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Mozilla Firefox 3.6 and Its Multiple Personas

Themes, Skins, and Personas

  • January 19, 2010
  • By Sean Michael Kerner
Sean Michael Kerner

Customizing and theming, or "skinning", your open source browser is about to get easier, thanks to the integration of Personas in the upcoming Mozilla Firefox 3.6 release.

The Personas engine, which enables users to easily change the way the browser looks, had previously been available as a Firefox add-on, but will soon become part of the default browser itself. Other popular Firefox add-ons, including Weave and Prism might one day follow suit, as well as a new technology for add-ons called Jetpacks, Mozilla said.

"Our add-ons site has over 6,000 add-ons, but it's a fairly heavy experience," Mike Beltzner, director of Firefox at Mozilla, told InternetNews.com. "You go there, you search, you find one, install it, then restart your browser. For cases where you're changing functionality, that makes a lot of sense, but what we've seen is that for a lot of people, for changing the way the browser looks, they're looking for something more lightweight."

Beltzner added that the Personas started as a Mozilla Labs project aimed at achieving a simpler browser facelift. He said that Personas are so easy to use that a user can simply hover over a Personas thumbnail to view a preview of how the new look will appear on their own browser. Additionally, actually selecting a Persona requires only a one-click install without the need for a browser restart. Likewise, uninstallation is also achieved with a similar one-click mechanism.

"The real advantage of this technology is that you can change your Persona multiple times during the day," Beltzner said. "If you feel silly and want a happy face, it's easy to do. There are over 35,000 Personas to choose from."

Their ease of creation is one of the reasons why there are so many Personas available. Mozilla has provided full details online of how to create an optimized Personas design. All of the Personas are then available by way of the Personas Gallery site.

Beltzner noted that Personas creators need to make sure that they have ownership of the content they are making available. Yet beyond that, Mozilla has no other restriction on putting Personas up on the Gallery site.

Themes vs. Personas

The ability to create a different look -- or skin -- for a Firefox Web browser is not something that is unique to the Personas integration. Prior to the Firefox 3.6 release, users were able to load different Firefox Themes in order to give their browser a different look.

Starting with Firefox 3.6, users will have a choice between the standard Theme approach and Personas.

"What we've got now is two different types of themes," Beltzner said. "One that requires a browser restart that will change everything about the user interface, and then there is Personas. But they're both different types of themes."

The benefit to having both is that Themes can do things that Personas can't. For example, with the Theme approach, a user can change navigation buttons and icons and can do more invasive changes to the Firefox user interface.

"We want to make sure we retain that technology as it allows for deep customization," Beltzner said. "But for people that are just looking for a simple, quick customization, we wanted to provide an experience that was only one click."

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