More theme problems for Firefox 2, part 1
Tuesday, 5 September 2006
Not too long ago I wrote an article about the new themes of the upcoming versions of Firefox and Thunderbird. I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the changes. After almost two weeks of using the new theme I am even more disappointed. This is the first in a series about the other problems of the new theme.
In my previous article I already talked about the new icons and the dangers of creating new interface concepts. Today’s article is largely about the same issues, but this time from a slightly different point of view.
I was quite amazed when I read that one of the main criteria of the theme was that it had to “respect the OS native look and feel”. If you read my previous article you already know that one of the main changes is that the new tab bar is a custom widget that not only works different, but also looks alien on Windows XP.
Giving Firefox an OS native look and feel has been a problem for a while. Originally the Mozilla Suite – now called Seamonkey – used a different approach. It used a completely custom theme called Modern and did not use any native widgets at all. It simply looked the same on every platform it was used. This approach has its advantages – you do not need to maintain different themes for each platform that you want to support.
Firefox was the first Mozilla product to use a different approach. A great Mac OS X theme was developed – called pinstripe – and ported to both Windows and Linux. Porting wasn’t a simple job. You can’t simply copy icons from OS X to Windows and make it look native. OS X icons may look nice on OS X, but they simply look weird when used by a Windows XP application. So every icon was redesigned to make it fit in the default Windows XP theme. The icons were only a small part of the new Windows theme. Firefox used a standard API to paint its widgets – giving them a native look.
Using this standard API is more important than it sounds. The reason is that Windows has changed it appearance more than once. It seems like Microsoft can’t make up its mind. The look and feel of Windows did not change much between the release of Windows 95 and Windows 2000. But Windows XP used a completely new look – Luna. Microsoft changed the look once again in Media Center and Vista is – once again – completely redesigned. Using the standard API makes sure that the widgets used by Firefox look native, no matter which version of Windows is used. Even when using a custom theme, for example by using an application called WindowBlinds, Firefox looked completely at home.
Unfortunately, Firefox 2 tries to turn back the time and once again introduces custom widgets. It doesn’t use the standard API to draw them – they are actually composed of simple static images. The days of Modern are back… Actually it is worse now – Modern was at least consistent. Firefox 2 uses a native look for some widgets, while others are custom creations.
Just take a look at the following screenshots to see the difference between Firefox 1.5 (bottom) and Firefox 2 (top). Now ask yourself the following question: which theme fits the criteria that it had to “respect the OS native look and feel”.