What if you could reinvent Firefox theming?

Jared Wein jaws at mozilla.com
Thu Sep 8 15:45:43 UTC 2016


Thank you to those who have responded to the Firefox Theme survey [
https://goo.gl/forms/qUqQ4cAJ3oJueD5c2]. We received over 250 responses
with some great feedback as to what people like about the current offerings
of themes in Firefox as well as what they would like to see improved. We
will be keeping the survey open and monitoring it for anybody that has not
had a chance to reply yet, but we will not be sending out another summary
email. The grouping of the results and more details can be found in our
meeting notes [https://github.com/mozilla/firefox-themes/blob/master/
notes/09-08-2016.md].

Below is a summary of the responses to the survey.

Have you made a lightweight theme before?
21.8% yes

What do you like about lightweight themes? (48 responses)
A strong majority (70%) of lightweight theme authors said that they liked
how lightweight themes were simple and easy to make. The next group, at 6%,
said that they liked how lightweight themes always remain compatible after
Firefox updates. 4% of users also liked that they were easy to install with
no restart required. A couple people complained that they were too simple
and there was too much spam in the themes section of the Add-ons website.

What do you feel was difficult to do or missing from lightweight themes?
(47 responses)
A little less than (42%) half of responses would have liked to do more than
just a couple of images with lightweight themes. They would like to apply
background images to other parts of the browser, change icons, buttons, and
the size-of and location of browser components. The next group of responses
(10%) wanted more support for scaling, repetition, animation, and position
of background images. Improved documentation (8%) and a lack of a
development environment such as an in-browser editor followed (6%). The
last two groups of responses wanted the ability for themes to change based
on external factors (2%) and separate images for the tabs and tab toolbar
(2%).

Have you made a XUL theme before?
23% yes

What do you like about XUL themes?
A strong majority of the respondents agreed firmly with 71.2% that XUL
themes are awesome in allowing to touch and customize all the things. The
second largest group of respondents seek out XUL themes because they offer
more nuts and bolts to tinker with than lightweight themes at 11.5%, while
the familiarity with the CSS styling language is the main reason to like
them for 7.7% of the respondents. Two other notable groups are people who
like dark themes, which are apparently only really available as XUL themes,
and ones who feel that XUL themes are the easiest thing to make on this
planet, each at 3.9%.

What do you feel was difficult to do or missing from XUL themes?
The largest amount of responses (29.8%) said that it is a real pain to keep
these themes up-to-date and working, with the current fast release cycle of
Firefox and the fast pace of development. 28.1% of the respondents
rightfully complained that they need to use exotic, undocumented
technologies and unknown CSS selectors in order to create a working XUL
theme. Whilst 15.8% claimed there is nothing wrong with XUL themes and we
should keep it as-is, another 12.3% is sad about the lack of documentation
or any kind of manual to get started. Packaging and delivery of XUL themes
is not considered optimal by 10.5% of respondents and that ultimately very
few of these themes can be configured after installation (3.5%).

Why do you install themes?
About half (47%) of the survey responses want to personalize Firefox. These
people said that they want to make Firefox "their own" and have fun showing
it off. They enjoy having full control over the user interface through XUL
themes and like the ability to set arbitrary CSS. The next set of responses
(16%) asked for a "dark" Firefox, making it easier on the eyes at night.
These responses were generally focused on the toolbars and menus of the
browser being dark. At 12% of responses was closer integration with the
operating system followed closely by 11% of responses saying that they felt
the default theme was boring and bland. The last category of responses that
received multiple votes was to allow themes to undo recent changes to the
user interface, as an attempt to keep things the same that they've been for
the past months/years.

What capabilities would you like themes to have?
More than half (56%) of the survey responses want full control over the
browser UI. They would like to move and hide items, change tab shapes,
replace icons, context menus, scrollbars, and more. Following this large
group, we had close to 5% of respondents who wanted to simply change basic
colors and another group, also close to 5%, that wanted to make it easy for
users to make simple tweaks to their browser or an installed theme through
a built-in menu or tool. Native OS integration, such as using
platform-specific icons and scrollbars, followed closely at 3%. Also at 3%
of responses were requests from users who require larger icons and improved
readability of the browser's user interface for improved accessibility. Not
far behind, and ironically next in the order of responses, were requests
for a smaller browser UI (2%). These users generally want to maximize the
amount of screen space that web pages can use. Both "dark themes" and
"themes not breaking with future releases" got 2% of responses. In our last
group of responses at or above 1% was themes that could change based on
external factors (time of day, season, month, web color, or a very slow
animation), restartless and easy to trial, ability to apply multiple themes
to create a "mash-up", and to lighten the tab bar.

What parts of Firefox are most important to you to be able to change the
appearance of? Why?
Almost 20% of the respondents can not make a choice between the parts of
Firefox and thus want to customize the app in its entirety. Following
closely with 16% is the group of respondents that think the tabs area is
the most important part for themes, while half that number choose toolbars,
(toolbar)button icons and the area above the tabs, including the window
decoration and window controls. Interestingly, the wish to be able to theme
in-content pages is as strong as that of the Awesomebar and respective
navigation controls: 6.8%. Changing the colors, palette and fonts used for
the UI are the other most notable choices from the community of respondents
at 6.4% and 4%, respectively.

Are there theme-related features from other browser or apps that you would
like to see incorporated into Firefox?
An overwhelming majority of the respondents insist that we don't need to
change a thing and that other apps don't offer grand alternatives at 36.5%,
or simply can't think of any. The Vivaldi browser came up in our
preliminary research and also takes a prominent position as device of
inspiration for theming features at 11.2%. A dark theme like other apps
already offer in their package (5.9%), applying tints of color on SVG icons
and background masks (2.9%) on UI elements - most notably the titlebar -
and take Opera's about:newtab theming capabilities (2.4%). A notable
response from 2.9% of respondents was to introduce a live theme editor in
Firefox with sharing capabilities, so that theme creators can take existing
themes to tweak to their own liking and (re-)share with others.

Thanks,
Jared Wein and Mike de Boer on behalf of the Firefox engineering team

On Tue, Sep 6, 2016 at 8:09 PM, Jared Wein <jwein at mozilla.com> wrote:

> What if you could reinvent Firefox theming? What would it look like, what
> would its capabilities be?
>
> We want users to have fun customizing Firefox and make it feel like their
> own. We hope to make it easier to create the type of themes that people
> have always wanted to make.
>
> Today Firefox has both "complete themes" and "themes". "Complete themes"
> are harder to make but provide unlimited theming power, whereas "themes"
> are easier to make but limit the theme author to just setting a background
> image and some text colors. We would like to merge these into a single
> system that provides the right amount of balance while also easier to use
> than what we already have.
>
> Can you help us out by filling out the following survey?
>
> https://goo.gl/forms/qUqQ4cAJ3oJueD5c2
>
> Thanks,
> Mike de Boer and Jared Wein on behalf of the Firefox engineering team
>
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