Should Firefox toolbars get "Text besides icons"?

Published on 01 December 2008

This is a feature that I really love in Gnome (Linux), and that I wish Firefox had it too. That would make it even more integrated into the Gnome desktop. It is about the options for text and icons on toolbars. Currently, Firefox proposes three options:
  • Icons only (the default)
  • Icons and text
  • Text only

Gnome and Toolbars

Gnome, on the other hand, has one more option: text besides icons, while the icons and text option of Firefox is called text below icons. My preference goes to text besides icons. Let's see how each option looks on Epiphany, Gnome's own web browser: [caption id="attachment_292" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Gnome's different toolbar options on Epiphany"][/caption] From top to bottom: text below icons, text besides icons, icons only and text only. As you can see, in the "text besides icons" option, not all icons have a label: only the most important ones. It's not unlike IE6, so IE6 was not completely garbage. Yes it has a shitty rendering engine, no tabs and no popup blocker, but it has text besides icons :). The advantages of "text besides icons" are multiple, not limited to teaching the meaning of the buttons but also:
  • Create a hierarchy between important buttons and secondary buttons (for example, "back" is more important than "forward"
  • Give more real estate to important buttons, making them easier to click
Those two goals have been solved for Mac and Windows for the back and forward buttons only; however on Linux back and forward are still given the same importance. I believe the patch would be simple enough, it is just one entry to add to the options list and and few CSS rules to apply in this case (see below).

The Cherry on the Cake

If Firefox get that feature, the cherry on the cake would be to have an additional option for Linux users: "System Default". Using this option, Firefox will just use whatever the user (or the distribution) set from the preferences. It would be tempting to get rid of the option altogether and set everyone to the system default, but I guess that wouldn't please KDE users who don't have access to this preference. That requires (1) to read the gconf option for toolbars and (2) to listen for the change in order to refresh the UI as soon as the user changes the system preference. It seems like the Mozilla codebase already have some code related to gconf, in nsGNOMEShellService.cpp to set Firefox as the default browser.

Get it Today

You can easily get the text besides icons on your Firefox, by adding the following lines to your userChrome.css:
/* Text besides icons */
toolbar:not([mode=full]) #back-button,
toolbar:not([mode=full]) #home-button {
   -moz-box-orient: horizontal !important;

#back-button .toolbarbutton-text,
#home-button .toolbarbutton-text {
   display: block !important;
You will have to set your toolbars to "icons only". [caption id="attachment_294" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Text Besides Icons in Firefox"]Text Besides Icons in Firefox[/caption]
TAGS: browsers  hacking  tech