The Little Things That Kill

Album Cover: Plans

"And it came to me then that every plan is a tiny prayer to Father Time."
Death Cab / What Sarah Said

Posted on March 15, 2005 4:15 PM in Computers
Warning: This blog entry was written two or more years ago. Therefore, it may contain broken links, out-dated or misleading content, or information that is just plain wrong. Please read on with caution.

If you've ever had to install, upgrade or uninstall software on Red Hat Linux, you've probably, like me, gained an appreciation for how well Windows manages such tasks. However, just because the OS manages those processes well does not necessarily mean that individual software packages do as well.

When I put on my user's hat and think about what makes a good piece of software, it's the little things that often count the most. Anyone who has been reading my blog for any significant amount of time knows that I am a staunch Firefox supporter. That being said, Firefox recently lost points with me because it didn't do something that I consider to be absolutely vital – clean up after itself.

After noticing the nifty update icon in the upper-right corner of the browser last week, I decided I'd go ahead and upgrade from version 1.0 to 1.0.1 in order to get some of the fixes that went into that build.

Given that I've been installing new versions of Firefox for quite a long time now, I couldn't help but feel a little bit iffy about installing an upgrade without first removing the old version. However, I put my faith in Firefox to do the right thing. By doing so, I did the wrong thing.

Without any regard for the version of Firefox already living on my machine, Firefox 1.0.1 installed just as if it was being installed for the very first time. However, that was the problem – it wasn't being installed for the first time, so I expected it to clean up after itself and manage the fact that Firefox 1.0 would no longer be needed.

It wasn't long after looking in Add/Remove Programs, seeing two versions of Firefox available for uninstall, and grimacing more than a purple McDonald's mascot that I read Asa Dotzler's post, upgrading from firefox 1.0 to firefox 1.0.1, in which he admits:

We do not clean up the Firefox 1.0 listing in Add or Remove Programs. Do not attempt to uninstall the old Firefox 1.0 from Add or Remove Programs. That will uninstall your updated version.

The good news is, he also states that the issue should be fixed by the next release. That doesn't change the fact, however, that my 5% OCD (some might argue a higher number) is practically making me twitch knowing that there are two Firefox entries under Add/Remove Programs.

The moral of the story, I suppose, is that doing the little things the right way can really strengthen the overall user experience, not to mention a user's trust in the application. The next time I install Firefox I will doubtless be worrying about whether or not it will clean up after itself for a change.

Just as a final note, I don't particularly mean to pick on Firefox here. I could have just as easily picked on iTunes (which exhibited the exact same behavior today when I "upgraded" to version 4.7.1) or a whole slew of other applications. The fact of the matter is that developers, in general, need to be responsible because earning a user's trust can go a very long way.


grapeshot on April 14, 2005 at 7:36 PM:

Gosh darn it, I had the EXACT same reaction. Only I didn't find out that Firefox upgrades didn't clean up after themselves until I'd upgraded from 1.0 to 1.0.1 to 1.0.2!! Now I have three versions of Firefox on my PC! No wonder Firefox has been acting all twichy suddenly. I'm just a member of the vast ignorant masses of computer users, and I'm dismayed at having to figure out how to save my bookmarks, settings and customizations so that I can un-install all my versions of Firefox and re-install the one I should have. The very thought of figuring all this out has paralyzed me! Aaargh!


Shrikantha on April 15, 2005 at 3:05 PM:

I recently upgraded from firefox 1.0 to firefox 1.0.2 ( a week ago) and I did not have two separate versions. 1.0.2 nicely cleaned 1.0!!. I had no problem. All my bookmarks etc got moved to 1.0.2. I also tried Thunderbird. I could also connect to microsoft exchange server(my employer maintains exchange as mail server) from thunderbird.


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