Mozilla denies it will 'ribbonize' Firefox

Mozilla today denied that it will "ribbonize" upcoming Windows versions of Firefox, saying that its plans to eliminate the traditional menu bar will result in something much less complicated than Microsoft's often-derided user interface.

"There's a key difference between what we would like to do and a 'ribbon,'" said Alex Faaborg, from the Mozilla interface design team. "Firefox will have a normal toolbar with two 'menu' tabs. We don't have thousands of commands like Microsoft Word, we have tens of commands."

"New Windows Vista and Windows 7 applications are moving away from a menu bar," added Mike Beltzner, the director of Firefox. "We're taking a look at how other apps are doing this, and we'll make use of menu buttons."

Faaborg and Beltzner were reacting to reports last week, including a story in Computerworld , that pointed to Mozilla planning documents that cited Microsoft's "ribbon" interface -- best known as the foundation for the user interface redesign of Word 2007 -- as an example of where Firefox is headed.

"Starting with Vista, and continuing with Windows 7, the menu bar is going away," said Mozilla in those plans . "[It will] be replaced with things like the Windows Explorer contextual strip, or the Office Ribbon, [which is] now in Paint and WordPad, too."

Calling that "worded kind of poorly," Beltzner said that Mozilla had heard, loud and clear, from users about the ribbonizing report.

So did Computerworld .

Readers who reacted in comments appended to last week's story were generally down on the ribbon concept. "Bad idea! Mozilla had better let us choose between menus and the ribbon, or they'll lose a Firefox user," promised a reader identified only as "Phil."

"Has Microsoft sent Jim Jones' type enforcers around squirting Microsoft Kool-Aid down the throats of the Mozilla folk?" asked an anonymous reader "As Bill G[ates] is supposed to be fond of saying, 'That's the stupidest thing I ever heard.'"

Today, Faaborg reiterated the take he gave on the debate last week in a post to his blog , where he said, "We do not have plans to use a Ribbon for commands in Firefox."

"We're looking at the various approaches to replace the menu bar, and when we said 'ribbon,' we were speaking generically," Faaborg said today. "Firefox will not specifically use a ribbon."

In his blog post, Faaborg described how Firefox will instead rely on a pair of buttons at the right side of the toolbar, one labeled "Page," the other "Tools." Commands that previously were ranked in a traditional menu bar -- as in Firefox 3.5 for Windows -- will instead be grouped under the two buttons.

"It's not just about browsers, it's about other Windows applications, too," said Faaborg today, speaking of the movement by Microsoft, and developers, toward a cleaner, streamlined command structure in Windows and application interfaces. "For the same reasons a ribbon makes little sense for the Firefox UI, which is primarily about tabs and navigation, a traditional menu bar, despite 16 years of history in Web browsers, also makes little sense."

According to Mozilla's current plans, the user interface changes will debut in Firefox 3.7, a minor upgrade that's now slated for a March 2010 release . Only when Firefox 3.7 is run on Vista and Windows 7 with the new interface be apparent; Windows XP users will continue to see that operating system's traditional, menu-style interface, as will Mac and Linux users when they run Firefox.

Vista and Windows 7 users will also be able to view the full menus by holding the Alt key, which will act as a toggle between on and off.

"There's a challenge to designing in the open," said Beltzner, referring to Mozilla's practice of publicly disclosing virtually all of its plans, including design intentions far in the future. "It's both gratifying and frustrating. Gratifying, because we get incredible feedback from the community. But it's frustrating because the rest of the [browser] industry doesn't show you what we show you. We're showing you our full train of thought."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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