Mozilla finalizes proposal for changes to Firefox's customization options

Martin Brinkmann
Apr 25, 2013
Updated • May 4, 2013

The last week has been filled with uncertainty in regards to proposed Firefox customization changes in the wake of the Australis theme release. Mozilla was heavily criticized for its initial proposal, both here on Ghacks but also on platforms such as Reddit, and posted a second proposal soon thereafter.

The core issue at hand was that many users felt that Mozilla decided to take away customization options that were pare of the Firefox web browser for a long time, and that it did not really care about the opinion of the browser's users. Some feared that Firefox would become just like Google Chrome, a browser that is offering barely any customization options.

Mozilla's Mike Conley published a final proposal today and while he admits that it is likely that the plan will get tweaked along the road it appears as if Mozilla will now start working on making those changes to the browser.

The changes proposed are almost identical to those published in the second draft and it is probably best if you read the two articles linked above to get the full scope of what has transpired in the last week.

Changes to Firefox's customization options:

  1. Stop and reload button are joined in to a single button.
  2. Back, Forward, Stop and Reload buttons as well as the url-bar will be locked to the navigational toolbar. They can still be moved around on the toolbar, but not moved away from it.
  3. Disable the ability to hide the navigational toolbar.
  4. Remove the add-on bar from the web browser.
  5. Remove options to create custom toolbars.
  6. Remove small icons and text+icons mode from Firefox.

Mike notes that the majority of changes can be re-introduced with the help of add-ons. While that means that a developer has to create the add-ons in first place, it is at least an option for Firefox users who want to keep one or multiple of the customization changes that are to be removed.

As far as I'm concerned, the changes hit me hard. I use small icons and the add-on bar, and have moved the navigational toolbar in to the title bar of the browser. A recent thread on Reddit where users posted their UI customizations shows that I'm not the only one who likes to modify Firefox heavily.

All those users will have to rely on add-ons and maybe scripts to keep Firefox the way they have used the browser for the last couple of years.

Do I like the direction? Not really. While it would cost resources to maintain all customizations and implement a simple switch protecting "regular" users from making modifications that break the browser, I believe that this would be the better option especially since Mozilla can't really back up claims that there are many Firefox users who break the browser by making the wrong modifications to it.


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  1. firefoxlover said on May 1, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    I have been using Firefox since the fall of 2004. If any more drastic changes are to occur I’ll jump ship to Pale Moon which I have currently as a backup of Fx. The reason for having Fx is its customizability and its extensions, nothing else.

  2. Oxa said on April 30, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    I’m still using FF 14.0 because I haven’t liked/needed any of the changes since then. Just so I can decide whether to upgrade to a newer version, what’s the last FF version without the obnoxious changes (i.e., no small icons, inability to hide navigation toolbar)?

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on April 30, 2013 at 4:05 pm

      The changes are not introduced yet in any particular version of the browser. I keep you all updated when that changes.

      1. Oxa said on April 30, 2013 at 5:03 pm

        Thanks. Maybe I’ll upgrade to V20 to get some of the better HTML5 implementation, and then see how it goes from there. The only reason I have preferred FF in the past was because of its customizability. Without that, there’s no reason to stay with it.

      2. Orhin said on April 30, 2013 at 4:09 pm

        Perhaps not the big stuff.. but you have with V23 Nightly already a version which is going more lighter on options, thanks to the devs which try to save Beginner’s Users… which use Chrome anyway mostly….. from making stupid mistakes and saving Mozilla of a lot of unwanted anger.

        At least that is the official side :D

      3. Martin Brinkmann said on April 30, 2013 at 4:13 pm

        Yes that is true, I wrote about several missing options previously here on Ghacks.

    2. Orhin said on April 30, 2013 at 3:05 pm

      The Firefox Version which was still acceptable to use when i was switching to Palemoon was Aurora V22 – Version 23 already lost javascript and other options in the Firefox Options menu.

