posted by Thom Holwerda on Wed 23rd Sep 2009 22:31 UTC
IconWe've already talked about the proposed interface changes for Firefox 3.7 (and 4.0) which are coming to the Windows platform. However, those were anything-goes sketches, and now it seems as if the team has more or less settled on what Firefox 3.7 will look like on Windows. I'll reserve final judgement until I have used it, but my first thought was: who littered all these different widgets all over the place?


Windows?

Let's first look at the rationale behind such a major user interface overhaul for the successful open source web browser. "Firefox feels dated and behind on Windows. Especially Vista and Windows 7," Mozilla writes, "These issues include absence of Glass, anemic purple toolbar color on Vista, tall and bulky UI footprint, element overload, inconsistent toolbar icon usage/style, lack of a tactile look & feel and perhaps too great of a divergence between the look on XP and Vista/7."

In order to combat these issues, the Firefox team will basically scrap the current UI, take bits and pieces from competing browsers, mash them together, and give it a dash of uniqueness. They will embrace glass and neutral tones, and in true Aero Glass style, they will hide the menubar by default (Vista/7 only). The existing menu structure will be condensed into Page and Tools buttons (see Chrome), they will combine stop and reload, and replace the home button with a home tab.

Enough with the fancy words, let's just look at it, as it's all pretty self-explanatory. I added a shot of Google Chrome for comparison, and also to illustrate quite strinkingly why I find the new UI for Firefox 3.7 cluttered and far too busy.

Comparing the new FF 3.7 UI to Chrome.
Click to make big.

When Microsoft first released Internet Explorer 7, I was flabbergasted. When I opened the application for the first time, and saw the user interface, my first thought was: oh my god, someone was carrying a bag of random widgets, tripped, spilled the widgets all over the place, and the IE team just happened to walk by. They looked at the mess, made a photo, and told the UI team: make IE look like that.

I have the exact same feeling when looking at the Firefox 3.7 user interface. Not only are there way too many widgets on the default setup, the widgets are also all differently shaped and coloured, which makes it all look very visually busy. In addition, note that because of all that glass, you're going to see a lot of stuff peeking through from behind.

It very much pains me to say, but all this reminds me a lot of my UI arch-nemesis, Internet Explorer. While the Trident engine is often derided for being outdated and a mess, I would argue that Internet Explorer's interface is in an even worse shape. Now, look at the below shot. See the resemblance?

Internet Explorer 8: the world's worst interface in the history of EVAR.
Click to make big too.

I'm still thinking about what the Firefox team could do to improve the situation, but while they still accept community input, it feels as if said input is more about details than starting over from scratch. If I were cheeky, I'd simply point to Chrome and say: pretty much that, but that's a bit oversimplified. What I mean is that a browser's user interface should get out of my way, it shouldn't stand there impatiently hopping up and down like an overactive child in an amusement park, begging for my attention.

This new design draws the eyes towards the user interface, while in fact, the eyes should be drawn towards the porn websites being displayed. Content is king in browsers, but with this new interface, the spotlights have clearly been shifted.


Linux? Mac...?

Okay, all well and fine, but what about all those people using Firefox on Linux and Mac OS X? Will they get the same hyperactive user interface as the Windows guys? This is currently not yet known; it seems as if the thought processes on that one are only now starting. "Going forward we are going to look into the best ways to carry these ideas over to Mac and Linux as well," Mozilla writes.

With Camino, Safari, and Chrome (in alpha) putting a lot of effort into looking native on all platforms, the Firefox team will have to work very hard to keep up. I'm genuinely interested in what the Mac and Linux teams come up with.

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