Firefox gets a new theme

Steven Garrity announced that the Mozilla Visual Identity Team has been hard at work and that Mozilla Firefox is getting a new theme. Although it’s surprising that Firefox is changing themes at this point in the release cycle—the 0.9 release is anticipated this week—I’m glad that the developers are not afraid to make bold moves like this.

The new theme is called Winstripe and is based on the Pinstripe theme for Firefox on the Mac. Kevin Gerich and Stephen Horlander are the designers of both themes. Kevin Gerich’s screen shot of the theme thrilled me, and now that I’m using it I find it quite elegant and clean. The goal is to have a similar “feel” across platforms while blending in with platform styles. It’s a terrific plan. Winstripe already looks quite good to me despite Steven Horlander’s claim that it’s a 0.1 release at best.

I’ve never been much of a fan of the previous Firefox theme called Qute. To me it seemed, well, too cute, almost cartoonish. While it was clearly well done with gradients and vibrant colors, I found it a bit overpowering. I mentioned earlier that I also hated the throbber. Apparently one of the reasons for the change of themes was that the designer of Qute wanted restricted licensing. That’s bad, especially in an open source program like Firefox.

Winstripe excites me by its simplicity and clarity. Years ago, Matthew Thomas (mpt) pointed out graphics for a similar theme. I’d wished that somebody would make it into a theme and now we have Winstripe.

Despite my pleasure with Winstripe, I don’t find it perfect just yet: Perhaps it’s just that I’m a long time user of Mozilla and before that Netscape, but I miss the tails on the arrows on the back and forward buttons. I’d also like to see the back and forward buttons have a slightly different color, which would help improve recognition. Using the checkmark-in-blue-circle symbol for both Properties (in the bookmarks manager) and General Options is a bit confusing to me. Although it isn’t used that frequently, Windows has a distinct toolbar symbol for Properties—it looks like a hand over a white page. The new throbber is slick, especially on the tabs, but I’d hoped for one that featured the Firefox logo.

In any case, I think the Firefox team made a great choice in switching themes and I’m looking forward to the refinements as Firefox moves toward a 1.0 release.

Reading Mozilla blogs

Reading the blogs of Mozilla contributors is a great way to keep up with the latest news about Mozilla. (Reading mozillaZine is required.) To save you time, Henrik Gemal has put together a page of Mozilla Related Blogs aka Blogupdates that shows a snippet from the latest few posts from each blog. Even better, each time you visit the page it marks which blogs have been updated since your last visit. Many thanks for the page!

To save a few more seconds, I created a bookmarklet that will open a new window for each blog that has been updated. Go to his Blogupdates page and click the bookmarklet. I wish there was a way to get them to open in new tabs — opening lots of windows can be slow — but that doesn’t seem to be possible from a bookmarklet. (I’ve heard that there’s an extension (multizilla?) that might support this but haven’t checked. Perhaps there’s one that lets you force opening of new windows to use tabs.) The bookmarklet also leverages code and specifics of his site, so it may break if he makes any changes.

Open New Blogs


I’ve found that a quick way to switch between them on Windows is to use Alt+Tab immediately after they finish opening. If you close each blog window after you read it and then press Alt+Tab, you’ll jump to the next one. This also lets you read them oldest to newest.

Update: Well that didn’t last long. I fixed it to work with the site again after some style changes caused it to break.

Mozilla Firebird renamed Mozilla Firefox, 0.8 released

Revised Firefox Logo showing the Red Panda head

I’ve had a chance to play around with the new and shiny Mozilla Firefox release. First, I have to say that the new logo makes a surprising difference. With its bright colors and obvious polish, it makes the browser feel more like a real product. I am surprised that the logo has the fox facing the globe. They had a tremendous opportunity to create a friendly “mascot” for the browser based on the cute red panda and passed it up. Ah, well. I played with the logo to quickly try a front facing variation that looks more like a firefox (that’s it on the right), but I’ll go with the official brand.

Second, the name change is good. I complained about Mozilla Firebird stealing the name of another open source project and I’m glad they’ve done the right thing and changed names. Again. (This makes at least five, but I may have miscounted.) The amusing Firesomething Extension lets you attempt the difficult task of changing the name more frequently than the developers. Actually, based on the trademark registrations, I expect Mozilla Firefox will be around for a long while.

I was stunned to find that I like the new download manager. It just does what I expect it to do and then gets out of the way. Wow. It has a slick appearance and shows the download percentage in the titlebar, which suits me fine. If only I could get rid of the completely unnecessary “biff” that pops up near the taskbar at the end of a download. I think it’s only there to show off. It almost ruins the experience for me.

I continue to be impressed with the Firefox Preferences, er, Options dialog. It’s well designed and elegant. I heartily agree with them moving the Proxies selection to the General panel. Much better than Advanced in Mozilla.

Firefox still has areas that need to be improved. Below are things that I believe will frustrate users switching from Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) yet can be easily fixed. These are also some of the most long-standing and contested bugs in Mozilla. Although I’m including the bug numbers, if you’re wise you won’t go and read them. They’ll just annoy you with the mindblowing lack of common sense.

