Yesterday, I went to a website that used MathML to display a few formulae. Because Firefox supports MathML, I figured everything would display just fine. Unfortunately, Firefox notified me that I had to download some free fonts to display the equations. Here’s the dialog it displayed:

Notice from Firefox to install MathML fonts

I don’t mind having to install fonts, but this dialog is so poorly constructed that I ended up laughing:

  1. The link they provide isn’t clickable. I’m in a frakking web browser, and they’re not going to let me click the link that lets me download the fonts? Seriously?
  2. Not only can you not click the link; you can’t even select it (at least on OS X). You have to open another browser and type it in by hand.
  3. Firefox tells me which fonts it needs. If I actually navigate to that page, I can’t download those fonts individually; I can only grab all the fonts at once. I am completely okay with having to download all the fonts at once—I even think it’s the right solution—but then, why bother telling me which individual fonts I’m missing if I have to download them all together anyway?
  4. For that matter, why is Firefox making me download the fonts? Firefox already knows where they can be fetched, and it knows what platform I’m on, and it has a download manager. It could automate the entire process for me quite easily.

The dialog they present should look like this:

An improved Firefox dialog

I’ve made a number of improvements:

  1. Useless information has been removed. Most users have no idea what MathML is, and even technically proficient ones don’t care exactly which fonts Firefox needs to render it. All users care about is whether the next page they view is legible. The new design clearly explains the problem and the consequences for not fixing it, without going into pointless details.
  2. The install process has been automated. No more “go here for more information.” Just install or don’t, right now.
  3. For users who actually want more information, a Mac OS X help button has been added that can give them all the nitty-gritty details.

The new dialog is clearer, involves less work from the user, and follows the Mac OS X HIG.

Mac developers in general seem to have a better feel for this kind of thing. That’s actually part of what keeps me wedded to the platform: Macs, for as long as I can remember, seem to attract a higher caliber of user interfaces, even (sometimes especially) in third-party apps. Windows is horribly erratic, and Linux, with its multitude of conflicting interface guidelines, frequently ends up being a Frankenstein of pain.