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Originally posted September 2 2006 at 21:09 under Mozilla. 0 Comments. Trackbacks Disabled.

Beta Is Something of a Theme

Not Impressed

I agree with pretty much every word. To be fair, at least Asa has called for comments. Well, these are my initial thoughts on Firefox Beta2’s theme (and a couple of other things)…

Firstly a couple of disclaimers so my perspective is more obvious: I’ve only tested this on Windows XP (using the wonderful portable version (which makes testing less of a headache). I’m one of these people who dislikes all the flashy graphics so turns XP’s nasty default theme back to classic. I’ve only spent at most about twenty minutes with a mac. I’m sure they’re nice but do wonder how much people are seduced by the “lovely” interface. I’ve run kubuntu on and off for a year-ish and sometimes get annoyed by KDE’s pandering to glossy icon-ness and wondering why the start menu seems to change with every update.

I think the above doesn’t just go to show that I’m a traditionalist “functional, not pretty” sort of guy (I remember before there were all these fancy icons and stuff you know). It also, I think, points towards to the answer to the question only a few seem to be asking…why a theme update (or, such a major one)? Winstripe/Pinstripe is quite a good theme. It’s not majorly hated by anyone. But you see Firefox 2.0 needs a new theme because it’s 2.0. This is possibly a topic for another post but I think the whole fact that the next release is 2.0 is questionable. It’s got, what, inline spell checking, search suggestions, improved feed reading abilities and a new theme exposed to the user (any backend changes shouldn’t cause a major bump in version number in my opinion. They should bump Gecko’s number, not Firefox’s). Really, without the theme, to the end user it doesn’t look like a major version number release. It barely does with the theme in place. I don’t think this is 2.0, without Places I think it’s 1.6…

So, my issues…this is being published from a default profile, just so I can see (ahh, my eyes). I’m just going to make a list because it seems easier that way…

  • Firstly, I’m 90% convinced the theme designers didn’t test in anything other than the default configuration, with default XP theme…that’s the only way to explain some decisions. As soon as you switch OS theme, or start moving a few things around on the toolbars, so many more problems become apparent its very difficult to believe they’d done that
  • Tabs are horrible…they don’t take up the OS theme, which leaves them sticking out like a sore thumb. Background tabs are difficult to read (and even wash out the site icon) and yet telling which is the active tab is still difficult…
  • Firefox pushes tabs (arguably it’s the browser which brought tabs to the public’s attention). Much of the new theme has worked on tabs. Yet still there is no new tab button visible with the default install…
  • This is possibly more personal, but I really dislike close buttons on tabs (and I know some mac people like them but hate the fact they’re on the right not the left). If I left click somewhere on a tab it should never close the tab (oh, and Recently Closed Tabs doesn’t seem to be working…it’s greyed out…maybe that’s just a portable version thing….it’s hardly the functionality of Session Saver though, which is a pity)
  • You can’t remove the Go button. Lot’s of users get rid of this because of the space it takes up space and is a bit pointless. Likewise you can’t remove the search button.
  • The Go button and Search button really jar with the rest
  • Toolbar icons are far, far, far too washed out. They look disabled even when they’re not. They’re also too dark on hover
  • The hover state of the forward and backwards buttons is a travesty
  • Just admit the home button was a bad afterthought
  • Why the hell do small icons take up the same amount of room as normal icons?
  • I think the behaviour of tabs when there are too many to fit in the window was a bad compromise between different views. Which isn’t to offer a better alternative, but I think maybe what they do now but without shrinking
  • I really hate inline spell checks. They should have properly integrated Spellbound for those of us who find wiggly red lines distracting, irritating and an interruption to our thoughts, but who would still like to spell check things which are important enough. Wiggly red lines are a gimmick, not a usable feature for me
  • The search bar stretches in a rather alarming place (due to its flex properties)
  • Part of the stated aim for this theme is to better fit with Windows Vista. Vista isn’t even out yet! There’s no way it’s going to be on anything like the majority of systems until Firefox 3.0 at the very earliest
  • There are many, many extensions which add icons. These all now look horribly out of place. This places an crazy burden on extension developers who aren’t necessarily artists (which doesn’t even take into account those extensions which can be made to work but aren’t actively developed any more). And extensions are one of Firefox’s biggest selling points

In short? If I were in charge I really would drop the theme “refresh” and stick with the old one. At least it works.

Finally, a couple of screen shots. First the default install; note the faded icons, awful tabs

I copied across my default, everyday Firefox profile and after a couple of tweaks got it more or less working (which given the huge number of extensions was something of a surprise). So this shows the shot with a lot more extensions working with lots more icons. Notice how everything to the right of the bookmarks icon looks out of place, making the default icons appear even more inactive. The three icons starting with the Sunbird icons are application icons, and also look out of place…so much for OS integration

Screen shot with a more used profile

Mozilla are listening. Let’s hope they fix this before a final. I look forward to beta 3’s look

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This Crazy Fool

Dr Ian Scott
Croydon (and Gateshead), United Kingdom
Bullding Services Engineer (EngDesign), PhD in Physics (University of York), football fanatic (Newcastle United), open source enthusiast (mainly Mozilla)

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