A new look is coming to Mozilla Firefox — yes, another one — and in this post we show you what it currently looks like on Ubuntu, and share detail on how to try it out for yourself.

Firefox has had a number of major redesigns in the past, including the Australis UI update in 2014, and the the Photon uplift in 2017. A third is now on the way, dubbed Proton.

Mozilla will roll our its latest ‘visual refresh’ later this year (possibly in Firefox 89). More than a mere tickle around the sides, the Proton redesign affects several parts of the core browser experience, including the new tab page, hamburger menu, and the tab strip.

Confirmed Proton redesigns coming:

  • New “hamburger” menu that is purely text-based, no icons, with rejigged entries
  • New ‘new tab’ page with improved layout and more customisation options
  • New info boxes make Firefox’s in-app notifications more eye-catching
  • New address bar/tool bar with fewer icons

A few of these are already available to test — but before you go any further I need to step on an upturned Lego box to issue a development disclaimer through my home-made megaphone:

Firefox’s new look is under active development. Nothing shown in the screenshots on this site should be considered finished, finalised, or forever.

That out of the way here’s how things currently look in Firefox 87 (Nightly) on Ubuntu 20.04 LTS:

Firefox 87 (Nightly, Linux) with Proton enabled

In the screenshot above you can see three main differences: a new tab strip, a new hamburger menu, and a ‘new’ new tab page. The latter pair of changes are solid improvements. The main menu in particular no longer feels overwhelming or unwieldily, but ordered and navigable.

The tab strip however… It looks a bit too oversized in its current state. Because Proton is a cross-platform redesign I did wonder if this size was specific to Linux but, no, it also looks like that on macOS too:

Firefox 87 (Nightly, macOS) with Proton enabled

The good news is that the “disconnected” tab effect WILL look better by the time Firefox 89 rolls around. Proton mockups produced by Mozilla show the rounded active tab aligned to the (new, but as-yet not available to test) URL and toolbar (so there’s no gap), with non-active tabs recessive state looking (more or less) like it does now.

The bad news is that the chunkiness is intentional, designed to bolster the browser’s touchscreen friendliness. It also allows tabs to convey more information, as this screenshot of media playing show:

Room for more information (Nightly, macOS)

A few other interesting (!) changes in the works or being explored as part of the Proton refresh include hiding the ‘home’ button from the toolbar; streamlining context menus and revamping modals; and dropping the ‘page actions’ menu in favour of in-bar icons/buttons.

I keep this post updated with Proton changes as and when they occur (so if you hear/see a change before I do please let me know about it via the contact form@).

But for now, this is the current state of Proton in Firefox 87 nightly, on Ubuntu. Let me know what you think abo—oh? You want to know how you can try it? 😉…

How to Try Proton in Firefox 85+

Want to enable Proton in Firefox to checkout the changes first-hand? It’s easy enough but there are some things you’ll need to do as it’s not quite as simple as flicking a single switch — at least not yet!

First up, you need to use a recent Firefox Beta or Nightly build to taste the bulk of the work. A few parts do work in the current stable version (Firefox 85) though some are now ‘outdated’ compared to more recent revisions.

  1. Type about:config in a new tab
  2. Click ‘Accept the risk and continue’
  3. Search for browser.proton.enabled
  4. Click the toggle icon to enable the setting
  5. Restart Firefox

When Firefox opens you’ll notice that not much has changed. This is by design for now; to turn on the ‘Proton’ parts you need add the following boolean settings using the about:config page:

  • Add browser.proton.tabs.enabled for new tabs
  • Add browser.proton.appmenu.enabled for new condensed text-based menu

Here are some other switches that don’t seem to do anything yet but will in the very near future, each enabling a different part of the revamp. Items in bold are ‘live’, items in italic don’t have an effect yet.

  • browser.proton.urlbar.enabled for the new URL bar
  • browser.proton.toolbar.enabled for the new toolbar
  • browser.proton.contextmenus.enabled for new context menus

Finally, to get the revamped new tab design search for the browser.newtabpage.activity-stream.newNewtabExperience.enabled setting and enable it.

Restart the browser for all changes to take effect.

This article will be updated as new elements are made available to test, so bookmark this post now and pop back to check out the changes as we spot them.

Screenshots updated: Feb 14

h/t Montag

Dev News Firefox mozilla proton redesign