      So… if you want to upgrade, use unti V22 – Version 23 sucks already like hell…

  3. Shai said on April 27, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    I really don’t like where this is going. It is a mirror image of what Firefox aimed to represent. I hate it when once great programs lose track of what they set out to accomplish and of their initial values and/or mission, and instead start spreading themselves (thin) all over the place.
    In this particular case I don’t understand why all of this is needed, even if I try to look at it from a more wide and common-denominator friendly perspective. Average users don’t need such a safety mechanism, even if they are not “tech savvy”. People with common sense don’t break their browser, the most that they can do is accidentally disable something, following which they will use that common sense to search for a solution on the web or ask a more “tech savvy” friend for help. On the other hand, those who don’t know what they are doing and are mindlessly click and install happy will have issues no matter what.

    While I’m not particularly fond of Chrome’s front-end and approach, I must say that its back-end (security and engine) is much more robust than that of Firefox. Personally, I would have wished that Firefox’s developers focus more on security (sandboxing, running processes with lower privileges) and refining the engine rather than focusing on cosmetics and semantics.
    And yes, Firefox would probably still be customizable via add-ons, CSS, and JS, but I think that it completely misses the point. People should be able to do much of this customization easily and without becoming a “power user”, while spending hours installing add-on and figuring out scripts. The chances that a user will break their browser after failing to correctly implement a certain hack are larger than what they are today.
    Also, that decentralized approach in which the customization will be mostly dependent on using third-party add-ons, scripts, or CSS introduces a plethora of issues: maintenance in the long run, security (big issue), resource usage and the aforementioned “failed hacking” issue.

    This recent turn of events in which Google is forking Webkit into Blink (with the support of other stakeholders in the industry) and arguably restarting the browser wars, and Firefox’s latest direction change don’t is becoming a little worrying for any user who love a true freedom of choice and support the web-standards.

  4. neal said on April 26, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    I was reading some of the comments by the developers, I wish they stop using the excuse of addon developers when they want to rip out functionality. This is beyond ridiculous, has Mike Conley ever try to get addon published.? It takes a number of weeks to get approval to the addon page.

    Beside that, deferring to addon beyond lazy, and needlessly expose users to potential side effects of addons including stability, and security just to get back functionality that was ripped out.

  5. Ken Saunders said on April 26, 2013 at 12:51 am

    To everyone commenting about the small icons mode being removed.

    The difference between large and small icons mode in Firefox is the padding, not the actual size of the icons.
    There is one icon set (Toolbar.png), for the main toolbar buttons.
    Enter this into the Location bar chrome://browser/skin/Toolbar.png
    That’s your small and large icons.

    There’s this one for when lightweight themes are used.

    There used to be two different sets, one for large that had 32x32px icons, and one for small with 24x24px icons. That changed a while back, perhaps as far back as 4.0.

    All add-ons do not tax your computer’s resources.
    I have an add-on called Big Buttons that provides (giant) 64x64xpx icons (for large), and 48x48px icons (for small). It’s intended for users with visual impairments or high resolution settings.

    about:addons-memory > Big Buttons > (memory) Usage > 0 bytes.
    It’s unlikely that it doesn’t use any memory, but it’s so insignificant that it’s reported as 0%.
    That add-on contains two different icon sets as well as some individual icons, a style sheet, and a few core files that are a part of all add-ons.

    An Add-on Bar type add-on, or any other type of toolbar wouldn’t use a whole lot of resources either. That all would depend upon the options that the developer would implement and the complexity.

    A lot of add-ons have been made by regular users who didn’t like changes, or saw a better and/or easier way of doing things. That’s the way it has always been.
    Isn’t it better to at least have the option of using an add-on than none at all?

    Look, I’ve been using Firefox since 1.0 and have lived just fine through all of the changes. Even as a Mozilla volunteer, I haven’t agreed with all of the changes and sometimes I’ve been frustrated and pissed off about them, but, I’ve lived fine with them.

