September, 2009

Sep 09

No Ribbon Planned for the Firefox UI

Yesterday a story circulated around the Web and Twitter that Firefox was planning to Tidy Up With Office 2007’s Ribbon. The mockup of Firefox in the article didn’t actually have a Ribbon in it, and the nice folks over at PCPro quickly added an update to the story. However word spreads fast on the Web, and there is now a good bit of confusion.

The Ribbon UI is designed to hold a large number of document creation and editing tools, Word (2007)

So to clarify: a tab based and contextual UI designed for holding a massive number of commands for document creation (a Ribbon) doesn’t actually make any sense for a Web browser, and we do not have any plans to use a Ribbon for commands in Firefox.

Firefox 4.0 Proposal

The one thing about all of this confusion that strikes me as really ironic is that the feedback coming in has been based primarily around two points:

1) A UI designed for document creation and editing (a Ribbon) makes no sense for a present day Web browser (indeed, we agree)
2) We should not get rid of the traditional menu bar on Vista and Windows 7!

While I totally agree with the first point, the ironic part is that a traditional menu bar is also a UI designed primarily for document creation and editing. For instance, the most prominent commands in the traditional menu bar are File, Edit, New, Open and Save:

Word 2.0 (1992)

Web browsers actually have a long history of illogically following the lead of Office’s UI, for instance look at the interface of Mosaic 1.0, where document creation and editing controls like File, Edit, Open and Save are displayed as being more important than core navigational controls like Back and Home:

Mosaic (1993), note the number of similarities to Word 2.0

This is where it all started, although to their credit they were actually working on a Web that had notions of document creation and editing.

Now while I’m all in favor of one day creating a full read/write Web browser where it is just as easy to create a page as it is to view one, we aren’t there yet. So interfaces based around document creation, like the old menu bar, or the new Ribbon, simply aren’t a good fit.

And that’s why we (as well as all other major browsers) are shifting towards minimizing the command UI, and having a single button that acts on the page, and a single button that acts on the browser. Additionally, both of these commands are de-emphasized by placing them far on the right side, while core navigation commands get placement in the upper left (this is of course reversed for RTL languages):

Firefox 4.0 Proposal, right side contains a minimal command UI

So I believe that 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. And now after 16 years, mainstream browsers like IE, Chrome, Safari and Firefox are exposing a UI that is designed for the specific task of browsing the Web, instead of just mindlessly mirroring Office.