Firefox 29 has been released with a new user interface and lots of the web tools that have been in the beta channel for some time.
The Australis UI has been under development for five years and now that it is here not everyone is happy. But it is generally the case that disgruntled users complain while those satisfied, or dare I say it, pleased by new features don't bother to comment. Having tried it out for a couple of days, and overcome the sense of unfamiliarity, I'm one of the pleased users.
According to Jennifer Morrow, senior user experience designer at Mozilla, on her personal blog:
"It’s not an interface adjustment or tweak. It’s not a bug fix. It’s a complete re-envisioning of Firefox’s user experience."
The new look is similar to that of Google Chrome, including rounded tabs and a three-bar menu icon in the upper right corner. Where it currently has the advantage over Chrome is its ease of customization. Using drag and drop you can add items from the drop down menu to the main menu bar.
For users who keep a lot of tabs open, the facility to arrange them in named group is a big advantage as your tab bar will be far less cluttered showing only those for the current group with other groups relegated to the background in a single tab:
Mobile users can now sync Firefox bookmarks, passwords and more across multiple devices, both Android and iOS, with a simpler interface.
If you don't want to download it just yet, in this promo video Johnathan Nightingale, VP of Firefox, introduces the new features and emphasizes the aspect of secuirty for personal information, something that might appeal to Internet Explorer users looking for a replacement browser given the latest scare about remote code execution.
The new interface is not the only important feature of Firefox 29. According to the Mozilla blog It includes all the following - some of which I have to admit thinking were already there:
- WebRTC enabling video calls and file sharing between browsers.
- Over 30 Mozilla-pioneered WebAPIs which are mostly designed to allow web apps to access mobile hardware.
- Web Audio API enabling developers to build audio engines capable of new features like positional audio and support for effects such as reverb, which can create immersive audio experiences on the Web.
- CSS Flexbox integration makes it easier to build user interfaces that adapt to the size of the browser window or to create elastic layouts which adapt themselves to the font size. This is helpful when creating a consistent user interface to a website or to Web app across desktop and mobile.
- App Manager brings the Firefox Web developer tools to mobile app developers, simplifying mobile Web app development with live prototyping and debugging of apps on Firefox OS phones directly from the desktop. It doesn't come with the simulator but once downloaded you can start developing and testing your Firefox OS apps.
- Extension APIs allow developers using the Add-on SDK to use the new button and toolbar APIs to integrate their add-on with Firefox’s new customizable toolbar. The only problem is that some of the new API features only work with 29 on - but this is probably worth the upgrade.
Despite the outcry at the new UI, and despite thinking that this version of Firefox looks more like Chrome than ever before - when did the three bar icon become universal for "menu"? - it seems to be a good upgrade. This is the first time for a while that Firefox has had something to give it the edge over Chrome - for users the customized UI/grouped tabs and for developers the Firefox OS support and the Extensions API.