I recently came across a really interesting article about Firefox 3’s upcoming UI refresh. That may sound boring to some, but to a interface snob like myself, knowing the Mozilla team is hard at work customizing the underlying XUL to allow for deeper system integration makes me a very happy person. One of the main problems with Firefox, especially on the Mac, is that it feels out of place, slow, and pretty ugly compared to other system applications. I’m a Camino user for this very reason, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care about some of the fantastic extensions for the Firefox client (Camino, while based off of the same rendering engine as Firefox, does not support extensions). If they are able to modify the UI to match 10.5 (and Vista, XP, Ubuntu, etc) and speed things up a bit in the process, I think a lot of people who are Camino users might switch to Firefox – myself included. Developers are already working on making things like submit buttons, checkboxes and textareas respect the OS look and feel, so by the time version 3 ships, we could be in good shape.

Why is UI consistency important? From the author:

Fitting in to the visual appearance of the native operating system may seem like a reasonably obvious decision, but it certainly isn’t one that every cross-platform application or windowing toolkit makes. For instance RealPlayer (image) uses a custom appearance across operating systems, as do applications built using Java’s Swing windowing toolkit (image). Personally I think a unified cross platform UI results in applications that at best feel foreign everywhere, and at worst don’t even feel like real applications. 

He hits the nail on the head when he mentions that when using a default skin, at best the application looks out of place everywhere it goes. At worst, it looks like a flimsy Java app that nobody really wants to use. It makes the application easier to use and feel comfortable with when it fits into the operating system’s UI paradigm. This will be a big step in that direction.

I think it really depends on how far they go with it, and what parts they focus on, coupled with the limitations of Firefox as a non-native app. As long as we’re dealing with a cross-platform application, it’s pretty doubtful it will ever match the application (not rendering) speed of a Safari or Camino. But based on the few screenshots, it is looking promising. Firefox 3 is still a ways off, so we’ll see how this turns out.

Read more about the UI refresh here.

Ok, now what?

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