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Does Web Developer Have Too Many Features?

I have read a few posts online recently that started to make wonder if the Web Developer extension has too many features and that this feature overload is reducing the usability of the extension.

What Started Me Wondering

First, Garrett Dimon posted Be Careful What You Wish For in which he says:

Knee jerk feature addition involves little to no deeper understanding and can be very harmful to the success of an application.

Then Jason Fried posted Forget Feature Requests and suggested this method for dealing with feature requests:

So, ask for requests, read the requests, listen to your customers, and then forgot what they said. Let them remind you over and over and over again. That’s how you find the real gaps in your product.

I found both of these posts interesting, but what really made me tie them back to the Web Developer extension was Roger Johansson’s post about Evaluating Web Sites For Accessibility With Firefox where he writes:

I regularly use the Web Developer Toolbar for evaluating accessibility, but I never realised some of the commands Patrick mentions existed. Outline Custom Elements, Linearize Page, and View Form Information are all very useful commands that I’ll be using a lot now that I’ve been made aware of them.

My Process

Feature requests for the Web Developer extension come in via either email or the forums and as long as I feel the request makes sense then it is added to the to-do list. I typically then work on the features that I consider to be the most useful or are getting the most requests, as well as any that can be implemented easily.

This is fairly unstructured and means I do not necessarily have a clear vision of what I am going to be including in the next release. Over time this has contributed to the menus becoming more cluttered and harder to navigate.

Extension Improvements

In version 0.8 of the extension the menus were tidied and I have repeated this exercise for the next release. In addition to adding menu separators, I have also replaced the alphabetical sorting of features with something hopefully more intuitive. Now the features under each category are grouped by behavior in the following order:

  1. Disable functionality.
  2. View functionality.
  3. Edit functionality.

The new CSS menu can be seen here, for example. As soon as I made this change I found the menus easier to navigate, although it will take a little time to get used to some of the new feature locations.

Web Developer

I think the biggest improvement that could be made would be to write some better documentation, but this is always a lower priority than development.

Thoughts?

As much as anything this post is about soliciting feedback from users of the Web Developer extension.

Do you find the extension confusing and unintuitive? If you do, is this because of the menu layout or has the extension just become bloated with unnecessary features? Do you think some features should be removed from the extension and, if so, which ones? What other solutions would you suggest to make the extension more intuitive to use?

Internet Explorer Developer Toolbar

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then I am honored by the beta release of the Internet Explorer Developer Toolbar. While the AEVITA Web Inspector was a blatant rip-off, the IE Developer Toolbar, although clearly inspired by the Web Developer extension, is a separate and potentially useful tool.

The structure of the menus resembles the Web Developer extension with ‘Disable’, ‘Images’, ‘Misc’, ‘Outline’ and ‘Resize’ all being common between the two tools, as well as the ‘Validate’ menu correlating to the ‘Tools’ menu in the Web Developer extension. Most of the features have an equivalent in the Web Developer extension, although the IE Developer Toolbar contains fewer features – particularly those related to CSS.

Interesting Features

There are three unique features of the IE Developer Toolbar that stood out for me.

Firstly, ‘View DOM’ which is similar to the DOM Inspector in Firefox. What makes this feature unique is the option to ‘pin’ the DOM Explorer as part of the browser window which is useful.

Secondly, the ‘Show Ruler’ feature which gave Ben some ideas on how to improve the ‘Display Ruler’ feature that is part of the Web Developer Alpha.

Finally, the ‘Outline Positioned Objects’ feature which I have already added to the to-do list for the Web Developer extension and I am hoping to include in the next release.

A Promising Start

Overall, I think the IE Developer Toolbar is an interesting tool which, while clearly immature, shows some promise and it will be interesting to see how it improves going forward. For a more in-depth review of the IE Developer Toolbar with screenshots check out Cow’s Blog.

Web Developer 0.9.4

Version 0.9.4 of the Web Developer extension has been released. This release is purely to make the extension compatible with Firefox 1.5 Beta.

Firefox 1.5 Beta Compatibility

This is really just a placeholder post for now as I am starting to receive emails and forum posts asking about Firefox 1.5 Beta compatibility for the User Agent Switcher and Web Developer extensions.

Update: The User Agent Switcher and Web Developer extensions are both now compatible with Firefox 1.5 Beta.

