I’ve been a pretty big Firefox fan for quite a few years, and so I had mixed feelings about the newest update. Mozilla not only updated the version to 29, but introduced an entirely new interface, called Australis. In this post, I’m going to take look at the new interface from a casual user’s point of view.
The Australis UI is probably the most drastically different browser design I’ve seen from Firefox in awhile. The last update that shocked me so much was when the menu bar was hidden and I grumbled about having to take up more precious screen space by un-hiding it. But in all respects, that was a pretty small change compared to this time around. Mozilla completely revamped the usability and made it very reminiscent of the Windows 8 OS or Google Chrome. The difference between Firefox and Chrome, however, is pretty noticeable. Firefox has always been about customizability, and while the default interface and design is very user-friendly, you can go beyond the basics to make the browser entirely your own with add-ons and plugins galore.
The largest noticeable change is the menu redesign. Instead of menu options being accessible by the orange button drop-down menu on top left, it’s a stealthier, less obvious button on the very right. When expanded, it shows large, easy-to-click icons for commands like “print,” “options,” and more. You can take these icons and drag them next to the URL bar for easy access. The size of the buttons makes me think of mobile interfaces, as they are very clickable and touchable. Perhaps Mozilla is thinking of more of their users with touchscreen monitors, in which case, Australis would be very compatible.
The bookmark menu now opens with a single click, instead of having to go into the large menu and navigate for what you need. This is very nice for someone like me who has tons of nested bookmark folders, and is much easier if you’re using a touchpad on your laptop instead of a mouse. Of course, the insta-bookmark button is still there, though in a slightly different spot, for those who don’t necessarily need to organize their bookmarks.
Browser tabs are now more distinct. The current tab is front and center, very rounded and opaque, while any other open tabs are transparent and barely noticeable. However, by clicking “title bar” under “customize” in the main menu, you can revert this so that all the tabs are opaque. This seems to be the feature that most Australis reviews are focusing on, but honestly it seems like more of an aesthetics feature than anything else, especially for those of us who switch between tabs using CTRL+Tab. The add-on bar is also gone and is replaced by add-on buttons that you can remove or add as you please. You can also restore the add-on bar itself, but I actually think this new design takes up less space.
If these new changes aren’t to your liking, you can install a theme that is more like the older UIs, and Firefox makes it very easy to do so. In fact, they have a link right in their FAQ explaining how. Firefox has always been about customizability, which is why it is my favorite browser. However, the new update seems geared toward fluidity and time saving, that is, quickly finding what you need, and I wouldn’t write off all the new features yet.
So why should you upgrade? Remember my tirade on updating your old browsers? This ties into that. Unless there’s a very specific technical reason you’d like to stick with a previous version, the average user is going to be fine with the new interfaces and probably won’t miss any old features.