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back to article Mozilla invites all comers on post-tab future

Having finally caught up to - and embraced - tabbed browsing in Internet Explorer, the ground could again be shifting for Microsoft. Mozilla Labs has launched a competition challenging developers to re-invent the whole idea of tabbed browsing to help return to a clean and usable interface. Tabs have become a mess as people …

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RW

There's a historical glitch

Netscape 7.2 included tabs.

I don't know how much earlier that was the case.

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Happy

Already partly solved?

The "Tree Style Tab" extension already partly solves this problem, by providing a hierarchical and collapsible listing of open tabs. It's quite handy for developers who want to have several pages of a project site (cPanel, phpMyAdmin, Joomla, etc) all open but want to be able to hide them with a click when switching to another project.

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Mozilla tabs may suck but Opera tabs don't

I have 26 tabs open now on Opera with now extra addons or hours spent looking at customs skins, and it works well. I can find what I want and it visually obvious what I want . I admit with 50 or 60 tabs in one window it gets cumbersome, but I seldom need 50 or 60 open in one window. Usually it better to open a second window for a new topic and keep 30 tabs open there. When I close and open Opera all window and tab positions are keeps, even on System cashes and restarts.there may a point when more than tabs are needed but first try using well designed tabs.

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Flame

Innovation pretender

What worked in the past should do. Just wait to see what Opera comes up with and copy it.

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Oh good, Mozilla is trying to help...

I find that of the common tabbed browsers, Firefox is just about the worst at making tabs useable. Though I have successfully managed to avoid IE8, so who knows how that works.

I typically have no problems with Opera and 90+ tabs. I'm not using each of them all the time, but with session saving, I never really have to close a site until I'm completely done with it. Opera manages to open tabs next to the active tab, converts all 'new window' links to new tabs, keeps a seperate search and address bar for each tab, allows dragging of tabs, right click + scroll to select tabs, and who knows what other features. Makes dealing with huge amounts of tabs a breeze. If Opera isn't available, I find IE7 far less irritating than Firefox, even loaded up with all the tab customization extensions known to man, it's next to useless.

So long story short, I don't have high expectations for this Mozilla expedition.

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Stop

Nope...

"Tabs emerged in the late 1990s, and were initially adopted in the Mozilla Application Suite, Apple's Safari, and Opera during the early 2000s."

Actually...

The Internet Explorer browser shells NetCaptor, MyIE, & MyIE2 had tabs before Mozilla/Safari/Opera...

Lets not delve into revisionist history to appease the ever-annoying Firefox fanbois...

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Anonymous Coward

Thank's security now

I use tree style tabs,

https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/5890

It changes the tab layout to a tree style (hence the name), very good for using loads of tabs on a widescreen monitor.

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managing tabs?

If you have so many tabs you need to manage them then you need a different mechanism. However I suspect this is a power users problem. Starting from the premise that most people can't manage more than 7 +/- 2 chunks of stuff in working memory (Miller 1963) I would think the current tab interface is fine for the majority of people, who self-limit the number of tabs to those they can manage.

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twoddle

"the browser is more of an operating system than a data display application; we use it to manage the web as a shared hard drive."

gibberish. It is, perhaps, another UI but nothing more than that.

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20+ tabs is a lot? I routinely have 40 open...

They should incorporate the functions of TabMixPlus, Faviconize Tab, Download Statusbar and MRTech Toolkit into the browser.

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jon

tabbed browsing is the win

Been using it since opera was adware. If you can't keep tabs on the multiple tabs and windows you have open... close a few. Don't spoil it for those that have an organised mind!

What they could do now that display real estate is getting to the point that running a browser maximised destroys readability on flowing sites (those that fill the window), is have a little sidebar with thumbnails/gallery of every open tab irrelevant of the window.

I'm sure someone could make a extension that does that. 2 secs of google reveals 2 exposé types but no side bar - maybe its a little deeper.

Still they could bundle one of them in with the core after a little spit and polish to integrate it nicely.