    This is the World we live in now. Things are fluid, it’s the way that it is.
    Firefox isn’t turning into anything remotely close to Chrome. We still have options and we still have the ability to do whatever we want to Firefox through simple CSS, an add-on, a userscript, or, we can take the code and build it the way that we want.

    What other (non-Mozilla, XUL based) browser or software for that matter can you do that to with such ease? And what other software add-on, theme, hack, etc, doesn’t have the possibility of using additional resources?
    I hate Windows start menu so I use Classic Start Menu and that adds a service, affects load time, memory, etc, etc. I didn’t switch to Mac because of the start menu, I installed an add-on.

    If you truly are a power user, then you should have no issues with deeper customization.
    The main gripe is about customization changes, but we can counter those changes with other customization options so I don’t see the big deal.
    If there was no way around things, then sure, I’d be furious, but that isn’t the case.
    It’s just a different type of customization.

    As far as Chrome, I’m pro-capitalism, but on my own terms and I don’t want a shake down every time that I click something.
    Chrome is for generating revenue for Google and for getting you to get locked into other Google products and services for more revenue and it does so through profiling and placement.
    If you’re cool with that, then use Chrome.

    1. trlkly said on October 14, 2013 at 2:30 am

      Firefox does the same thing. You do know that Firefox gets its primary revenue from Google search, right?

      And the thing you don’t seem to get is that they are LYING about what they are doing. They claim they are making Firefox more customizable while removing things. They make up all sorts of reasons for why the addon bar is bad, like “it makes addons second class citizens” (as if putting them behind a dropdown arrow doesn’t), but they all eventually boil down to “we don’t like this feature, so we aren’t going to work on it.”

      And that is a fundamental betrayal on what Firefox is supposed to stand for. Firefox is supposed to be the browser where innovation happens for the users, and only for the users. Devs should not be able to tell us what features we want or don’t want. The addon bar is simple to implement, so it’s not a code thing. They just don’t like it, so we don’t get it.

      And, what’s worse, the guy putting it back is on the dev team. So they can’t claim they don’t have time to do it, either, as that guy can submit patches just as easily as he can develop an extension.

      There is a core darkness in the development of Firefox. It’s not the interface where they are becoming more like Chrome. It’s their policies. Just like Chrome devs will completely ignore bugs and feature requests if they don’t care about them, Firefox is going the same way, and, thus, depriving users like me of the choice to choose a browser that cares about its users and what they want.

      And, unfortunately, the Pale Moon dev isn’t fixing that. Sure, he’s not implementing Australis, but he still thinks he can just change the UI the way he likes it. And, what’s worse, the changes he makes aren’t in regular Firefox, so there’s no addon to replace it. (Also, he won’t listen to people who try to help him make the browser faster, like the PcX builds. He’s got too much pride in his own build.)

      There really is no longer a browser where we can be sure that the core users, the ones who are most engaged and care about things, have any say-so in development. Despite everyone who mentions it saying that they want a bottom toolbar, that is still going away. Mozilla doesn’t care about it’s core, non-casual users anymore, so it’s really hard for us to care about Firefox. I already refuse to report some bugs, and no longer care if I insult people in bug reports. They don’t care about me, so I don’t care about them.

      I sure as heck no longer reccomend firefox to people

    2. Orhin said on April 26, 2013 at 1:35 pm

      Or you decide to use Palemoon or Waterfox :) Who cares if we can install another addon – That Functions should have never been removed in the first place, Mozilla is afraid of Chrome at that Point.

      They failed in beating Chrome in Speed so they switched over to try to fight Chrome in Simplicity. That is all. There is no other reason for Australis then that.

      Mozilla is so horrible afraid of Chrome that it put all it’s goals into the opposite and now, instead to be the most customizable Browser on the Planet they try to be “Just another Browser for the Masses” – Nothing against the masses, what really is disturbing is that instead they go on with their concepts and accept that they NEVER will beat IE or Chrome, they still have the Third Spotlight Place, which is better as the ranks beyond at least!

