Phoenix rising into Firebird

by Michael Alderete on 5/23/2003

Mozilla Firebird, the latest milestone release of the browser-only version of Mozilla, shipped last weekend. I’d been using the last milestone for ages, and was really excited to finally be able to update to a more recent release.

I’ve been using it for almost a week now, on my Windows machine at work, and overall it’s fabulous, really a great piece of work. The prior release, Phoenix 0.5, was better in virtually every way than Internet Explorer, and the latest release, Firebird 0.6, is better in every way than Phoenix.

Well, almost.

The new default theme is wonderful, except in the places where it isn’t. A number of things seem unfinished, e.g., the default icon for bookmarks in the Bookmarks Toolbar is a generic document icon, and it ought to look like some kind of link. Another example is the beveled edges that appear around these same bookmarks in the Toolbar, to indicate you’re in a hover state. They’re too close to the edges, top and bottom, and that makes them look off.

Many of the icons in the toolbars are too cute and different from each other. There’s just a gratuitous use of extra colors that keeps them from looking completely unified. For example, the Forward and Back arrows are green, and the Reload arrow is blue. The Stop “X” is red, which makes sense, but why are the arrows different colors? I don’t see a user interface benefit, and an aesthetic problem.

The Home icon is a lot less abstract than the other buttons, and it’s at a different isometric perspective from all the others. Why? No idea, but it detracts from the unity of the theme elements.

Last problem with the theme I’ll mention — the activity indicator is stupid. What does it mean? It looks like a Quake symbol off-kilter. It’s pretty, but meaningless, and more importantly, it’s more difficult to notice that it’s in motion, it’s thinner and so less visible. Why not use the standard Mozilla activity animation, which is truly wonderful, has a symbol that means something related to it’s function, and is easily visible when activity is in progress.

Maybe I should say that the new theme sucks, except for where it doesn’t. It doesn’t suck in the Preferences dialog, where it’s beautiful. Of course, I try to stay out of the Preferences dialog, on a day-to-day basis.

Now, I’m sure that these are far from the most important usability issues in Mozilla Firebird, but I do have to wonder if anyone is thinking about them…

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