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2.28.2008

Firefox 3 Considered Fugly

(Please don’t let the title distract from my analysis — it was just too good to pass up!)

With a new version of Firefox depending on at least three separate themes to integrate into dozens of disparate operating systems, I think it’s high time we took a look at the evolution of Firefox’s on Windows XP. With its massive user base, the XP theme should integrate so seamlessly that users would be offended to change it. Mozilla made native-ness one of their top priorities for Firefox 3, but can they walk the walk?
***

Navigational Buttons

Let’s see how the primary navigation buttons have stacked against their Luna baseline:

Luna
Windows XP

Qute
Qute (Firefox <.9)

Winstripe Old
Old Winstripe (Firefox 0.9)

Winstripe
Winstripe (Firefox 1.0-1.5)

Firefox 2
Firefox 2 “Refresh”

Firefox 3
Proposed Firefox 3
The most obvious thing to point out is the choice of colors that have persisted throughout the themes:

Green = Backwards/Forwards
Blue = Reload
Red = Stop
Yellow/Brown = Home.

Being able to associate specific colors with specific functionality was one thing I loved about Winstripe. You didn’t even have to scan for a button of a particular shape or remember a particular position: want to reload? Move to blue. Want to go Home? Click yellow.

Firefox 2’s “refresh” made a crucial mistake that I’m afraid seems to have been reproduced in Firefox 3: the Home button is two dimensional. Physical objects like houses and printers, under the XP style guide, should be isometric.

Notice how in IE6, Qute, and Winstripe, the Home button is tilted to an angle; that’s how it should look. I thought this had been ironed out by the time Winstripe was finalized, yet with Firefox 3 we’re seeing a Home icon almost identical to its Old Winstripe counterpart — which was excised because of its nonnative appearance.

And get a load of reload! And Stop, as well. Those new, revamped Firefox 3 glyphs fit right into Windows XP...

Firefox 3
Proposed Firefox 3

Windows XP Undo and Delete
Windows XP Undo & Delete
...as formatting commands. Come on, Mozilla! Glyphs may work fine on Vista — and I’m sure these icons blend right in with Aero — but on XP they don’t even have the personality of Undo & Delete.
***

Cust, Copy & Paste

I haven’t met a single person who uses these buttons within their web browser.

Windows XP
Windows XP

Qute
Qute

Winstripe Old
Winstripe Old

Winstripe
Winstripe

Firefox 2 & 3
Firefox 2 & 3
It seems like Mozilla doesn’t know anybody using these buttons either; these are the only icons that haven’t been updated for Firefox 3. And that’s a shame, because they look terrible.

The Qute icons resemble their XP counterparts, but they’re way too cartoony. Winstripe is better, but I’m not sure about that green arrow. Is it some kind of metaphorical link between copy and paste?

Without a doubt the worst offender here is the latest theme. Since when is Copy represented in XP by a clipboard?! It’s not rocket science:

Scissors = Cut
Double Document = Copy
Clipboard = Paste

Other than the scissors blending into the toolbar, the indistinct copy and paste buttons, and the incorrect coloring of the clipboard... I forgot where I was going with that.
***

New Tab & Window

Without any XP equivalent, these buttons have been open to interpretation.

Qute
Qute

Winstripe Old
Winstripe Old

Winstripe
Winstripe

Firefox 2
Firefox 2 “Refresh”

Firefox 3
Firefox 3
There’s a lot of consistency here except for Firefox 2, where the icons became hideous: the plus sign is inconveniently placed and obscures the icons, the icons no longer have distinct shapes or colors, and they melt into the toolbar.

I fully welcome the new icons, though I think the new “New Tab” button looks too much like a folder and doesn’t have a distinct enough color. It should be more beige/tan/brown.
***

Other Icons

The balance of the icons are a miasma of miscellanea that serve special purposes but don’t fit into any other category.

Windows XP
Windows XP (No Download Manager)

Qute
Qute

Winstripe Old
Winstripe Old

Winstripe
Winstripe

Firefox 2
Firefox 2 “Refresh”

Firefox 3
Firefox 3
Like the “New Tab” button, there’s no native symbol for Bookmarks. Unlike all other browsers, Microsoft calls bookmarks “favorites” and represents them with a star. It seems that Mozilla is moving in that direction (not the terminology, but the symbol) since Firefox 3 includes new “starring” functionality and the Bookmarks icon is a marriage of the two metaphors.