      Australis will only help to increase the run away of users. Just watch the Mozilla Feedback site: So many negative comments since V20 – Now imagine what happens when Australis hits the road and that customizations are gone. After all so many users do not now about Australis and now nothing about the Plans of Mozilla.

      Hell, even i, who is doing quite much stuff at the pc sector have learned about it at the end of the last year. I am one of the biggest Firefox Followers for sure, using it already beyond V1!

      And i never was really a power user. I never used the full potential to customize the Browser, but if a rather standard Browser user like i already find that changes bad, well, what about the many many many other ones – There will be lovers for sure, but i guess the negative impact will cost Firefox quite another bit of Market Share.

      Mozilla is hitting itself again with Australis, after already half knocked out by Google Chrome in the First Place.

      Some never learn it the first time!

  6. Miguel said on April 25, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    After reading your article and all the comments, I’ve really nothing to add that has not been said already. Mozilla started chasing the higher version numbers of Chrome with those “quick release cycles”, and with this move, they have finally ended up converting Firefox into another Chrome.

    In my opinion, the world doesn’t need a copy of Chrome. Chome already exists and the users who may like that browser and UI style already have it, they won’t be switching to the “new copy of Chrome” if it offers just the same features of Chrome. At the same time, Firefox will cease to exist as it is now, and users who liked it in the past, now will move away to another browsers that still offer what those users need, like Palemoon or Opera (fingers crossed, let’s hope Opera doesn’t kill their browser too with the rendering engine switch…).

    I have been using Firefox since version 2, and the current version UI of my installations is almost identical to v3 thanks to the use of add-ons. But on the current version I already heavily depend on the add-ons developers to help me keep the browser usable for me. With each new release Mozilla loads more and more work on the add-on developers. The security of the browser depends on add-on developers (NoScript…), the privacy (AdBlockPlus…), the UI (Firefox 3 theme for Firefox 4+, Status-4-Evar…), the tweaks (GreaseMonkey…). What’s left to the Mozilla developers? The browser core? Do they remember they were trying to do a complete product, not just a rendering engine, and an add-ons engine?

    I’m already tired of playing a cat and mouse game trying to keep an usable browser with each new release, I was already using the ESR versions, but if Mozilla continues this way, once the current ESR version ends, I’ll be swithing to something else (Palemoon or Opera).

    I totally agree with you Martin (changes will hit hard, hope AGAIN that add-on developers solve the problem Mozilla created, not liking this) and with almost all previous comments authors.

    So, coming soon (probably when the current ESR version ends): Thanks Firefox, and farewell.

  7. Orhin said on April 25, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    That’s it, i am gone. Firefox is dead for me at that Point. For all the ones who are also not willing to support such utterly stupidity… It is more or less Firefox without all the feature loss lately.. in fact, Palemoon still has all of the stuff the Firefox Devs want and will cut out of the Browser.

    Still staying until Australis arrives, but then i will update no more and my main Browser will be that one:

    Thanks Firefox for the fantastic Ride since even before V1 – I did enjoy it, RIP!

    I just wished you would have died a more glorious way :(

  8. Glenn said on April 25, 2013 at 11:50 am

    There won’t be “small” (16px) icons because there won’t be “large” (24px) icons–all icons will be (and have been for awhile) 18px. Meh. Nevertheless, Mozilla seems intent on driving me away from Firefox.

    1. greg said on April 25, 2013 at 7:23 pm

      What do you mean? I’m using latest Firefox and there are two sets of icons. The Large Icons are freaking HUGE and take up enormous amounts of space. It looks ridiculous actually with Large Icons.

      If Mozilla uses one size Icon with Australis but makes the size much closer to the current small icon size, that would be a reasonable move. But if they just have the current Large icon size, then all is lost.

