Mozilla on Tuesday released the first major interface refresh for Firefox since relaunching the browser in 2011, making more than 1,300 changes to the browser in an effort to win users away from Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Google's Chrome, and Apple's Safari browsers.
The massive overhaul comes at a time of challenge and opportunity for the company's leaders. Mozilla was riven with internal strife several weeks ago when company co-founder and longtime Chief Technology Officer Brendan Eich was elevated to chief executive and then resigned 11 days later, following a public outcry over his financial support for an anti-gay marriage law in California.
But the sweeping improvements in Firefox 29 for desktops also come a day after the US and UK governments cautioned users against using IE until Microsoft fixes a new security hole that could allow attackers to install malware on computers without users' permission. The malware could then be used to steal personal data, track online behavior, or gain control of the computer.
Firefox is currently the third most used browser after IE and Chrome, according to NetMarketShare.
Among the new features in Firefox for desktop PCs are a Firefox Account to simplify the cross-browser Sync feature, a customizable graphical menu, and rounded tabs that emphasize the tab you're in over the others.
"People are using the Web differently than they used to," said Johnathan Nightingale, Mozilla's vice president of Firefox, "and we need to give them a richer set of tools for customizing the way that they experience the Web."
The visual changes take some cues from adjustments that Google has made to Chrome and Microsoft has made to Internet Explorer, such as the triple-line menu icon that now lives on the righthand side of the browser. Gone from Windows and Linux is the orange Firefox menu button.
Two smaller changes arrived early. People who use Firefox have already been exposed to the Download Manager button on the add-on bar, and the browser navigation Forward button disappears unless there's a page to move forward to.
But other improvements are more drastic. The menu button has jumped completely from the left to the right side of the browser, and introduces a touch-friendly, icon-based, customizable menu to Firefox fans.
"Most desktops are not touch enabled, but they're moving that way. You could say it's picking up design ideas from mobile, or you could just say that it's well designed," Nightingale said.
Nightingale doesn't expect everybody to like the new look. His solution? To call up one of the browser's best-loved features: customization.
"We've always been proud of our add-on experience, but the built-in customization tools were in need of love," he said. You can now drag-and-drop to customize the menu, just as you can with other browser interface elements such as the location bar or search box.
Another important interface change has been to ensure that tabs are readable. Tabs, Nightingale said, are a "critical detail."