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"But Microsoft just got here"

So clearly it must be obsolescent.

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Web 2.meh

"Today, 20 plus parallel sessions are quite common; the browser is more of an operating system than a data display application;"

Which is exactly the problem.. why are people so intent on making browsers into the presentation layer for every application.... Why are people so against learning graphical toolkits and making decent native applications? You can even write portable graphical applications these days.

When will Nightmare 2.0 end?!?!

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Gates Horns

Made me smile

The first paragraph reminds me of Elmer Fudd trying (and failing) to catch Bugs Bunny.

Now where have I heard that analogy before?

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not a problem

I don't really find too many tabs an issue - but I also like what google have done with chrome where you can take a tab out of a group and into it's own instance or another instance of chrome - I know this is because each tab is in actuality an instance in itself it really does aid in keep things together and working in the browser.

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Linux

I don't use tabs

I don't use tabs because I like a clean uncluttered interface. Currently I have FF open, at the top I have three 'bars', the title bar, displaying the name of the current web site (TheRegister), second bar contains the menus, File, Edit etc, the third contains the URL address bar and the back/forward buttons. At the bottom is a status line that says 'Done' and has the noscript menu tab. When I search, the 'Find' bar pops up above the status line.

All in all a bit of a waste of space. How about a single bar at the top containing the menu/address bar and a single status line at the bottom that duplicates as a search bar.

If you select 'new window' (ctrl N) any URLs clicked on become part of a group as if you selected new tab. A single item in the menu bar allows you to jump between tabbed groups. So you ctrl N, open a number of URLS, ctrl N again, click on a number of URLs and you now have to groups of tabbed files. A popdown menu on the top right allows you to jump between groups. The status line at the bottom indicated the number of groups, instead of cluttering up the screen with multiple tabs.

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Not that old chestnut again...

Why does everyone stick to this false notion that Microsoft were late with tabbed browsing? They brought tabbed browsing to the Mac with version 4.5 of IE, Firefox didn't even exist at that time. No-one batted an eyelid when Microsoft introduced it, but someone comes along later with the same idea and everyone "can't live without it"...

Worth noting that a few months after the release of IE 4.5 for the Mac, Opera introduced tabbed browsing for the PC version of their browser. Again, no-one paid any attention. Stop giving Mozilla credit for something they copied!

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Tabbed browsing is stupid

I'm glad to see Mozilla taking steps to find an alternative approach. Personally I still use separate windows for exactly the reason Mozilla have suggested: it's easier to keep track of and manage.

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New window != new browser

"Tabs were a minor revolution for internet users because they meant that rather than having to keep opening new versions of your browser for each site you wanted to view, killing the machine's performance and exposing yourself to crashes, you could work within one browser."

That's complete and utter bollocks. Opening a page in a new window does not require a new instance of the browser, and is negligibly more expensive than a tab. The advantage of tabs is to the user who can more easily switch between them.

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Tabs

Personally, I find tabs *especially* useful with a slow connection. (Tor, rather then dial-up, in my case.) That way I can queue up pages and let them load while I read something else.

Sometimes I wish I could have nested tabs, but that kinda goes against the clean interface thing huh? Microsoft might be on the right track with grouping, except being Microsoft, they probably implemented it in an irritating and nonintuitive manner. (Though I admit, I haven't actually tried it.)

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Dead Vulture

Whoops…

“… [tabs] meant that rather than having to keep opening new versions of your browser”

Really? Could be quite a wait between opening new windows, then…

“for each site you wanted to view, killing the machine's performance and exposing yourself to crashes,”

One browser instance == no exposure to crashes? Pull the other one. Bugs don't magically go away like that.

Also, "each site"? Sites can contain two or even three pages.

“you could work within one browser.”

I do that anyway, whether using multiple tabs or (and here's the tricky bit) _multiple_ _windows_.

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Flame

Wait for it!

Mozilla reinvents the window manager. Maybe they could work together with the desktop environment guys and bang the rocks together, or is that too much to ask?

