Web browsing with tabs

[2010-11-17] computers, web
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Update 2012-02-10: Taming tabs and bookmarks

All major web browsers have had tabs for a while. It is great, because it allows you to open links from the current page in the background and read them later. But, after a while, tabs tend to pile up, much like a to-do list. On Firefox, you can try out two ideas for the next generation of tabbed browsing:

  1. Tree-style tab (a Firefox extension): Moves the tabs from a horizontal bar on top to a vertical bar at the side. This has several advantages: First, with screens increasing in width (relative to height), vertical space is scarcer than horizontal space. Second, a vertical list leaves more space for the tab titles (owing to the fact that most languages are written horizontally). Third, if you open child tabs in the background, it is easy to tell where they were opened from, because they are indented under their parent tab. This makes a huge difference if, say, you have several search results open and created child tabs from each one of them. Tree-style tab being an extension, you can try it out right now. For me it has become a must-have and is one of the things that keeps me from moving from Firefox to Chrome. Speaking of Chrome: Google is also experimenting with vertical tabs in the most recent version (see point 4 in this post).
  2. Firefox 4: Has three major new tab-related features. First, app tabs are more permanent tabs for applications you use frequently (such as web-based email). They cannot be closed and are smaller than normal tabs, showing just the web app icon, not the title. Second, if something you type in the address bar matches a tab title, you can switch to that tab (“switch to tab”). Third, Panorama (“organize your tabs”, check out the movie) allows you to arrange tabs as tiles on a two-dimensional plane. Note that the shortcut has been changed from Ctrl-Space to Ctrl-E (Macs: Cmd-E or a three-finger swipe on a trackpad). A web application can prevent that shortcut from working, but there is an extension that fixes this.
A few thoughts on Firefox’s Panorama:
  • Is Panorama too similar to bookmarking? There is a lot of overlap between tab management and bookmarking. Instead of helping with managing many tabs, shouldn’t migrating tabs to bookmarks be facilitated? Note that Panorama’s ideas still make sense for bookmarks. Avoiding tabs on the current version of Firefox is important, because they can immensely slow down Firefox, up to the point where it becomes unusable.
  • Switching between tab groups versus switching windows. Both are almost the same and should maybe be unified: Either drop windows (single-window user interface) or turn each tab group into a window.
  • Borrow from tree-style tab (TST). Trees are great, vertical lists are great, too. Panorama could have TST-like trees as tab groups.