The new History button is a worthy successor to Qute and Winstripe. If anything, its more native than the XP History button.

Not having a native Download image has created a series of ideas and theories about what “download” should look like. Its metaphor has always included a down arrow, but results have varied.

I find the new Firefox 3 Download icon confusing. It’s too big, the back part of the gray box-like thing directly traverses the down arrow, amounting to a gray box with a green line coming out of it. I much preferred the Download icon used in trunk builds until just a few weeks ago:

Firefox 3 Download

And it’s not like this icon has been removed; the completed download box still shows this icon. In my opinion, this icon is perfect for XP: it uses a native-looking windows hard drive icon under a down arrow. What better metaphor for downloading could there be?

Until Firefox 2, the Print button was always unique: gray, isometric, with clearly defined top and bottom flaps. The Firefox 2 rendition looks way too similar to the FF2 New Tab button, and the Firefox 3 version looks like a flatbed scanner or an external CD drive. Winstripe had the same frontal view of the printer, but used shadows to better define its purpose.
***
Like cut, copy and paste, the icons in the Error Console haven’t been changed from their glossy Firefox 2 version. And the red close button that appears frequently in Firefox on tabs, the find bar, and so many other places hasn’t been replaced. It looks better suited to Vista, completely nonnative in XP.

Nonnative Close Button

In short, the new theme feels cobbled together in a haphazard fashion without serious thought given to how all the icons would interact as a coherent unit. The shame of it is, Mozilla has an excellent theming community and a competition within it could have produced a much better theme based on popular support.

Unless a lot of images are replaced at the last minute, the most native-looking aspect of Firefox 3 will be the new combined Back/Forward button.

Processing 12×100 Robo-Comments:

Blogger angel, jr. gesticulated...

Happy Leap Year Friday!

2/29/2008 12:09 PM  
Blogger Jon the Intergalactic Gladiator gesticulated...

This is all well and good, but do you still have the ham flavored bubble gum for sale? The 8 crates I bought last year are running out fast.

2/29/2008 8:19 PM  
Blogger Gyrobo gesticulated...

Jon, didn't you read the little warning label on the side of the crate?! That gum is for children only! Your telomeres can't handle the fun!

Fortunately, our next batch of HamGum (rebranded for your pleasure) contains a telomeric tracer.

2/29/2008 11:51 PM  
Blogger Lee Ann gesticulated...

I like the new buttons and love how you have done a side by side comparison.

Have a great weekend!
~xo
Lee Ann

3/01/2008 11:30 AM  
Blogger Bathroom Hippo gesticulated...


Yeah that FireFox 3 ain't looking too wonderful. I wonder if they've gotten the memory management under control? Firefox 2.0.0.11 has some memory issues and issues with a particular format on video embeds.

It would be nice to open 10 tabs and not use over 400 MB Page file usage.

Also that Firefox 3.0 proposed look is terrible. Fugly doesn't begin to do it justice. More like "Mugly Fugly".

3/01/2008 8:09 PM  
Blogger Gyrobo gesticulated...

At least it's not as faded as the current version. Sadly, they've landed a few changes on the trunk today. Looks like it's gonna get worse before it gets better.

Memory usage got a lot better in Firefox 3. They put in a new garbage collector and it's quite excellent. The theme is the only thing they can't seem to get right.

3/02/2008 12:03 AM  
Blogger Delicious gesticulated...

i like the button from FF <.9 they are snazzy!

3/02/2008 4:42 AM  
Blogger Gyrobo gesticulated...

Qute can still be used.

3/02/2008 12:57 PM  
Blogger G3T Films gesticulated...

I did the exact same comparison with Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Unfortunately they haven't changed their icons for centuries.

PS. You are totally and unreservedly correct. There! That's your one time you'll get to hear that from me.

3/02/2008 4:59 PM  
Blogger Michael gesticulated...

Hey, the robot is still alive!
Never used fire fox. I am a safari guy myself.

3/03/2008 11:00 PM  
Blogger Gyrobo gesticulated...

@Rich: The Eastern Orthodox Church didn't like being called fugly either, but what can they expect when their Patriarch is Tazbon Q. Fugleton?

@Michael: The new Firefox 3 OSX theme closely resembles Safari. You might like it, especially with the massive increase in speed.

3/03/2008 11:42 PM  
Blogger Professor Xavier gesticulated...

The IE that came with Vista has the flat, two dimensional house and it doesn't even have any color at all. What a gyp.

3/05/2008 7:13 AM