  • Replace File|Exit with File|Close. bug 65121 (or bug 171892)–This used to trip me up in Mozilla relatively frequently, but after repeatedly bashing my head on the keyboard and crying I managed to learn not to use the bottom menu item. Firefox’s IE-like qualities must have lulled me into thinking I could trust menu items again. “Where’d my browser windows go!?” Just fix it already.
  • Add Print to the page right-click context menu. bug 24221 (and more optimistically bug 204519 This has been “won’t fixed” since 2000 and has gotten many duplicates. There are specific cases in pop-ups where there is no menu other than the context menu. This would likely be my third most frequently used context menu item after Back and View Source.
  • Improve plugin installs. bug 224227 and others. While it’s better than it was before Netscape 6 shipped, plugin installation is still not as easy as in IE. Some of this would be mitigated if “typical” plugins were preinstalled or detected automatically.
  • Show the URL of bookmarks in the status bar when mouse hovers over them. bug 23460 IE does this in the favorites and it’s quite useful. I even developed a fix for this bug. Hyatt’s comments in the bug made me think it was fixed in Firebird. If it was, I don’t see the fix in Firefox.
  • Support multiline tooltips 45375 Sites often use tooltips for extra information. Firefox crops the text so you may miss the important bits. IE shows it all.
  • Add a help system. (bug 165960) Mozilla 1.6 comes with a help system that even includes tips for those switching from Internet Explorer. This is a great idea that needs to be included with Firefox. After reading through the bugs it looks like this is already fixed on the trunk. Looking a little deeper I found the Firebird Help Project at Good!

Below is a list of a few things that bother me about Firefox. I use and develop web-applications all day, so I want a powerful and elegant browser. Firefox feels and is incomplete in areas compared to Mozilla. (It is also better in others, such as the form autocomplete dropdowns and customizable toolbars.) Yes, there are extensions that would give me the functionality I want, but Mozilla already has it so I’m not sure I see the point. Still, I’m finding it hard to stay away from Firefox.

  • I want the Mozilla history window. Sure it’s nice to have quick access to history in the sidebar in Firefox, but when I really want details Mozilla’s history window is superior. Why can’t we have both like we do with the Bookmarks sidebar and Organize Bookmarks window?
  • I can’t change my language preferences. I’m frequently switching my default language in Mozilla to test various language versions of sites. I’m told this is a not uncommon experience in internet cafes. Firefox has no current support for switching languages.
  • The backspace key goes back!? I know this is an IE-ism, but this is terrible. I use Find As You Type all the time and frequently revise it with backspace. In Mozilla I can backspace multiple times with no problem. I seem to do the same in form fields. In Firefox I’ve found myself multiple pages back for no apparent reason.
  • Bring back MNG and JNG support. It looks like this will soon be back on the Mozilla trunk. It’d be great for Firefox, too. While the current IE market dominance limits the web usefulness of these image formats, they can be used in fantastic ways in themes. And I hope Firefox can steal some marketshare.
  • Ok, this is a bit silly, but get a better throbber. I’m sure it’s cool to have your personal logo as a browser’s throbber, but the Q-scythe doesn’t do it for me. Mozilla’s M/Mozilla head throbber has the benefit that it is extremely obvious when it is active. I gotta give some credit to Firefox: at least the throbber is there by default. Can’t we make one based on the new Firefox logo? Perhaps this provides the chance to show the front of the firefox?

Fixing bug 23460

Earlier this year I mentioned that I had developed a fix for Mozilla bug 23460. After applying the fix, Mozilla will show bookmark URLs in the statusbar when you hover over bookmarks in the personal toolbar or bookmark menu. Although I wrote the description of the fix for Mozilla developers, interested Mozilla users have asked about what they need to do to patch their Mozilla version. I’ve added instructions to help you.

I know this works with Mozilla 1.4. I’d imagine if you make the edits instead of just snagging the patch files it would apply to any recent version of Mozilla including 1.5 and 1.6, but I haven’t tried it. I also got a report that applying the file uncompressed worked better for one user. Not quite sure why that would be—perhaps it depends on your zip tool—but thought I’d point it out.

Of course, you could also use Mozilla Firebird instead as it apparently already supports this feature.


The new website is up and while I somewhat appreciate the design change, the usability problems are disappointing—I know they got feedback on this. I never understand why designers mess with the link underline styles and colors to make them inconsistent. The site forces no underlining for links, which wouldn’t be so bad—indeed, it’s my preferred style—but it also has poor choices for link colors. Are links white, blue, brown, or red? Oh, that heading that’s blue and looks just like the links over there isn’t a link. Oh, that heading that’s brown and looks looks just like the links over there isn’t a link. Frustrating! I hate using my magic wand to find which of the text that looks like links really are. Worse, the designer decided that visited links should (almost) match the text color. So now you have to look through all the text for links.

