[Marketing-Public]Mozilla Design Problems

Irwin Greenwald marketing-public at mozilla.org
Sun, 19 Oct 2003 11:33:35 -0700

I. Introduction

Now that Mozilla, TB, and FB are to be offered as user programs, I
believe it is time to address some design issues that affect recovery.

First, a word as to my background to establish my credentials for
bringing up these issues.  I entered the programming profession in 1950,
first as a scientific programmer and then as a system programmer, being
concerned with utilities, compilers, and developing operating systems.
The last five years of my career were spent demonstrating  that we could
break the security of most any computing system of the era (I retired in

II. The nature of the problem

As I began to understand Mozilla, I realized that there were two obvious
problems with the design and one that is not so apparent:

1. registry.dat is subject to corruption during crashes.

2. prefs.js is subject to corruption during crashes,

3. profiles are subject to corruption over long term use with multiple
installs of nightlies and heavy account editing activity, which is
typical of what testers do.

#1 results in "profiles being lost", which we see too much of in our
newsgroups.  This is relatively easy to fix by knowledgeable users, but
needn't occur.

#2 results in "mail being lost" and/or "profiles being lost" .  This
usually means that a new profile is needed.

#3 results in strange things happening with no explanation.

III. Some suggested design changes

1. Registry.dat should be closed as soon as profile selection is
complete.  Currently, it appears that registry.dat is kept open at all
times, producing strange results on mozilla or OS failures.  I realize
that this would make "switch profile" impossible or slow, but who really

2.  Prefs.js should be split into two files, one for static account settings
and one for "transient" data such as windows positions, sizes, etc.  I
don't care too much about the safety of the second.  The first should be
closed after startup and reopened only when account settings are
edited.  It should be backed up to date named files, and a "restore"
command provided.  Same for bookmarks (Moz and FB).  Alternatively, the
whole profile could be backed up to date-named directories, with
provision for recovery.

3.  The long term decay of profiles possibly can be addressed by better
cleanup, (e.g,  deleting files when accounts are deleted, which has been
a longstanding bug)

IV. My Own Experience

1.  I don't recall ever losing registry.dat, but I see it often enough
in user problems to be concerned.  I believe the fix should be fairly easy.

2.  I have lost prefs.js a number of times, although not too often
recently.  OTOH, I haven't had a program or system crash in ages.

3.  I have experienced profile decay very recently.  It is the
explanation for my inability to write to newsgroups on some servers.  I
rebuilt my profiles for both Mozilla and TBird to overcome this
problem.  It is a very tedious task even when you know what you're
doing.  It would help if the software named the mail & newsgroup folders
with the *account name* rather than the server name with an appended
number.  (I have manually changed these names myself so I can keep track)

V. Summary

I believe some design changes are mandatory if we expect to "sell"
Mozilla to end users.  I have suggested some "cures" for problems I have
encountered, either directly, or by helping other people.  Your reaction
to these ideas is solicited, and - if you agree that something needs to
be done , your suggestions on how to make it happen would be appreciated.

Irwin Greenwald
Mozilla Champion