Had a chance today to download, install and even crash (sort of) Firefox 3.7a6pre aka Minefield. When the final release comes out some time around year end it will be numbered as Firefox 4. The biggest change in Firefox 3.7/4.0 is the user interface (UI). The new UI reminds me a lot of Chrome and takes a little getting use to.
This is the ‘default’ UI when you first load up Minefield. Here a few of the notable changes:
- The ‘Minefield’ Button – In the released version of Firefox 4 this will be labeled as Firefox. This is a compact version of the old Menu Toolbar and has most of the common menu sections. This is similar to the ‘Tools’ button in IE7 and the wrench button in Google Chrome.
- Tabs on Top – The Tab Bar is now on top of the address/search bars. This is the default behaviour of both Chrome and Opera. A couple side notes about this change; 1. You can still have your tab bar below the address/search bars like previous versions of Firefox; 2. Mozilla’s Alex Faaborq video: Firefox 4 tabs on top explained.
- Bookmarks Button – On the far right is a ‘bookmarks’ button that acts like the old bookmarks menu.
- No Menu Bar – As mentioned earlier the ‘Minefield’ (or ‘Firefox’) button has the most frequently selected items from the File, Edit, View, History, Bookmarks, Tools and Help menus. You can enable the menu bar again by clicking the ‘Minefield’ (or ‘Firefox’) button selecting the Customize menu then selecting Menu Bar. The menu bar can be displayed temporarily by pressing ALT.
You will also notice here you can disable the ‘tabs on top’ default setup to return the traditional Firefox UI with the tab bar on the bottom.
- Windows Aero Interface – For Windows Vista/7 Firefox incorporates the ‘Aero Interface” and does so horribly. I much preferred the old style incorporating Personas. In the screen shot below with the Menu Bar enabled you will notice with the Windows Aero Interface the Menu Bar text does not show well against my dark desktop background.
The good news is you can still use Personas and it looks so much better with a Persona installed. Simply go to the Personas site find a Persona you like, mouse-over and click Wear It. Notice it the screen shot below the Menu Bar text is now visible.
- No Bookmarks Toolbar – By default the Bookmarks Toolbar is hidden. This can be turned on by going into ‘Minefield’ (or ‘Firefox’) button selecting the Customize menu then selecting Bookmarks Toolbar. Two comments about the ‘new’ Bookmarks Toolbar: 1. The opaque background is good; 2. The ‘Bookmarks Button’ is moved from the Navigation Bar on to the Bookmarks Toolbar, but a ‘Bookmarks’ label is added next to the button taking up extra space. There may be a tweak involved to get rid of the label.
- Add-ons Manager – Firefox 3.7/4.0 features a new (and needs major work) add-ons manager. Two complaints I have so far in the first few minutes in using Minefield: 1. The add-ons manager now opens in a tab instead of stand alone window. I suppose this is a nice improvement but in the situation that I described earlier in the There is a reason for that warning! post; 2. The navigation is now along the side instead of on top which makes it too wide to use the Add-Ons & Download Managers in Sidebar « The Firefox Extension Guru’s Blog tweak.
Overall I like the UI changes as does allow for a bigger area for the content display. The Minefield/Firefox menu is going to take some getting use to for longtime Firefox users, but it grows on you. The Windows Aero Interface is just plain crappy, but at least you can still wear Personas.
The add-ons manager still needs major work but has improved greatly since the earlier Alpha builds. So much so there hasn’t been any discussion in the ‘bitch thread’ on Firefox Builds. It should be noted though that this new add-ons manager does not work with existing add-on manager related add-ons (Mr. Techs Toolkit or Nightly Tester Tools) or tweaks. Also there still a lot of debate about Drawing in Title Bar. Notice there is no title bar when the Menu Toolbar is turned off (and pressing ALT does not show the window controls). This makes it impossible to minimize or maximize the browser without going to the taskbar.
Haven’t really had much of a chance to see how the browser performs yet. Of course start ups are a lot quicker but I am using a clean profile with only a handful of my usual extensions. I should be able to start using it more frequently soon. Also judging by the fact this build is tagged as Firefox 3.7a6pre, there is going to be an Alpha 6 release (which would explain why the purposed Beta 1 release was scrapped earlier this week).