Firefox 29 will introduce changes to the web browser that will rock the world of some users of the browser. The version of Firefox ships with Australis, a design, layout and feature change that introduces major changes to Firefox and is in my opinion comparable to the major switch from Firefox 3 to 4.
So what are those changes?
If you are running Firefox Beta, Aurora or Nightly, you have already been switched to Firefox Nightly. The same will happen to stable users next Tuesday, the 29th of April.
Firefox Australis simplifies the main interface of the Firefox web browser. Not only that, but it is also optimizing the browser for touch-input, for instance by displaying large icons in the new menu. While that may appeal to some, Mozilla decided to remove options from the browser such as the ability to display small buttons.
Once you have upgraded your browser and restarted it, you will notice quite a few changes right in the main interface. The most obvious ones are the following:
- The Firefox button is gone. It has been replaced with what web designers call a Hamburger button (displaying three horizontal bars). The position of the button has changed as well, it is now in the same location where Google Chrome displays it.
- Tabs in the browser use a curved design now and are displayed by default on top of the other toolbars.
- If you have used the add-on bar, you will notice that it is gone now. The add-on bar was displayed in the footer area of the browser.
- All extension icons are now displayed in the main Firefox toolbar along with the address bar and search form.
Once you start to use the new Firefox version, you will stumble upon additional changes.
The bookmarks icon is not displayed in the address bar anymore and it is linked to the bookmarks listing, the home button was moved to that toolbar as well, and here you also find the download button.
Once you click on the Hamburger button, you will notice that the menu is totally different from the menu the Firefox button offered.
While you find some items here that were also displayed in the Firefox button menu, you won't find others. You may also notice that the menu takes up quite some space, and the core reason for that is that it displays large icons for most options displayed here.
One improvement here is that you can customize the menu to your liking. When you click on Customize in the menu, Firefox will switch to an edit the interface mode.
You can now drag and drop interface elements around -- most but not all (the address bar is not for example) are movable.
So what is displayed in the new menu by default?
- Cut, Copy and Paste operations.
- Zoom out, default zoom and zoom in.
- New window and new private window.
- Save Page and print.
- Full Screen.
There are also sign in to Sync, customize, the help button, and an exit Firefox button but those cannot be altered in any way.
The core change functionality-wise to the Firefox button menu is that you do not have access to sub-links anymore. The old menu displayed direct links to web developer tools which the new does not anymore.
There are six additional tools and features that you can drag and drop to one of the toolbars or Firefox's new Hamburger button:
- Open File.
- Character Encoding.
- Email Link.
- Tab Groups.
Several features native to Firefox 28 and earlier are missing such as the ability to select small buttons, to display text only buttons, or the ability to display tabs on bottom.
Making Firefox 29 look like the old Firefox
Firefox would not be Firefox anymore if it would not allow you to customize the browser to your liking. With Australis, you have to rely on add-on authors to bring back functionality to it.
Good news is that you can modify the browser to your liking or restore the interface so that it looks similar to the one you used to work with. Bad news is that you have to rely on third-party authors to do so.
While you have quite a few options in this regard currently, it is possible that authors may stop development in the future so that their extensions cannot be used anymore in newer versions of the browser. Plus, with new changes introduced you need to wait for these authors to update their extensions so that it remains functional.
Classic Theme Restorer
Classic Theme Restorer is without doubt the major add-on for Firefox to change its look and feel to pre-Australis. Once you install it, you will notice quite a few changes right away.
The Firefox button is displayed again in the interface instead of the Hamburger button, and it behaves exactly like the button that was implemented in Firefox 28 and earlier. Tabs are displayed squared again as well right away, and the add-on has been restored at the bottom of the browser window.
To restore some features, you need to go through the options the extension makes available. Since there are quite a few, I'll concentrate on the most important ones only:
- You can modify tab behavior and design further. The add-on ships with several tab designs that you can check out -- squared and curved in several iterations -- the option to display tabs on bottom again, and to configure min and max widths for tabs. Here you can also move tabs from the titlebar to their own toolbar instead.
- Small buttons on navigation toolbar. This feature reduces the height of the main toolbar which saves quite a bit of space.
- Movable back and forward button. You can now drag and drop the back and forward button to another location again.
- Star button in urlbar displays the bookmarks star button in the url bar.
- Display small or large icon sizes in the Firefox navigational toolbar.
- Show icons only, icons and text, or text only for buttons.
Firefox can look like this after you have installed Classic Theme Restorer and made a couple of modifications in the interface.
Here are the changes that I made to the Classic Theme Restorer settings to achieve that:
- Enabled "Small buttons on navigational toolbar".
- Used customize to move the add-on icons to the status bar, and the home, download and bookmarks icon to the main toolbar again.
While it may not be 100% identical, it comes very close to how Firefox looked previously.
Other Australis related extensions for Firefox
Most add-ons listed below concentrate on the restoration of one or a couple of features only. They may be the better choice if you only want to modify these individual items as Classic Theme Restorer may be overkill in this case.
- Australis Slimmr offers several design related changes including options to compress the navigation bar items, to display tabs always in the titlebar, or to auto-hide the navbar.
- Classic Bookmarks Button restores the old bookmarks button.
- Classic Toolbar Buttons restores old toolbar button elements.
- Firefox Tab Mod restores rectangular tabs to.
- Lightweight Themes for Australis reduces the impact of lightweight themes (formerly Personas) and visibility control options to go along better with Australis.
- New Add-on Bar restores the bottom toolbar that you can use to place extension icons in. Alternative: The Addon Bar (restored) or The Puzzle Piece.
- NoUn Buttons: Unmerge Back & Forward Buttons / Menus.
- Star Button in urlbar. Adds the bookmark star button back to the Firefox url bar.
- Tabs on Bottom moves the browser tabs back to the bottom of the toolbars.