My usual stand is that I do not support nightly, alpha or beta builds for either extension—as noted in the User Agent Switcher and Web Developer FAQs. This is because too many little bugs appear in these builds that can affect the behavior of an extension and I just do not have the time to debug an issue to work out if it is a problem with that build or my extension.

However, with Firefox 1.5 Beta offering significant improvements over Firefox 1.0 I suspect that many people will be trying it out—myself included. Therefore I am planning on making both the User Agent Switcher and Web Developer extensions compatible with Firefox 1.5 Beta, with the caveat that I will not be providing any support for issues that are only related to Firefox 1.5 Beta and do not occur in Firefox 1.0.

Changes Required

Making the User Agent Switcher extension compatible should be straightforward enough and I hope to release version 0.6.7 this weekend. This will not include any new functionality, but will merely add Firefox 1.5 Beta and Netscape support along with some minor code optimization.

Unfortunately, the Web Developer extension is a little more tricky. I have spent the last few months working on the next release of the extension and version 0.9.3 is effectively frozen. If version 0.9.3 can be made compatible with Firefox 1.5 Beta by just updating the supported version then I will do that this weekend. Otherwise people will have to wait for the beta of the next release for a version of the Web Developer extension that is compatible with Firefox 1.5 Beta, which should not be too far away if everything goes according to plan.

So please stay tuned—I will be updating this post with the latest information as I work on making the User Agent Switcher and Web Developer extensions compatible with Firefox 1.5 Beta.

Web Developer Rip-Off

Someone sent me an email the other day with a link to the AEVITA Web Inspector. Web Inspector is described as “an add-on component for your Internet Explorer browser…for testing and optimizing HTML pages without complexity”. It sounds like an equivalent to the Web Developer extension only for Internet Explorer instead of Firefox, but a quick glance at it’s home page reveals it is more of a rip-off than an equivalent.

Copied

The first thing I noticed was that the icons used in Web Inspector are identical to those in Web Developer. These icons were not created by me, but are part of the default Firefox themes on Windows and Mac OS X, and I believe these icons are copyrighted by Mozilla.

Looking at one of the Web Inspector screenshots it was clear that not only had the icons been taken from Web Developer, but that the menus had an almost identical structure in terms of naming and order, with only a few items added and removed.

I also noticed that most of the text on the Web Inspector home page had been copied from the Web Developer documentation. For example, from the Web Developer documentation:

The disable features allow the disabling of various browser behaviors including disabling the cache, JavaScript and CSS.

And from the Web Inspector home page:

The disable features allow the disabling of various browser behaviors including disabling the cache, JavaScript and CSS.

What is particularly amusing about this is that the text was copied verbatim even though there is no feature that disables the cache in Web Inspector! The Web Inspector home page also claims that the program allows “an unlimited number of configurable tools” and “custom sizes” in the resize feature, but these are features of the Web Developer extension and are not included in Web Inspector.

I downloaded and installed the program and it behaves in almost exactly the same way as the Web Developer extension. This makes me suspect that much of the logic was probably taken from my code, although this is most likely hard to prove as I would guess that the internal code of an Internet Explorer add-on is very different to that of a Firefox extension.

No Response

I sent AEVITA support a polite email pointing out what appear to me to be clear violations of the GNU General Public License that the Web Developer extension is distributed under and the copyright of the Mozilla icons. At the time of writing I have yet to receive a response.

I find it sad that there are people who would abuse open source software in this way and even charge $24.95 for a license. This is certainly not about trying to stop any competition for the Web Developer extension—I have always been fully supportive of the Web Accessibility Toolbar.

I am not sure what my next steps will be, but I will post any follow-ups here.

Update: Asa Dotzler from Mozilla has picked up the story on his blog and is encouraging people to contact AEVITA and express disapproval.

Update 2: Web Inspector is also available from Download.com and ZDNet Downloads. Feel free to add your opinion to the user reviews of the tool.

Update 3: Davenport points out that Web Inspector appears to have been removed from the AEVITA web site.

Update 4: Audoin points out that the AEVITA web site is now simply showing a “Bandwidth Limit Exceeded” message.

Update 5: The AEVITA web site is back up again and all references to the Web Inspector have been removed, although James says that the images can still be accessed by URL. AEVITA have not contacted me, but I now consider this matter closed and want to thank everybody for their support.