Firefox auto-updated to the new Proton UI for me yesterday. My first impressions are that I’m fine with the general look and feel – it blends in more in macOS, although tabs with no separators between them feels weird – but I have had a couple of irritations that I’ve changed settings in about:config to fix.

  1. By default the tabs are too tall! On a laptop, vertical space is at a premium (I keep my Mac OS dock on the left-hand side so as not to lose 30px or whatever of vertical space, too) and I just don’t get why it needs so much vertical padding. To fix this, I turned on compact mode. This meant I went into about:config, changed to true, then went into “Customize Toolbar…” and changed “Density” to “Compact (not supported)”. I’m not generally a “compact mode” kind of person (they usually look cramped – I like some padding!) but Proton’s compact mode is just a normal mode. The “not supported” verbiage makes me worried about the stability/longevity of this option, though.
  2. Overscroll. With a touchscreen, I feel like overscroll makes intuitive sense. On a normal computer, I quickly decided I didn’t like it. I think the reasons have to do with how the browser chooses to display things. Like, if a page has a nav bar with a fixed position, floating at the top of the screen, you will still pull it down if you overscroll, rather than overscroll simply moving what’s underneath the floating nav bar. And also, while the overscrolled area will take the colour of whatever background colour the page has set, a tiling background image won’t tile onto it, and if no background colour was set as well then I just see macOS’s default UI grey. Thankfully there’s an option to turn this off too in about:config too – apz.overscroll.enabled, which I changed to false.

What both these things have in common is that they seem to be changes made to improve the Firefox experience on touchscreens – a larger tab area to make it harder to miss with your finger, overscroll to match what happens on phones and tablets. I used to have a touchscreen laptop myself, so I get why Firefox would want to make some changes to make it feel more natural to use their browser on that kind of device. However… I kind of wish that rather than having to delve into about:config and work out what individual settings are called, they just had a checkbox in settings where you could turn off “touchscreen-optimised mode” or whatever. Maybe (if this isn’t thwarted by sandboxing or other security measures) the browser could try to detect whether the device it’s running on has a touchscreen or not, and set that checkbox accordingly when you start it up. But the Firefox team may not like how that would result in inconsistencies between different users’ default experiences… 🤷🏻‍♀️

Despite those two niggles, overall I don’t mind Proton. I like the visual improvements on macOS and I’m not generally someone who opposes change for the sake of it anyway. I’m also happy that Firefox 89 introduces default support for the CSS aspect-ratio property(external link), which brings it up to speed with Chrome and Edge, and means (if you set this property on slow-loading elements with fixed ratios, like images) you can prevent a page from “jumping around” too much as it loads in visitors’ browsers. All good stuff. But thank goodness for about:config, to fix those things I don’t like…