Visual Refresh and Linux (and you?)

Alex seems to have stirred up some debate regarding visual refresh on Linux.  I wanted to talk a little about why its not as big of a priority right now, and longer-term thinking I’ve been doing about Linux.

First off, I think there’s a lot of “Mozilla doesn’t invest anything in Linux” comments which are pretty untrue, both currently and historically.  We’ve actually had more people in the project working on integration with Linux since I’ve been around than on Mac or Windows.  We’ve had really good native appearance  and drawing hooks for GTK2 (Qt doesn’t get much love, but we’ve asked/begged/pleaded for interest, and no one really seems to have it, including the distros that invest time into Firefox).  Where we use native look and feel, we are pretty solidly compatible.  The current trunk  adds native theme form widgets and other goodies, in no small part thanks to the work of Michael Ventnor.  There’s a lot of other work that involved significant time spent on Linux, including pango and cairo integration, and we’ve fixed a lot of things that required just as much effort on Linux as on other platforms, so I don’t think its anywhere close to zero, despite some people’s assertions to the contrary.

Second, we’re not going to share much between platforms other than icons between Linux and Windows.  We use -moz-appearance for most things, and that works really well, as I’ve noted.  There’s some comments suggesting that we’ll look like Vista on Linux, which is really not grounded in fact.  In the absence of separate work on a Linux iconset, we’ll likely share the Windows XP icons, since I think that color palette works better with Linux themes, but we’ll be able to do either/or between the two sets once we have them.

Third, designing a universal icon set specifically for all of the distros using GTK2 is a pretty hard challenge (I’d say nearly impossible), and I don’t think there’s any way we’ll really get it right, and there’s some painful discussions about who to target if we really try to target a specific reference distro.  A lot of the time it feels like the best we can do with the full icon set is broken clock correctness (actually right a small percentage of the time).  We could design a set of icons for one distro’s defaults, but that would look bad on other distros.  Ubuntu has a firefox-themes-ubuntu which adds three themes designed to integrate with their distinctive default look and feel.  We couldn’t use those themes though, and anything we ship is probably not going to look right on their end.

I’ve wanted to use stock icons as the base for the theme, but there’s definitely gaps where we don’t have obvious icons, and that’s something we never quite figured out when we were experimenting with the Fedora guys a couple of years back (that’s when we added the stock icons to the buttons/dialogs).  Its worth looking at again now that we’re raising the bar on Linux library reqs, but there’s still some scary issues about how to fill the gap where stock icons don’t exist for the function you want to expose, without the icon looking totally broken and wrong.

Finally, Stephen Garrity posted about creating a Tango -based theme for Firefox 3 on the newsgroups some months back.  There wasn’t a lot of initial interest/activity there, but if you’re interested in helping improve Firefox 3 on Linux, at least for some subset of distros, please  check out bug 381206.  We’re not saying we don’t want a better icon set on Linux as well, but no one has a clear vision of what the right thing to do is.  Hopefully some people can jump in and start making progress there.


  1. reed says:

    I think it’s worked out in the past with using a Windows theme/icon-set for Linux because the icons weren’t made to be _really_ integrated with the OS because Firefox wanted to stand out and look similar cross-platform. This thinking seems to be changing with Firefox 3 (especially with Mac OS X), so I just don’t want tons of Windows-only icons in my Firefox on Linux that look quite out-of-place. Just my two cents.

  2. Arthur says:

    I think what people annoyed in the other post is that it remained completely silence about the Linux side at all. And Mike’s comment about not worth bothering sounded a tad bit unfriendly even though it probably wasn’t meant the way it sounded.

    The tango icon set looks very well thought out to me. Would be wonderful to have it as default set.

  3. isriya says:

    I think the problem from Alex’s blog is not to mention about Linux “at all”. If he said anything about Linux, just only “We don’t have resource for Linux but we might share somethings with XP”, that will be OK for most Linux users, at least Mozilla acknowledge it. Saying nothing at all makes Linux users furious as it is.