  9. Anomaly said on April 25, 2013 at 10:33 am

    Like most I think the changes Mozilla are making to Firechrome I mean Firefox are idiotic at best and fatal at worst. I am not going to bother sweating this any more because it seems perplexed primate jack offs are in firm control at Mozilla and hell bent to destroy the browser. I propose we help them do that.

    Stop using Firefox immediately, don’t talk about switching, do it now and hit them in market share. Two positives can come from this. 1) it could open the door for a new browser to come along that could be better then Firefox, 2) the ass clowns at Mozzila will lose their jobs, which should have happened already, and new blood will be brought in. Mozilla might even go bust, which they deserve if they go through with this crap they have planned, and that really opens the door for a new browser to come in.

    I think Mozilla is reading the complaints on the forums and blogs and thinking sure people are pissed but they will get over it and adjust and stay with us. Show them this isn’t the case and bury them now. I assure you if this was to happen and the market share of Firefox gets thumped there will be changes and fast.

    I hate Chrome but if Firefox wants to be Firechrome then switch to the original and pound Mozilla for being jack offs and get this over with instead of dragging it out.

    Mozilla wants to commit suicide so lets get the rope ready for them and help them do it.

    1. Orhin said on April 25, 2013 at 5:10 pm

      Well, in the end it does not matter, more and more sites stop supporting Firefox, sooner or later there is anyway no reason for using a Mozilla Browser anymore.

      Have encountered various pages which only offered site sound for example to Chrome. That shows a future leading direction how things will be moving in the Future.

      I truly believe Mozilla is anyway doomed, since its market share is falling anyway months for month – With Australis they will make that process only a bit smaller.

      And i see the point, that we are again drifting into the “1 Browser = maximum compatibility” direction as no good one.

      So, It would still be good to have Mozilla around, at least as long as possible. Sadly they are also digging their grave with that Firefox OS too!

      Never fight at 2 battle fronts if you are not able to defend a single one already!

  10. Uhtred said on April 25, 2013 at 10:29 am

    With tabs on top, a navigation bar and a bookmark bar I am left with a 1024×443 visible content window, everything visible and one-clickable, it’s just about useable, and that’s with small icons.

    Very very saddened Mozilla decided to drop the small icons. I think they really have little regard for small screen users, and with the other planned changes, clearly very little regard for those who think a bit more outside the box. Firefox used to be the intelligent choice for the individual…

  11. Marlon Orozco Baños said on April 25, 2013 at 9:53 am

    Are they really doing this? Well; as hard as it is without the support of a large group as Mozilla, there will be the necessity for another browser for those of us who still believe in the inherent freedom of internet and its content. Sad, so sad.

    1. Orhin said on April 25, 2013 at 4:54 pm

      If you are using Windows, there is already one, search for Palemoon or Waterfox :) Palemoon is compatible with many themes and addons, worth a try, i switched today my 6 machines at home over to it and recommend that one also to my friends which are also frustrated with Mozilla’s late behaviour!

  12. solidstate89 said on April 25, 2013 at 7:14 am

    I’m not happy about them removing small icons. I enable that feature all of the time since the current “standard” icons are ludicrously large and take up way too much space.

    1. greg said on April 25, 2013 at 7:18 pm

      I totally agree about small icons!

      Join the Firefox dev discussion ( and tell the developers. Hopefully if enough people speak up they will do something about it.

    2. Finvana said on April 25, 2013 at 9:11 am

      Note the irony: They are removing the addon bar just for this reason. It takes too much screen real state.

  13. equazcion said on April 25, 2013 at 6:46 am

    Chrome is the iPhone of browsers, targeting the masses with its forced simplicity. It’s a shame to see Mozilla trying to compete on that front. Not only are they going to lose, since Google will always be better at things like that, but those of us who want more will be left with nothing to fill that niche. In fact we may even see the rise of new browsers aiming to fill it, since Mozilla can’t bring themselves to feel content in that “second-dog” role.

