After several months in development Aza Raskin has finally announced Tab Candy, an important update to tabbed browsing. Originally implemented as a low profile extension (the project page asked not to blog about it), it implements several ideas submitted for last year Mozilla Labs’ Design Challenge that asked people to reimagine tabbed browsing.
You definitely need to see the video to really understand what it does. In plain words it brings a visual way to organize large number of tabs into logical groups so that you can easily find what you are looking for, mimicking the way we usually sort things in the real world: assigning a space to them.
The future is just as promising as the present: quick searching, tab sharing, and most interesting auto-grouping. For example tabs opened from a web search are most likely related and could make a group on their own, or adding tabs to existing tab groups based on keywords. I would also like to see Firefox capable of identifying communication sites like blogs, web mail, forums, lists, etc. It shouldn’t be hard to see where I tend to frequently submit large amount of text, or small chunks which would signal microblogging, for example.
You can try Tab Candy in this experimental Firefox build (based on Firefox pre-Beta 2 code). Note that there’s no official word on whether Tab Candy will be part of Firefox 4 or not.
Perhaps you haven’t noticed but one thing Firefox lacks is smoothness. Not in the “coolness” sense but in smooth animations when doing some tasks like adding or removing tabs, raising dialogs, or opening sidebars.
Firefox 4 is expected to bring animations later this year, and while some people may just consider it a computer power waste, if you are into eye candy, and smoothness, you may want to try Liquid Tabs which turns tab adding and closing into cooler, easier animations.
You can set the speed and whether you want to fade in or out at the same time, at least on Windows 7. On Ubuntu 10.04, it was unable to keep my custom settings.
Firefox 3.1 may well be remembered as the “tab release”, as tabbed browsing will be the most noticeable updated area users will face when it comes out in final form.
The latest Firefox 3.1 nightly (code named Shiretoko) features a new tab button in the tab bar, making the addition of a tab fully discoverable for the first time as it is now part of the primary UI.
A previous change, added a few days ago, made the tab bar always visible by default which allows the new tab button to be present at all times. In the past, the tab bar was hidden when there was only one page opened. A preference in Options/Tabs allowed to make it visible at all times.
The old New Tab button which was present in the Customize Toolbar dialog and could be added to the toolbars is gone at this time.
Yet another change in behavior now makes the current window go away when its last tab is closed. There is already a number of users complaining about this behavior and I also at first thought it would be annoying, but I still haven’t been in the situation of closing all tabs, yet wanting to keep Firefox open.