Tab previews in Firefox 3.6. Third time the charm?

Originally planned for Firefox 3.0 and 3.5 but finally backed out in both development cycles, tab preview is available again in Firefox 3.6 alpha 1 nightlies to provide visual tab switching: you press Ctrl + Tab to get previews of the current along with the five most recently used tabs, plus an option to show all tabs’ thumbnails.


The all tabs preview includes a search bar to look for keywords among tab titles and tab close buttons for some housekeeping.


Also back is the new behavior for single Ctrl + Tab:  instead of moving to the next tab in the tab bar, you switch to the previously used tab.

Unlike previous attempts, this time tab preview and the new tab switching behavior are off by default. To enable tab preview, set browser.ctrlTab.previews to true via about:config. For the new behavior, set browser.ctrlTab.mostRecentlyUsed to true.

It’s also worth mentioning that the list all tabs button still shows a list of tabs, while recently released mockups and previous implementations in Firefox 3.0 and 3.5 replaced it with a tab preview button. These just could be temporary and a tab preview button could be on its way.

While it definitely looks good and modern (it still has to undergo Windows and Linux theming, and I would prefer Flip 3D on Vista and 7), I’m still not convinced on how much it will improve tab switching for heavy tab users like myself (usually 20+ tabs), but at the very least, I find more helpful than the current combination of tab bar scroll bars and a list.

12 thoughts on “Tab previews in Firefox 3.6. Third time the charm?”

  1. I am also unsure if this would improve tab switching. It definitely doesn’t help if you have less than 5 tabs and it probably increases memory usage.
    I actually prefer the list-tabs-button the way it works now.
    It’s a good thing this is left disabled by default though.

  2. I like to CTRL+TAB to the next tab so I don’t have to use the mouse for that. But this feature hijacks that key combo.

  3. This feature was the only reason for not switching to Firefox 3.5. I don’t like the tabs preview and the ctrl+tab switching. It doesn’t look native, sometimes the preview layer doesn’t fit into the/my screen (too tall). Glad, that they backed out this before releasing 3.5 and hope that in 3.6 the current behavior will be preserved (or could be restored via about:config).

  4. Why not have the thumb preview on hover over the tab name, at least as an alternative option. If I have only 3 or 4 tabs open I have no use for something like this, and I’d like to just hit Ctrl+Tab and switch tabs, not see a bunch of thumbs.

  5. These are nice if you like this kind of thing. As someone who rarely has more than a few tabs open at a given time, something like this is not high on the list of desired features. However, if you do have a lot of tabs, it will likely be quite valuable.

    Now for the important “stuff”. The 3rd party themes I use affect these and I have yet to find the info I or other theme authors need to add to their themes to account for these two new features. Hopefully, the info will be posted in a convenient, easy to find location.

  6. I hope that, in the final version, the current Ctrl+Tab version stays default (without thumbnails and moving to the next tab). I really think this could get people away from FireFox. It would certainly repel me, if there was no way to change it or if it added too much bloat.
    I’m not quite sure why we can’t just let those that like this behavior use extensions. I’m not seeing too much excitement around it when it’s brought up…

  7. A bit late to post, but what the hell…

    “It’s also worth mentioning that the list all tabs button still shows a list of tabs, while recently released mockups and previous implementations in Firefox 3.0 and 3.5 replaced it with a tab preview button. These just could be temporary and a tab preview button could be on its way.”

    There is a tab preview button now, it’s disabled by default. That about:config pref is browser.allTabs.previews withe the value set to true. HTH.

  8. I liked the old 3.2 version where i could double click a tab and then used the scroll key on the mouse to go right on through… i wish i could still do that it was pretty simple. I could also use the Arrow Keys if i needed to. If anyone knows how to make it like that let me know ASAP because it’s wait to difficult to just keep clicking tabs.
    Thanks guys

    1. I’m not sure what you mean with version 3.2, Firefox jumped from 3 to 3.5. a beta maybe?
      You can use the mouse scroll wheel to change tabs back and forth with the extensions Tab Mix Plus, All-in-One Gestures or maybe others also.

  9. Why would you want a tab preview when ctrl-tabbing instead of just going straight to that tab? When you ctrl-tab currently, it goes straight to the tab almost instantly, only it’s a full size 1:1 scale preview in essence, and if that’s the tab you want, bam, you’re done.
    I’ve played with browsers (maybe previous firefoxes) that used ctrl-tab to bring up a bar with thumbnails of your tabs and you ctrl-tab until highlighting the right thumbnail. When you released ctrl-tab it opened the tab. I could not figure out why anyone would even want this. It looked snazzy, but all it did was slow down tab switching when regular ctrl-tab toggled through full size views for instant recognition of your tab.

    IE, although it has other problems, has the only tab preview I want other than going straight to the tab. press ctrl-q and you get all tabs in a 3×3 or 4×4 menu and click the one you want. This is actually nice when you have a lot of tabs. Ctrl-tabbing and moving one by one through a preview though didn’t really help me and just made it harder to see where I was going due to the small thumbnails firefox used.

    If Firefox would integrate an IE7/8 style expose by default, and put it on the ctrl-q combination (Snaz it up a little as well, I know functionality is key, but a little form wouldn’t hurt either, I’m tired of looking at gray backgrounds for things.) I know there is an addon for firefox (I have it installed) but you must use keyconfig to get a decent combination. I believe the default is something like ctrl-shift-t which requires some uncomfortable hand stretching, or for you to take one hand off the mouse to use your other hand to press t, not very quick.

    Ctrl-tab I think is perfect the way it is. Tabs need a pop up preview when you hover over them (If it can be done without lag), and firefox needs an expose style feature with a hover over function that increases the size of the thumbnail you’re currently over (Preferably with smooth size increases as you approach it). If they could do this, they would really have something.

    Opera 10 is doing some interesting things with tabs, giving you the option to use preview thumbnails instead of tabs (grab the tab bar and pull it down, the tabs are now thumbnails), but it takes too much screen real estae.

    Opera 10 also screws up by using ctrl-tab to pop up a list of your open tabs and scroll through them until you find the one you want. If the user wants a list of tabs, it’s right there at the top of the screen where the tabs are, don’t complicate it opera. Just let the user use the tabs as their list and go straight to the tabs when the user activates the key combo.

  10. Both great features but not at the expense of the existing features.

    Is there any was to access the preview panel without losing the drop down list button?

    Similarly for the ctrl-tab interface, could be handy at times but not always.

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