  14. Aram said on April 25, 2013 at 6:17 am

    If they really do this then it’s Firefox ESR time.
    Notice the absence of the separate search bar, which i use for proxies.

  15. Midnight said on April 25, 2013 at 5:54 am

    One thing I’ve just noticed with the latest Nightly update is that the Bookmarks Icon which was located in the top right corner of the Browser is no longer there!!

    I use the Noia 4 Add on, meaning that I now have to click on the “orange” tab on the top left side to access all of my bookmarks.

    The stop/reload combo button has been available in the add on for quite some time, so nothing new for me, there!

    Not too impressed with that, but I can adjust!

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on April 25, 2013 at 6:01 am

      You can drag and drop the icon – a new icon by the way – back to the bookmarks bar.

      1. Midnight said on April 25, 2013 at 6:18 am

        I tried that, Martin, from the Customize menu and what that did was open the Bookmarks on the left side of the Browser and not like it did before, so I merely click on the Browser feature (orange tab) and access them from there, until Mozilla smartens up and returns the icon to where it once was and belongs!

        Just when we get used to something, Mozilla either drops it or makes major and sometimes annoying changes! :)

      2. Martin Brinkmann said on April 25, 2013 at 7:39 am
  16. Nebulus said on April 25, 2013 at 5:18 am

    Mozilla is going in it’s own direction. They only care about the development process, and not about the people using their product. I am sure that the proposed modifications will simplify the code base for the browser, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a better user experience.
    I also see some sort of “cloning” frenzy when it comes to browsers (and not only browsers): all competitors are trying to duplicate the browser that has the most users at one moment in time. I believe that offering a different experience than the other products will help you regain first place (in other words: if you give me a Chrome clone because a majority likes Chrome, why shouldn’t I switch to the original and use the clone?)

  17. ank91 said on April 25, 2013 at 4:03 am

    we dont want another chrome,
    ff is known for its wide settings.

  18. Ficho said on April 25, 2013 at 3:32 am

    I don’t understand what is the problem with small icons?
    What the hell Mozilla has against add-on bar?
    Regular users use Chrome anyway,so why Mozilla
    is doing this?
    Mike Conley,go and work for Google Chrome.
    Maybe you are already working for them by ruining Firefox.

    1. greg said on April 25, 2013 at 7:12 pm

      I love small icons. It has always been one of the “small things” I just loved about Firefox.

  19. Julia said on April 25, 2013 at 3:26 am

    I really don’t like the direction Mozillas is going to.
    It’s almost as if they think that the majority of Firefox-users are braindead idiots. Not good, not good…

    1. greg said on April 25, 2013 at 7:02 pm

      “Braindead idiots” seems about right to me. This seems to be who they are designing this new Australis browser for.

      Get a load of this comment from a Mozilla developer when I tried to post something to the mailing list about making it easier to see the chain of trust in the Firefox browser:

      “I think it’s also extremely unlikely that we’ll expose more trust-chain info in the UI, because that info is of no interest for almost all users.”

      Take note, I wasn’t asking for “more trust-chain info in the UI.” I was just asking about exploring if what is already there could be made more easily accessible to the users (make is less buried and easier to get to). But regardless, it is clear from the statement that Mozilla has reoriented to focus the browser on braindead users who care nothing about computers (nor security). They are going after the users who don’t even know what a web browser is, let alone which one they are using. What a shame because Firefox was always the open source gem.

  20. Transcontinental said on April 25, 2013 at 2:35 am

    The changes listed in the final proposal seem to be a compromise between a simpler (and more secure in terms of browser usage) approach for new Firefox users and regards for older heavy tweakers of the browser, with an emphasis on the former whilst for the latter, many css and js scripts together with removal of a series of add-ons and search for new ad-hoc add-ons should be the issue. All together, smile if you’re new to Firefox, strive otherwise.

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