  4. El Anonimato es Cojonudo says:

    Well, the real solution to this issue is to use the desktop independent icon specification that exits in

    That way, the interface gets drawn according to the local desktop environment being used, kde or gnome. This is the best and correct long term solution and both kde and gnome have begun to make extensive use of the spec.

    Finally, the outrage was created by the lack of real thinking about linux issues. The solution proposed above is apparent to any leading linux developer and communicating with them would avoid making Mozilla developers look like they are completely out of step with developments in Linux land.

    While you may find many of your users in Windows, many of these installs have been done by Linux users wanting to free friends and co-workers from the claws of IE.

    Ignore us at your own peril: konqueror is moving to webkit and will be available on windows as will Safari. If you piss enough people, you will have forgotten your history, ethos and credo and in the process become the foundation that produces software only for proprietary platforms.

  5. hhh says:


    Thanks, I had not heard of that before. Tango on Ubuntu, very nice.

    For the record, I’ve tested nightlies for quite some time, and have started dual booting in recent months. The last Linux bug I filed was replied to in a matter of a few hours {resolved dupe of a major bug, #398551). The responses in the other thread are valid, but way over the top drama-wise.

    Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux i686; en-US; rv:1.9a9pre) Gecko/2007101104 Minefield/3.0a9pre

  6. DigDug says:

    Aren’t there already a few Tango themes sitting on the addons site? Why not pick one of those up and use it. If I remember right, there are patches flying around in a few distributions to use stock icons on the system too. I’ve never understood why Firefox doesn’t use ‘em, but my Linux box has E17 on it, so getting everything to match is just a dream I gave up on.

    Seriously, Linux users aren’t Mac users. They don’t usually have hissy fits or refuse to use things that don’t match perfectly. I’m completely surprised to see this response from anyone. Maybe its a sign that the average Linux user is changing.

  7. Flavio says:

    “El Anonimato es Cojonudo” is completely right. You don’t have to choose an iconset, you have to use whatever is configured as the GTK icon theme.

  8. ant says:

    I’ll be happy if Fx3 just fixed the horrible tab bar.

  9. Disposable_Interloper says:

    In my opinion, it’s the features and the layout that make a piece of software feel unique, not so much the icon set. It’d be nice if you Mozilla guys would quit fretting over giving Firefox a unique look despite visually integrating it with the various OS’s out there. As long as it behaves the same through and through, people will recognize it as Firefox no matter what.

    So, I’d like to third the idea of using the spec. Epiphany looks great on GNOME, XFCE, and KDE (with GTK-Qt). Why can’t Firefox?

  10. I think Alex was right not mentioning Linux, as I see no problem in the integration of Firefox 2 on this platform. I use Mac OS X as my primary operating system and Safari is my default browser there. If I want Firefox engine, I will fall back to Camino — just because aesthetics matter to me and Firefox feels awfully out of place in OS X. I think that the decision to make it feel like “part of the OS” is the right one.
    But my other operating system is Ubuntu and my primary web browser there is Firefox. I like it because of the Ubuntu-style themes it comes with. It feels like it’s part of the OS and I don’t want to see the “visual identity” of Firefox, I want it to work great (which it does) and look great (which it does on Linux, but does not on OS X).

  11. Looks aren’t the only issue!

    When will I be able to use KDE Wallet with Firefox? When will Firefox’s menu bar appear in KDE’s menu bar when it’s enabled, Mac OS X style? When will Firefox use KDE’s file associations instead of creating it’s own set of file associations? When will I be able to use the KDE file picker with Firefox?

    Looks are minor in comparison to these issues!

  12. KDE integration PLEASE.

    I do not care about icons (I like the current Firefox icons a lot). I do want the KDE file picker and file associations. Surely those two should not be too hard.

