Today Firefox 3 was released, and after reading the news, I eagerly rushed over to download it, especially because one article I read touted its complete redesign and must-have functionality. I was a bit disappointed to discover just another copy of an Apple product. At least the older version of Firefox I was using felt uniquely different than either Safari or Internet Explorer. I preferred it, over this design and usability nightmare.
To quote from a MozillaLinks review “Firefox 3 is not a timid release. It has been designed since the beginning with the specific goal of simplifying the web experience…” The problem is, that the visual design varies only slightly from Safari. Since the day Safari came out, it’s offered the same clean, easier to use and understand interface than any other web browser I’ve used. Now that was an original design!
Firefox offers some things that Safari doesn’t, namely a ton of add-ons whose usefulness will vary from user to user. I am a particular kind of user – for some reason, it’s very distracting for me to see a lot of “clutter” in my visual space, and that’s one reason why I’ve had a strong preference for Apple-designed products such as Safari. What I need is there, and no more, and the way the design works is particularly appealing to me – subtle gray-on-gray and minimalistic icons provide an unobtrusive backdrop for what I am focused on, which is a web page or pdf (Safari has in-browser pdf viewing, a feature that’s made hopping from page to pdf a lot more seamless.)
Even though some of the Firefox add-ons seem interesting (though a lot of them are social media related), in just a few minutes I have found myself migrating back over to the simple yet elegant Safari browser to write this blog post. The other browser window just offers too many distractions, and the gui feels more “crude” than the Safari interface, because there’s just too much stuff on the interface.
Some immediate things bother me visually:
• The giant blue star in the Firefox url field, for example, is a visual distraction. They’ve put the “edit bookmarks” feature in a popup dialog, ostensibly to save a user some clicks – but how often do we edit bookmarks?
• They carbon-copied one of Safari’s handiest features, which is a Google search field on the right hand side of the browser window. But they uglied it up by adding the Google logo on top of a fancy gui element. It’s just unnecessary.
• The back/forward buttons are not symmetrical, for no reason I can tell. They both have the feature where if you press down on the icon, some recent pages show up so you can navigate quickly.
The problem with all of these things, is that they are directly in your line of vision almost all the time. This was the great beauty of the Safari interface Apple invented… it “disappears” so you can focus on the content of the page. When you need something, you look back up and it’s there. Apparently, you can switch the toolbar icons to the small size, which makes the browser look even more like Safari. Sigh…….
The one compliment I can bestow without hesitance regards the installation process. I have not yet installed Firefox on my PC, but on the Mac it was a thing of beauty. As someone who has witnessed more user tests on frustrating installations than I can count, one thing I appreciate is a well-designed, user-centered installation process and Firefox gets an A+ on this from my perspective. I’ll test it on the PC to be sure, but I wouldn’t think too many people would get confused or hung up installing this browser.
But that’s the only compliment I personally have for this new release. After seeing Samsung’s copycat iPhone, among others with claims of “being an iPhone killer”, and now this, I feel rather perturbed. Is there no original design to be found anywhere? I guess we’ll just have to wait for the next new Apple product to see it!