Mozilla rehashes Firefox feature-testing program

Changes name from Idea Town to Test Pilot in attempt to get Firefox users to play with proposed features, provide feedback


Mozilla yesterday cranked up Test Pilot -- restoring a 2015 project with a name from 2009 -- to collect feedback on proposed new features for its flagship Firefox browser.

Test Pilot, which Mozilla dabbled with six years ago, was then aimed at gathering data on how people were using the web in general, Firefox in particular. In its original format, Test Pilot used a Firefox add-on to collect browsing and usage data, and provide tools to answer feedback questions.

Mozilla's goal this time around the Test Pilot block is different.

"Test Pilot is a way for you to try out experimental features and let us know what you think," Nick Nguyen, vice president of Firefox, wrote in a Tuesday post to a company blog.

In fact, while Test Pilot is the project's name, it's actually based on a 2015 concept that Mozilla called "Idea Town." Mozilla renamed Idea Town as Test Pilot in January.

Idea Town was billed as a way for Firefox users to try out new features, and for developers to evaluate user reaction before deciding whether to stick the proposed tools into the browser.

The first three features run through Test Pilot were a visual-heavy new tab page, dubbed "Activity Stream," that displayed thumbnails of both frequently-visited sites and selected past pages from the browser's history and bookmark lists; "Tab Center," which shoved tabs into a vertical stack on the left rather than show them along the top; and "Universal Search," which combined Firefox's current dual search fields.

Other browsers adopted a single search field long ago; Firefox was the last of the top five to stick with the old-school split search.

Desktop Firefox users, whether running the browser in Windows, OS X or Linux, can participate in Test Pilot by downloading the add-on. A Firefox Account -- typically used for synchronizing the browser across multiple devices and platforms -- is required.

Nguyen warned users to expect problems with the features put through the Test Pilot mill. "As you're experimenting with new features, you might experience some bugs or lose some of the polish from the general Firefox release, so Test Pilot allows you to easily enable or disable features at any time," he said.

Although Mozilla, like all browser makers, distributes more than one version of Firefox at a time -- running from the least-polished Nightly build to the production-quality Release edition -- neither the original Test Pilot or the later Idea Town were popular among users.

Test Pilot aims to change that. "Feedback and data from Test Pilot will help determine which features ultimately end up in a Firefox release for all to enjoy," Nguyen said.

More information about Test Pilot has been published on Mozilla's website. Interested users can get started with Test Pilot here.

Test Pilot

Mozilla relaunched Test Pilot, a preview-and-feedback program that hoped to coax Firefox users into trying out proposed new features for the browser, including 'Tab Center,' which stacks tabs vertically on the left.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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