The new Australis theme has been looming around the heads of the Firefox community for a very long time. Most of what we – that is the public – know about the theme is that it will modify how Firefox looks as it will replace the current default theme when it is released. What many Firefox users may not be aware of though is that Australis is more than just a theme replacement as it will affect the way we customize the browser.
The project that has been guiding Mozilla’s exploration of what a modern browser should look like is Australis (because Mozilla apparently likes to name projects after star systems) and the fruits of this project will soon find their way into the Firefox release channels, starting with Nightly once it hits version 25 soon. After that, it will make its way through the usual release channels, though Nightingale told me that the team may hold it back from the stable channel a bit longer to ensure that everything works smoothly.
If you feel really adventurous, you can already install a version of Firefox from Mozilla’s relatively obscure UX branch and test it in its current state (but don’t blame us if it crashes a lot or shreds your hard drive).
While the main Australis theme won’t land in the stable channel before October. The combined stop/load/reload button in Firefox, for example, came out of this group. So did the new download manager and the fact that Firefox now doesn’t show the forward button anymore when there is no page to go forward to. The customization and tools menu now also uses icons in a three-by-three arrangement and dedicated buttons for copy, select and paste, as well as for increasing font sizes instead of just using a regular drop-down text menu.
Australis is not just about the design, though. One area that’s also changing with Australis is how you customize the look and feel of your browser. Mozilla currently offers quite a few tools for this, but the team believes they are hard to find and not “fun” enough to use. As Mozilla’s Gavin Sharp told me, the idea here was to get users to enjoy customizing their browsers for the way they use it. Unless users can find these features, though, they could just as well be left out, so the team is working on ways to make it a bit more obvious that users can rearrange and remove virtually all the parts of the Firefox interface to suit their needs.
Now that Firefox is on a rapid-release schedule, the team obviously can’t change the user interface with every update, so the current thinking is to roll some things out together once they are ready and, where it makes sense, roll others out individually. This means that while we’ll see Australis and its curvy tabs in the nightlies of Firefox 25 very soon, it may not actually land in the stable version of Firefox 25.