March 15th, 2011
UX improvements in Firefox 4
We’re in the final stages of preparing Firefox 4 for release, here are some of the things the UX team has been working on in this version that are worth checking out
With Firefox 4 right around the corner — we might have the final release as early as next week — it’s a good time to take a quick look at some of the user interface and user experience improvements in the release. There’s a million (only slightly less, really) improvements in Firefox 4, and other blogs and our own fantastic engagement team will tell you about the other great improvements — but I thought I’d publish this quick “changes we think you should take a look at” post for those of you who can’t wait.
As you probably know, we have an entirely new look across all our platforms — Windows, Mac OS X & Linux/BSD. Among the improvements:
- Tabs are now on top — and they move into the space in the titlebar when running in maximized mode on Windows,
- Full Windows 7 & Vista integration with Aero Glass,
- Less busy layout, improved icons and glyphs,
- More space for your web pages,
- Whole-window Personas,
- …& you can even choose to not have a dedicated search box for an even cleaner look, since you can enter searches directly in the location bar now, and always get a predictable search result.
Firefox 3.6 vs Firefox 4 on Windows 7:
Firefox 3.6 vs Firefox 4 on Mac OS X:
…and since I don’t have a Linux setup available for screenshots right now, you’ll have to trust GNOME and Linux hacker Jeff Waugh on this one:
More efficient menu
New single-access menu for Windows 7, Vista & Linux, which was adopted by Opera (and in a similar vein, Chrome unified their two menus into one, too) soon after we put our original designs online1 — they managed to ship before we did, which is fair game — and a side effect of doing designs in the open!1 And for the record, we think this is great — everyone wins, and we get a better UI in all browsers when this happens!
Faster, faster, faster
- Startup: Firefox 4 starts up in a fraction of the time that Firefox 3 did, and we’ve put a lot of effort into making every part of the Firefox experience just a little bit faster and more efficient.
- New home page: The home page is no longer loaded over the network, which means you never have to wait for it to load. Our goal was to get you to your web pages as fast as possible.
- Faster restore of a previous browsing session: When restoring a previous session, we load less pages in parallel, which makes everything more responsive and faster. If you switch to a different tab while these are being loaded, that page will get priority.
- Updating add-ons: If you use one of the many amazing Firefox add-ons, you are probably tired of waiting for them to upgrade when you start Firefox. This now happens in the background, and gets out of your way.
There’s a lot of new functionality in Firefox 4 too, here are some of our favorites:
- Sync: Getting the same experience across all your computers & devices is increasingly important. It’s pretty common to have desktop computers, laptops and mobile phones, and you want them all to have access to your open tabs, history, passwords and bookmarks. Unlike other services, we encrypt all your data, before sending it over the network, making Firefox Sync the most secure option if you want to keep your devices in sync. Adding new devices is also incredibly simple. Remember, Firefox 4 is available in the Android Market for your phone, and if you’re on the iPhone, you can use the Firefox Home companion app.
- App tabs: If you use web apps like Pandora, Gmail, Twitter, Facebook or any other site that you keep open all day, you’ll love our new app tabs. With a simple right click on any tab, you can pin it to the left side of tabs, which makes it always available, and takes up less space. It will also notify you with a discreet light bulb when there’s new content in the app tab.
- Tab Groups: If you’re one of those people that have a lot of tabs open, you are probably working on several projects at the same time. A new feature in Firefox 4 called Tab Groups — also known as “Panorama” — lets you group these tabs into projects, and get the projects that you’re not working on right now out of your way. This makes it easier to focus on what you want to do next.
- Install add-ons without restarting: Tired of having to restart when you install a new add-on? Firefox 4 adds the capability for add-ons to avoid this restart, and as they are updated to make use of this, you shouldn’t have to restart your browser much anymore.
- Add-ons manager: There’s an entirely new add-ons manager in Firefox 4, which gives more space to managing your add-ons, and makes it easier to find and install new ones.
Some of my personal favorite improvements in Firefox 4 are a collection of small tweaks and improvements — there are many, many — and they add up to a significant amount of saved time and reduced friction while using the browser:
- Fewer dialogs, fewer questions — our goal was to balance the questions we ask you, so we don’t interrupt you unnecessarily — while still keeping you in control.
- It’s easier to dismiss notifications — those things that tell you about geolocation, password saving, &c. — you can click anywhere outside the notification to close it, and you can get it back if you closed it accidentally.
- If there is an open tab with the same name as a page you’re looking for, you can switch to it directly from the location bar results. (aka. “Switch to tab”)
- Modal dialogs can no longer block other tabs:
- Bookmarks bar and add-ons bar are only shown if you are actually using them, and easy to turn on and off.
- Firefox will no longer automatically put you into offline mode unless you ask for it.
…& lots more. But I promised this overview would be quick, so I’ll end it here. There’s lots of goodness you should explore by downloading and testing it on your own!
We’ve already started on Firefox 5, 6 & 7 designs under our new accelerated release schedule, and can’t wait to show you what’s next for Firefox.
Now, go download Firefox 4RC already!
Comments? Find me on Twitter. Looking forward to hear what you think about Firefox 4!
Alex Limi is VP of Product Design at Highfive , a company that is transforming the way you work. Previously head of Firefox UX & Product Design Strategy at Mozilla , designer at Google & co-founder of Plone .
“No amount of genius can overcome a preoccupation with detail.” —Marion Levy