Picture a "test pilot" and you'll probably imagine a dashing personality ready to risk life and limb in order to test the latest technology. The Mozilla Test Pilot program is a lot like that, except you don't have to risk life or limb, and it might not give any great stories to tell at the bar. But you could help the project with very little effort, and isn't that almost as good?
Want to help the Mozilla Project produce the best Firefox possible, but have no developer skills at all? Can you point? Click? Read instructions? Then you’re ready to suit up as a Firefox Test Pilot. Crashes not required.
If you’ve ever felt like you want to give back to the Firefox project, or if you feel like Firefox needs improvement, the Test Pilot project is the the easiest way to provide useful feedback to Mozilla and put those browsing hours to work.
The program is actually very ingenious. Typically, calls for testing are only somewhat effective because it requires users to see a call for testing and decide to participate. Then they have to set aside time to test a project, and then find time to report results in some way. Then you have to hope that the testers will join in again for the next round, but there’s usually not a good way to reach them.
The Test Pilot program puts Firefox’s add-on system to work for the project. By installing the Test Pilot extension, users become part of the Test Pilot program indefinitely. Or until they decide to leave, but it makes being part of the process much easier by not requiring the user to follow the Mozilla blogs and so forth.
Get Ready to Pilot
It should only take five or ten minutes to get started with Test Pilot. Just head over to the Test Pilot page and click the “Become a Test Pilot link. This will prompt you to install the Test Pilot extension.
After installing the extension, you’ll see the “Thank You” page for Test Pilot, and have a Test Pilot icon in the bottom right-hand corner. Click on this, and you’ll see the context menu with the current surveys and current tests.
That’s just what it sounds like. The first survey is to gather data about the test pilots. Very basic, you’ll be asked questions about how much you use Firefox and your skill level with computers. Once you’ve completed the survey it will disappear from the context menu until the next one starts.
Then you have tests. The current test is “A Week in the Life of a Browser.” Here you’ll find a page describing the test and a drop down menu that gives you the option of submitting your data automatically, being prompted, or never submitting data or being prompted about it.
After you’ve run the test for a while, it will display data about your usage and a nice little graph of your bookmarks and time that Firefox has been running or idle. It also has a link to show exactly what data has been submitted, and another link to opt-out of the test.
The Test Pilot context menu also has a link to the Mozilla Wiki and upcoming tests that will be run through Test Pilot. The current test runs through January 14th and repeats every 60 days.
If you want to do more than run tests for the program, you can also propose your own tests. The wiki has information on writing a test proposal and how to “champion” it.
The Moz folks are very serious about privacy. The URLs you visit and bookmark, and search terms are not submitted back to the project, just data about how many bookmarks you have, how many hours you’re online (which may be slightly embarrassing in its own right…), and whether you were active or idle during that time. I feel very comfortable with the Mozilla Project’s privacy policies and practices.
I’ve run Test Pilot for a while now, and haven’t noticed any performance issues or problems that would seem related to the extension. It runs quietly in the background and it’s good to know that I’m helping the project by doing nothing more than browsing.
Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier
is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years covering IT. Formerly the openSUSE Community Manager for Novell, Brockmeier has written for Linux Magazine, Sys Admin, Linux Pro Magazine, IBM developerWorks, Linux.com, CIO.com, Linux Weekly News, ZDNet, and many other publications. You can reach Zonker at
firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter