage of it. Maybe a persistent site-specific page style widget is just the ticket to change that.

I’m not happy with the widgets, though. The page style and charset widgets simply mirror the functional but archaic menu-based UI in the View menu, and while the page zoom widget tries something new, and it’s easy enough to understand, it’s difficult and frustrating to use, since it requires precise manual dexterity to set a specific zoom level.

It could be improved in a variety of ways–indicators of which direction does what, markers and snap anchors at specific zoom levels, etc. But maybe there’s something even better. Two big buttons for zooming in and out?

A set of sticky buttons that each represent a zoom level?

As for page style, perhaps it could display a set of screenshots showing the appearance of the page with each alternative style applied. And the charset widget could show you what the text would look like if you applied each encoding.



Myk Melez

Myk is a Principal Software Architect and in-house entrepreneur at Mozilla. A Mozillian since 1999, he's contributed to the Web App Developer Initiative, PluotSorbet, Open Web Apps, Firefox OS Simulator, Jetpack, Raindrop, Snowl, Personas, Firefox, Thunderbird, and Bugzilla. He's just a cook. He's all out of bubblegum.


9 thoughts on “Content Preferences, Now With Toolbar Widgets

  1. Would really like a page zoom as either part of standard chrome (that’s pretty unrealistic) or customizable.

    The old zoomy.xpi extension was very good at it and simple.

  2. the glazoom extension has that two-button UI. Originally it was just a right-click “zoom this element to full screen” proof of concept for the new Fx3 zoom functionality — I think — and that was why I installed it.

    But now i basically never use the “super-zoom-this-element” functionality but the two-button zoom is really, really fantastic for when i’m in a lazy, not-using-my-keyboard, idle-browsing session.

  3. A nice addon would be to be able to choose the language of the spell checker. E.g. when you write on the browser uses automatically a english spell checker, when you go to the spell checker is set to german, without the interaction of the user.

  4. One problem I’ve always had with this type of stuff is consistency. For example, “medium” is to small for me, but “large” is annoying (to much scrolling). I want the middle!

    What would be interesting is a more consistent way to use a preferred font size. Ideally accessible via JS and CSS. This would let a web developer essentially scale the design to the users preference.

    This is different than the minimum font size since it’s accessible to the code and the rest of the site can be developed to work *with* the request.

    For example, say on the goal is to make the story text the preferred size, which is set to 12px on my computer. I could then make the title either +10px, 10% or 0.5em, whatever I want.

    It’s different than page zoom since it’s:

    1. Done on page logic
    2. Scales not based on percentage but to get target text to a certain size
    3. Can work within constraints (no less than 10px, no more than 15px).
    4. Everything else is in appropriate proportions (no zoomed images, graphics that don’t quite fit, etc.). Much more ascetically pleasing.

    I should really blog this in more deal, no?

    Anyway… I’ll end my brain dump here for now. Just by $0.02

  5. I have used this add on and its very useful for some websites to get a better reading experience. I really love this addon on Mozilla.It was working well for me on my Firefox 2 and Firefox 3 on Vista. But it is crashing the Firefox 3 on Windows XP SP3. It happened after the update notification from the Mozilla and installed it. This add on Content Preferences was not compatible with the new installation but a check for update installed a new version of this Add on after that I am facing this Crash i cant go to Google. I have disabled it now. I hope it would be fixed soon. I have a lot other addons on Firefox. But disabling all the other addons and enabling the Content preferences alone make the Browser crashes.

  6. Hi Mark,

    No, I don't plan to port this to Chrome, although the code is open source, and others are welcome to do do.


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