Firefox's slow takeover of the address bar's space

April 28, 2021

In the current Firefox 88, and I believe in the next version as well (currently Firefox Beta), part of the address bar is a '...' menu for "Page actions". Through using the right button on items in this menu, or on the icons on the right side of the address bar, you can add or remove certain icons from the right side, things like the "Bookmark this page" star. If you start up a current Firefox Nightly, you will discover the three dots of the Page Actions menu are gone, as is your ability to remove any icons from the address bar, including both the "Bookmark this page" star and any that may be put there by some of your addons.

Some of the address bar icons have always been non-removable. You can't get rid of "Toggle reader mode" on the right or any of the left side icons (usually the trackers information icon and the site information icon, sometimes with others). But the total removal of "Page actions" is new, and I believe it leaves you with no access to actions like "Copy link" (although you can achieve them in multi-step actions), and of course it leaves you with no way to quiet down addons that normally put informational icons in the address bar. Perhaps the Mozilla developers intend the current state of affairs as an intermediate step on the way to a future state, but I can't help but think that this is actually the final state. It's not surprising and in a way it's inevitable.

The space for URLs in the address bar has always consumed a significant amount of valuable horizontal space in the toolbar. If you want to add more icons to the general toolbar, they're going to wind up stealing space from the URL in one way or another. At one point, this might have been considered unacceptable, but those days are long gone. I can think of several reasons for the fall of saving space for the URL:

  • Many URLs themselves got longer and longer, so that you couldn't see anything like the full URL in any reasonable width browser window. Much of a typical URL also got meaningless to a typical person.

  • Most people don't (and didn't) use the URLs even when they're visible, as demonstrated by various things. I don't think that this started with smartphones, but they certainly demonstrated that you didn't have to see the URL (because they just couldn't show more than a tiny scrap of it to you).

  • On desktops there's been a move toward using applications in full screen mode, which appears to leave lots of room for URLs in the address bar even if the browser developers add icons to it.

The increasing trend of websites to require wider and wider windows to look reasonable on desktops strongly suggests to me that I now use an unusually narrow browser window by modern tacit standards. This narrow window leaves me with not very much room for the actual URL after Firefox Nightly forces all of these icons down my throat; even with the "Page actions" menu, I don't have enough room for the full URLs of Wandering Thoughts articles, which is sort of ironic.

(Since I literally never use Firefox bookmarks I feel rather disgruntled that I'm forced to make space for what is effectively a land mine in my browsers. I can take the button out in my personal build, but some of my Firefox usage is of the standard version.)

My impression is also that extensive customization of Firefox is now out of fashion within Mozilla. The "Page actions" menu and the related ability to customize what did and didn't appear in the address bar are what I would call old-style Firefox, and don't fit in the new approach, where the Firefox UI designers seem to want to give everyone the same experience.

(This elaborates on some tweets of mine.)

Written on 28 April 2021.
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Last modified: Wed Apr 28 00:28:56 2021
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