Roughly 11 years after Mozilla released Phoenix, the browser that quickly became renamed to Firefox, this software community gave its popular web browser received a major aesthetic overhaul.

Firefox’s new UI, Australis, was released as part of Firefox 29 last week. It is sleeker and cleaner with a more graphical interface and less bulk. This brings the browser in line with Google Chrome’s minimal design, which puts the focus on the site itself — as well as syncing content — and less on its container.

Back in 2004, when the first version Firefox became available as a stable release, it started a glacial but important movement away from Microsoft’s stagnant Internet Explorer. By the end of 2005, Firefox accounted for roughly 24% of browser usage, a distant second to the 69% of usage that IE saw. Today, Firefox still sits modestly around 25% but deserves a good deal of credit for causing IE’s decrease in usage, which is now at 9%.

Chrome currently owns a majority of the market share, at around 58%. It is hard not to speculate that the Australis design is an attempt to steal some of those users from Google.

In recent years, Firefox has suffered from memory leaks that caused the browser to run slowly and possibly even freeze. Mozilla has gone a long way towards plugging those leaks and speeding up the browser in the process.

After a few days of usage, most of which was for web development and testing, Firefox 29 appears to be just as fast as Chrome 34.

Although some further testing may be necessary, our initial reaction is that it is worth upgrading to Firefox 29 or giving it a second look if you are a defector.