Almost a year after the first mockups, the new Mozilla design paradigm “Australis” finally made it to the Firefox Nightly build. Time to leave the safe Beta channel behind and take a deep dive into the future (a stable Australis release can’t be expected before spring next year).
The most obvious change is the rounded tabs, resembling Thunderbird or Firefox for Android (they don’t look like Google Chrome at all, in my opinion). The menu button has moved to the right and now contains a collection of icons instead of classical menu entries. Extensions can also be moved here from the navigation bar, the separate extension toolbar at the bottom has been removed.
Preferences unfortunately have not changed much, but after 10 years you probably know were to look for a setting. Advanced options like about:config and userChrome.css are still available, too, so the simplification of the UI does not mean a loss of features or flexibility.
Sadly the new Firefox generation still has differences between Windows and Linux versions, there are different texts, icons and keyboard shortcuts, and I really can’t understand why tabs in title bar still don’t work on Linux, it was 14 versions ago that the feature was first introduced in Firefox 4 for Windows, and Chrome and Opera have been doing it for years … but, as always, there’s an extension for that, HTitle hides the OS window decorations (officially just for Gnome 3, but “Legacy Mode” works for Cinnamon and probably for other desktop environments, too).
The other addons I’m using work fine with Australis, too, like the Moment start page, WOT, AdblockPlus, FireIE (Windows only), Disconnect, HTTPS Everywhere, and so on. Some icons are not yet placed perfectly in the navigation toolbar or the menu, but extension developers have plenty of time to fix these glitches until the stable version comes out. The current Firefox Nightly is surprisingly stable for a pre- alpha version, all web sites work perfectly and performance is great, especially startup time on Linux with Pipelight plugins has improved a lot.
Overall Australis is something to look forward to, for my part I’ll stay on Firefox Nightly for the time being, and I hope the changes really make it into Firefox 28, which would mean they would be released into the stable branch by next March. Even if you don’t like the new UI there’s no need to be afraid, the extension Classic Theme Restore reverts to the “old” Firefox 4+ interface.