Colors are also a problem on LCD monitors. Some of the text, particularly the brown when not bold, becomes faint so it isn’t read as easily. The visited link color might as well be the same as the text. The choice of the link colors seems to switch randomly as you progress through the site. Watch the colors in the left side navigation bar: sometimes they’re blue, sometimes brown, sometimes they become red when hovered, other times they become blue.

It’s really sad that the site suffers from these problems, because I really like the revised and much more user-centered content. If they’d just used the blue color consistently for links, the site would be a joy to use.

Fix for bug 23460

I scratched another itch and created a fix for bug 23460 so that Mozilla will show bookmark URLs in the statusbar when you hover over them in the personal toolbar or bookmark menu. This bug has frustrated me since Netscape 4 broke Netscape 3’s bookmark menu behavior. Even IE5 got this one right. It’s way beyond time that Mozilla did as well.

As mpt requested in the bug, it’s in the statusbar only (although I did leave the personal toolbar tooltips in place). No strange tooltips popping up in a menu to show a redundant URL.

There are a few related bugs that I’d also like to fix: show the URL in the statusbar for the back and forward buttons and menus (bug 88541) and show the URL in the statusbar for items on the Go menu (I don’t think there’s a bug logged for this).

Fix for bug 72374

I’ve created a fix for bug 72374 in Mozilla 1.4 that makes bookmarklets have different icons than bookmarks in the menus and on the personal toolbar. To apply the fix you need to add the updated files to the appropriate chrome jars.

The Book of Mozilla

A new chapter in the Book of Mozilla has been revealed after yesterday’s events. In Netscape 3.x and 4.x, the about:mozilla URL would give you the following entry:

And the beast shall come forth surrounded by a roiling cloud of vengeance. The house of the unbelievers shall be razed and they shall be scorched to the earth. Their tags shall blink until the end of days.
from The Book of Mozilla, 12:10.

In Netscape 6.x/7.x and Mozilla the entry read:

And the beast shall be made legion. Its numbers shall be increased a thousand thousand fold. The din of a million keyboards like unto a great storm shall cover the earth, and the followers of Mammon shall tremble.
from The Book of Mozilla, 3:31 (Red Letter Edition)

Now Stephen Donner says there’s a new entry:

And they watched as the beast cast off its chains, and with a terrible roar burst forth and slew those who had bound it. And for days the rivers ran red with their lifeblood.
– from The Book of Mozilla, 7:15

And Neil Deakin suggests another:

And so at last the beast fell and the unbelievers rejoiced. But all was not lost, for from the ash rose a great bird. The bird gazed down upon the unbelievers and cast fire and thunder upon them. For the beast had been reborn with its strength renewed, and the followers of Mammon cowered in horror.
from The Book of Mozilla, 7:15 (Red Letter Edition)

Netscape dead, long live Mozilla

I’ve been working most of today on a couple of Mozilla bug fixes. Although I’ve been keeping an eye on the project, doing bug triage, and writing testcases for years, this was interestingly the first real code I’ve worked on for Mozilla. I even got permission from management at my employer to do coding work. I’ve been using LXR, bugzilla, and the website off and on all day. After a break for supper and to help get the kids in bed, I come back to resume work and am stunned to find that the world changed while I was away.

The revised website looks shiny, but it will take me some time to adjust. I thought I’d mistyped something for a second.

So what changed?

I’d been thinking that all the rumors floating around for weeks about Netscape 7.1 being the last Netscape browser ever were just confused by the new Mozilla roadmap where future development was switching to the Mozilla Firebird browser. Apparently they weren’t so inaccurate. I’ll miss Netscape, but I switched to Mozilla quite a while ago. Still, as I mentioned yesterday, Netscape 7.1 is a great browser and makes an excellent final release.

I think today’s developments will be a positive thing for Mozilla and the Web. Mozilla finally gets to determine its own fate. With deep appreciation, I wish the best to all the Netscape developers that have worked on this terrific browser. Thanks for your hard work!

Tweaking Mozilla 1.4

I’ve upgraded my Mozilla 1.3.1 install to the Mozilla 1.4 milestone and I’m pleased with it. Mozilla 1.4 is the best Mozilla yet. Here’s a few of the improvements I noticed: the chevron menu for the personal toolbar that shows up if you have too many items, improved bookmark drag and drop behavior, go to line in view source, and clicking on an error in JavaScript console takes you to error line in view source. There are also changes in the preferences including a terrible UI for configuring the launch options for startup, new windows and new tabs, but at least you can do it.

I find that I still need to do fair amount of tweaking and reconfiguring before I’m ready to use it. I put together a page that shows my typical Mozilla Tweaks.

I’ve also played with Netscape 7.1 which is basically identical to Mozilla 1.4. Compared to 7.02, it is a huge improvement. As a web developer, I’ve very thankful that a custom install of Netscape 7.1 includes a developer pack with the DOM viewer, JavaScript debugger, and Chatzilla. Of course those tools have been available in Mozilla for ages, but it’s good Netscape decided to include them in the branded release. If you need to use Netscape, 7.1 is terrific.