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Mozilla plots Firefox interface overhaul

'Dated' UI gets cross-platform makeover

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Mozilla has detailed plans to revamp and simplify the user interface of Firefox.

The visual update for the Windows version of the open source browser will occur in two phases, coinciding with the release of Firefox 3.7 and 4.0, with early changes set to include hiding the menu bar and merging the "stop" and "reload" buttons.

Mozilla also wants to completely rethink bookmarks, creating a bookmarks "widget" that replicates the bookmark menu functionality and integrating that with a bookmarks toolbar.

Phase one - hiding the menu bar on Firefox 3.7

Mozilla explains the visual overhaul is needed so the browser does not look dated on machines running the latest versions of Windows, among other reasons.

Firefox feels dated and behind on Windows. Especially Vista and Windows 7. 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.

Changes due to come with Firefox 4.0, which is pencilled in for release late next year, are more in flux but will include a continuation of the bookmarks revamp with proposals to hide the bookmarks bar. The proposed spruce-up also includes combining the browser's address and search bars.

Other changes will see browser tabs moved towards the top of the display, similar to the "tab-on-top" look of Google Chrome.

Phase two - 'tab on top' for Firefox 4.0

Mozilla denies it is copying Chrome or other browsers in this or other aspects of the redesign, arguing that since browsers are all aimed at addressing similar problems then similarities in designs are inevitable.

We are not trying to make Firefox look like any other browser. Firefox is Firefox. Similarities between browsers are unavoidable. They all have shared lineage and are based off of their predecessors. The basics of what a browser does and how it does it is already established. Browsers are all trying to solve the same problems so evolutionary ideas that are similar are inevitable.

With that said, just because an idea didn't originate here doesn't mean it isn't a good idea. Platform trends and conventions are sometimes good to follow. There are plenty of ideas being worked on for Firefox that are innovative and novel.

Mozilla is also planning to make the look and feel of its browser more consistent across different operating system platforms. Firefox 4.0 for Linux, for example, will also feature a "tabs-on-top" interface like its Windows cousin.

Plans for the Mac version of Firefox fall broadly along the same lines but may include the integration of a Web-style interface recently introduced with the Mac version of iTunes. Mozilla reckons the Mac version of Firefox needs far fewer changes than its "dated" Windows relative.

More details on the Firefox UI revamp plans, along with screenshots, can be found in a discussion document on Mozilla's developer wiki here. ®

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