I use Firefox 4 for a long time. Maybe since some early alpha. Firefox 4 has introduced some dramatic changes in its UI. But I want to talk about only one. The Status bar.
The classic status bar have been dropped in beta 7. It was replaced by urlbar status. This change have resulted in massive outrage in tech news blogs all over the Web.
The motivation for this change in UI was to save some screen real estate. And it’s understandable. Screens are getting wider and wider and some major competing browsers have ditched status long time ago. Safari have it turned off by default for years and Chrome has status bar hovering over the page. Though, people have noticed that status bar have move to the opposite side of the screen but they still look for it at the bottom. Personally I was quiet a bit frustrated by this change. I found myself hovering a link and looking at the bottom of screen to see the url of link and than moving my eyes up screen to the urlbar. The other thing that was not noticed it that page loading status is not shown at all.
This have been going for a few beta releases and for that time I’ve learned to look at urlbar for links and stop worrying about page loading status.
Though, in beta 12 this have been changed again. Link hover status have been removed from urlbar and Chrome-like status bar was introduced instead.
The official reason is that without page load status it seems slower. Here’s what release notes for beta 12 says:
Connection status messages are now shown in a small overlay
But link urls have been put in there too.
My guess is while the linked bug may be absolutely legitimate the decision to put link urls there too was motivated by all that tech news outrage and all the following articles on how to put status bar back.
So till now it was like areal story (and a one guess).
Now, that all worries in blogs was mainly caused by natural human laziness. People don’t want to change habits. All of us used to have status bar the bottom of the screen and have text in it aligned to the left (or right if you’re into RTL languages). The habit of taking a quick look into one corner of screen for a status have been developed over many years (even decades for some of us). I admit, at first I was irritated to find myself looking first into empty left bottom corner and only than looking into urlbar. Though, I didn’t miss even a bit of page load status. I don’t need to know what image browser fetches now or that S3 is slow again. All I want is the page to be loaded as fast as possible and status has nothing to do with that. I have Firebug if I need to deal with page loading process and it’s much better than status bar.Over quiet a short period I’ve learned myself to look into urlbar for a link url.
So the laziness to learn in general public may have scared Mozilla to release such a dramatic change. OK. That’s understandable. But replacement is not any better. I’d say it’s even worse.
The new hover bar mimics the one you can find in Chrome. The main problem with it (IMHO) it that it doesn’t have a fixed position. It’s shown at the bottom of the page to the left usually. But when cursor approaches it it jumps to the right. That doesn’t make any good for user. Now instead of learning how to look up the screen user have to learn to find the status bar at the bottom of the screen. Right or left.
Also there’s a number of problems with hover bar. Both logical and technical.
For example, the status bar can not be wider than a half of screen. Probably, that’s because otherwise there might be areas of the page that may be covered by status bar at whatever side it was. So the long urls are truncated. That make hover bar not a very good place for link urls. Actually, the one in url bar had more space that half of page width.
The other problem is the page search. It appears that search match can be hidden behind the hover bar. The decision can be the same as for links — just position hover bar so that it would not cover the search match. But with links it’s easier. You just keep one point of the status bar (the cursor point). But with search match it’s better to have it completely visible and that’s a region that can span across the whole width of the page. To solve this currently whenever search bar is visible hover bar defaults its position to the right instead of left. There’s a bug for that.
The hover bar has a lot more problems than that. Here are only few of them
- It overlaps vertical scrollbar as well as horizontal.
- It overlaps content at the bottom. Proposed solution: move it to the top. I see that as even worse UX as user will have to look for it in even more places.
- It’s not alway obvious whether hover bar is not shown or it’s on the right side. There’s a suggestion to fix that with an animation.
- Also hover bar is not limited to the page area and it may overlap other parts of browser UI. Such as bookmarks.
I’m sure those are not all the problems but only those I’ve managed to quickly find bug reports for.
The urlbar solution, on the other hand, had no such problems as it doesn’t cover any part of the page. The only reason for it to be replaced was the lack of page loading progress feedback. Though, that was planed and there’s even design mock ups. And I really hope that that feature is going to be implemented to replace hover bar altogether.