Suck on Skins
Tuesday April 11th, 2000
TheUIGuy wrote in about a Suck.com article that talks about Mozilla/Netscape 6 and it's skinnability. It takes a very negative view on what we feel is a very positive technology.
Skins allow the user to pick their interface. Packages allow them to extend it. This customization allows anyone to choose how they browse the Web, manage mail, or use any of Mozilla's other applications. The author of the Suck piece, Greg Knauss, seems to feel that choice is bad, because there is the possibility for poorly designed or useless skins. That comes close to saying, "there could be ugly pages on the Web, so shut it down."
Greg also states, "by adding in all the flexibility of XUL, the Mozilla programmers have removed our ability to make the application use the native controls of the operating system." This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Open Source. The direction Mozilla is taking doesn't prevent anyone from doing anything. The capability to do exactly what Greg wants is right there, in the code sitting on the CVS server, and in the mind and will of someone who needs something done differently. Mozilla might not be doing what you want, but that does not mean that you are prevented from doing it yourself.
(FYI, there are projects for Windows and Linux -- and nothing preventing a Mac project -- for embedding the HTML renderer into a native wrapper application.)
#32 Suck.com is right!
Wednesday April 12th, 2000 5:49 PM
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The suck.com article wasn't misguided. I like XUL, largely because all previous versions of Netscape appear to have had the UI done by a demented crack-monkey. Still, the default skin shipped with Mozilla looks like an afterthought and it's probably one of the better skinned-apps I've seen - most skinned apps ship with defaults which are bad enough to warrant a permanent uninstall just from an aesthetic standpoint, let alone their crimes against usability.
What bothers me is that Mozilla is such a nice piece of code packed in an interface which is most charitably described as uninspired. It's like producing a sports-car that does 0-60 in 2 seconds while getting 200mpg and then making it look like a Yugo!
Mozilla should use the native widgets by default for three reasons: - Consistency - users expect controls to look AND BEHAVE the same as they do elsewhere on the system. This includes consistency with a user-selected colorscheme and any system-configurable behaviours. - Compatibility - I *HATE* Mozilla's lack of decent keyboard navigation, at least with the default skin - that is the single biggest problem with it currently, IMHO. Now consider how a blind person using a screen reader or some handicapped individual using the OS accessibility features will feel about an application that not only does not let them use the application comfortably but does not let them use it at all, for what appears to be a completely useless feature from their standpoint ("We thought pretty pictures were more important than you being able to use the program."). - Performance - Mozilla's default skin is really slow; switching to the Sullivan skin literally made it go from slug-crawling-through-molasses to perceptually the same speed as native controls.
Now, I appreciate that some new technologies (e.g. CSS) pose difficulties towards working with the system controls. Many of these problems could be alleviated by shipping a standard skin with each platform that uses either the standard controls or a close approximation and has been tuned for performance. Users would still be able to install custom skins but there'd be a lot less confusion among people who don't know/care about skins.
The handicapped issue probably can't be worked around in the default skin, but I don't think it would be unreasonable to provide some alternate skin/extension option in the installer to use the standard controls.