May 1, 2014

My favourite Firefox UI change justifications

It’s Aus­tralis time! Let the jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for auto-updat­ing your user inter­face to some­thing com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent with­out warn­ing begin!

We didn’t make the location/URL bar unmov­able, we sim­ply removed that abil­i­ty from the default install of Firefox.

You can rearrange the nav & URL bar by adding items to the left of it in Cus­tomize mode. A bit hacky, but it works.

I’m not ask­ing you to love it, but I hope you’ll play around with it and see if it can’t be a new home base for you. If it can’t, hey, try anoth­er browser.

There’s a lot of rea­sons we made the tabs curvi­er. One is that the mod­ern web is becom­ing more flu­id and organ­ic and less boxy and robot­ic, and it’s (arguably) a Good Thing.

Inter­face design­ers (or what­ev­er eye-rolling term the indus­try prefers to use these days), please be aware that we might not dis­like the entire set of changes — some may actu­al­ly be jus­ti­fied and qual­i­fy as a net improve­ment — but remem­ber that you’ve been dog­food­ing these changes for months if not years, and many of those changes are pure­ly sub­jec­tive based on a rel­a­tive­ly small cir­cle of like-mind­ed peo­ple. You have been sub­ject­ed to grad­ual shift. Now the sum of those changes have been dumped on hun­dreds of mil­lions of users with­out warn­ing, and you expect peo­ple who have been using the prod­uct for longer than you’ve been a mem­ber of the Mozil­la com­mu­ni­ty to adapt or leave the prod­uct that again, they’ve been using for longer than you have.

A slow grad­ual shift in UI design can be halt­ed and reversed where nec­es­sary. This is the basis for iter­a­tive change and improve­ment. An instan­ta­neous, mono­lith­ic change is so much eas­i­er to jus­ti­fy keep­ing because we spent so much time and mon­ey on this and undo­ing it would be real­ly hard now.

I believe the many com­menters on this long-run­ning issue — going all the way back to the strange, demon­stra­bly illog­i­cal, pat­tern-break­ing mess that was Fire­fox 4 — are right in say­ing that the Fire­fox UI team’s influ­ence to change sig­nif­i­cant amounts of the inter­face with­out restraint should be cur­tailed. No oth­er team has as much pow­er to affect the pub­lic’s per­cep­tion of the brows­er. None. The tech­ni­cal team may intro­duce WebRTC or anoth­er more con­tro­ver­sial web-fac­ing fea­ture, but that is con­strained, has lit­tle to no effect on oth­er fea­tures, is eas­i­ly ignored, and most like­ly can be dis­abled if nec­es­sary. Large-scale UI changes can­not be dis­abled or eas­i­ly revert­ed, are not con­strained, demon­stra­bly break addons and exist­ing usage pat­terns, and dis­able or remove long-term user-fac­ing fea­tures (such as the abil­i­ty to move the address bar or back/forward buttons).

When I was test­ing Win32 webkit night­ly builds I could switch the web engine behind the scenes with­out affect­ing the UI. Give me that and you can let your UI design­ers go wild. My UI is clean, organ­ised how I like, key­board acces­si­ble, fast, and my addons work exact­ly as I like. I don’t need curved tabs because the web is increas­ing­ly flu­id and organic.

There is a cer­tain irony in being told that sim­ple fea­tures of the inter­face are being removed because they’re bet­ter pro­vid­ed by an addon, but then a mono­lith­ic, sig­nif­i­cant­ly dif­fer­ent UI design isn’t pack­aged as an addon (what hap­pened to “com­plete themes”?).

posted by Andrew

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