    As for appearance, I actually prefer Firefox to have different icons because that reminds me which browser I am using – but I can see that for most users usig the system icons would be best. Using system colours be nice though. But like others, appearance is less important than usability, so please get the file picker and associations done – surely it cannot be that difficult!

  13. anonymous says:

    >Qt doesn’t get much love, but we’ve asked/begged/pleaded for interest, and no one >really seems to have it, including the distros that invest time into Firefox

    I work in offshore software company located in Ukraine. Our company has more than 500 developers. Looking at I want to tell you that revenue of Mozilla Foundation many times exceeds the revenue of software company I work in. I say this because having such a solid revenue Mozilla Foundation can afford to have a lot of full time payed developers. But it doesn’t want to do this? If you don’t want to hire full time developers you can cooperate with some offshore software company in India or Eastern Europe to develop some feature (I mean QT back end). And this offshore company will be happy to provide support for it’s developed features. Believe me, it won’t coast very much.

    You don’t have native QT support but you do have native Mac OS X support. I can bet that the number of KDE Firefox users many times exceed the number of Mac OS X Firefox users. Am I wrong? So where is the logic? Mac OS X is something really different from Linux or Windows and Mac OS X users don’t user application like Firefox and OpenOffice. It’s a reality. Or you want to tell that you have a lot of volunteers working on Mac Os X support. Or maybe Apple invests in this? I don’t think anyone will believe this. Because as I’ve said Mac OS X users will never user Firefox. I am absolutely positive that you do have hired developers working on Max Os X support and there is no need to “ask/beg/plead” for interest. Am I wrong? So why don’t you hire QT developer? At least one.

    You know in Ukraine we have a very well know proverb which describes this situation.

    If you want to do something you look for possibilities. If you don’t want to do this you look for reasons.

    I don’t want to offend anyone but you are looking for reasons.
    I don’t believe that having such a solid revenue you don’t have possibilities.

    Please be honest.

    Best regards

  14. nicu buculei says:

    1 for looking again at stock icons on Linux, anything else is, IMO, suboptimal.

  15. Flavio says:

    To all KDE users asking for integration: Firefox is GTK application on Linux and cannot integrate the KDE filepicker, icons and stuff. Well technically it can, but it would look like a double headed monster, half GTK, half Qt.
    If KDE integration is to be done, there need to be a Qt/KdeLibs implementation of XUL. But as “anonymous” already said, the Mozilla Foundation does not seem interested in it.

  16. chodo says:

    “We’ve had really good native appearance and drawing hooks for GTK2″

    Good joke, simply hilarious. Ever heard of this bug: It seems you doesn’t. The column tabs look really ugly (which is, of course, not so devastating for Firefox as it is for Thunderbird, were you must see this ugliness each time you open it.

  17. Lalo Martins says:

    I don’t understand why you guys keep saying “distros”. I don’t see how visual integration for eg Fedora is different from SUSE. Rather, you want two themes: GNOME and KDE. (Maybe, if I’m really luck, XFCE, as that’s what I use.) And as Graeme Pietersz and chodo say, actually work on integration, not only “nice icons” and form widgets.

  18. QUOTE
    Qt doesn’t get much love, but we’ve asked/begged/pleaded for interest, and no one really seems to have it, including the distros that invest time into Firefox)

    I am comfortable with Qt/KDELibs.
    What do i need to do get started with Firefox/Qt development.

    A few pointers would be really really useful :)

    In case you want to mail me with some info:
    manishchaks AT

    Thanks in advance!

  19. Steve says:

    What ever happened to Gnomestripe & Kdestripe?

    Both those themes adopted elements of the native theme including some of the current stock icons. I used to love those themes, and now find myself having to chop up the stock theme to put in the icons I want every time a new major release of Firefox comes out.

    Bring back gnomestripe and kdestripe and we linux users will have all the native integration goodness we can handle! :)

  20. yman says:

    why can’t firefox check for the native theme on gnome and kde (maybe wait with kde till they come out with the new version) and use it?

Leave a Reply