Switching modes and profile sharing, again

Matt Brubeck mbrubeck at mozilla.com
Sat Oct 5 08:57:58 PDT 2013

I'm sorry to potentially re-open a can of worms, but I'd like to revisit 
our approach to switching "modes" (desktop/Metro) and sharing data 
between modes.

Our current solution is to treat the two modes as separate applications 
with separate profiles, and allow users to (optionally) use Firefox Sync 
to share data.  One advantage of this is the ability to run both modes 
at the same time.  However, it comes with some disadvantages in usability.

The big problem, in my opinion, is that we are shipping two different 
products with the same name.  Users will have two browsers that are both 
called "Firefox" but they look and act completely different and do not 
share any data.  If a user launches Firefox the wrong way, they'll end 
up in a browser where all their bookmarks and data are "gone" and 
nothing works like they expect.  (I think this is similar to the problem 
that Microsoft has  in shipping two different products called "Surface" 
that run "Windows" but have completely different capabilities.)

One solution would be to use a separate name and branding for the Metro 
browser, so users have the right expectations that these are two 
separate applications.  However, I think a better approach would be to 
use the solution that Chrome used:  From the user point of view, Chrome 
is a single application with a single entry point and a single profile.  
It has two modes, but only one mode can run at a time.  If you want to 
switch modes, you just choose the "switch to desktop" or "switch to 
Windows 8 mode" in the menu.  Chrome remembers which mode you've chosen, 
and will continue using that mode until you explicitly switch again.

This would solve so many potential problems of data sharing and user 
confusion that I think we should seriously consider it before we ship.  
I would also like to see usability research comparing our dual-mode 
browser to our dual-mode competitors (Chrome and IE).

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