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Gates Halo

Integrate the TabKit extension

IMO Firefox has the worst out-of-the-box tabs implementation of all the major browsers. Install the 'TabKit' extension for Firefox to get better IE8-style tabs.

On another note, I think tabs could be about to become redundant with the introduction of the Windows 7 taskbar.

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@Daniel Palmer

Thank you!!!!!!

Someone who see's sense, Web 2.0 is a foul idea. Don't even get me started on Cloud Computing

What's wrong with storing data on your own hard drive, and accessing it from programs installed on your system? Why use SaaS? Is it so that the people who only know PHP/ASP can get a job?

I don't care whether it's written in GTK/QT or something else, but if it runs in a browser, I'll find an alternative

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Operating Systems

Surely the problem of navigating tabs in a web browser is the same as navigating between the windows of running programs in an OS; something that graphical environments have been trying to deal with for a long time? For example, the task bar in Windows, Gnome, KDE etc; the ability to group windows in the task bar; multiple desktops; the Dock in Mac OS; alt-tab switcher; etc etc.

For one reason or another, web browsers have taken window (page) management away from the OS. Why not treat each page as any other application window and let the OS deal with the problem in a general way? Tabs are just a fancy version of a common task bar.

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Anonymous Coward

yawn

i've been using tabs in elinks since forever.

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Paris Hilton

60 tabs? 100 tabs? easy...

...with the great "tab kit" addon, which groups tab in a hierarchical tree, with expand/collapse, one color by group, and other usual tree stuff.

with the stupidly wide screens available these days, a few pixels on the left used for these tabs goes unnoticed, and makes managing any number of tabs a snap.

it'll be interesting to see what interface they can come up with.

no upper case to counterbalance amfm's postings.

paris because she should be on every comment page.

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I have the solution

Just close some f**king tabs. There's no need to have 20+ (let alone the 90 that some idiot poster above mentioned). Just use a few tabs, and when you've finished reading the pages, close them. Anything more than 5 is probably unnecessary, anything over 10 and you should just close them as you're unlikely to read the pages you have open.

Sorted.

Now, why don't all the Mozilla developers go find a solution for something that's actually a problem.

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@Craig

"Why does everyone stick to this false notion that Microsoft were late with tabbed browsing? They brought tabbed browsing to the Mac with version 4.5 of IE..."

Did they? I just tried opening IE 5.2 for Mac which I still have on my machine and that doesn't have anything remotely resembling what I would call tabs. There's a bunch of buttons down the left called Favourites, History, Scratch etc. but after a few minutes playing I'm having a hard time getting them to do anything useful. And I remember the look of sheer incomprehension on my die-hard Windows-user friend the first time I said something like "I'll just open another tab in Safari to do that...". If IE did have tabbed browsing then it can't have been a very popular feature.

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i never really understood what all the fuss was about,...

...since windows has that nice little tabbed bar at the bottom to navigate between applications.

and it's good to see the Firefox backlash in full swing. now it's mainstream it is no longer cool/nerdy (delete as applicable) enough so Opera is the new browser heir apparent. fuck you fanbois! i'm using lynx as it offers the best browser security lightning speeds and no need to instal clunky addons to disable javascript, images, a site's default CSS etc.

(i'm not really using lynx. and tabs are cool.)

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Re: Tabbed browsing is stupid

I couldn't agree more. What's so super-slick about choosing a different tab at the top of the screen than choosing a different instance of your browser on the task bar at the bottom ?

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Revolutionary? I think not.

"Tabs were a minor revolution for internet users because they meant that rather than having to keep opening new versions of your browser for each site you wanted to view, killing the machine's performance and exposing yourself to crashes, you could work within one browser."

Umm, don't think so. Opening a second top-level window doesn't even require a new thread, let alone a new process. Anyway, a few dozen instances of a given process are cheap on any desktop OS. Always have been. Tabs therefore do nothing to improve the efficiency of holding multiple web pages open. On the other hand, *not* using separate processes for each site might reduce your stability, if an exploit on one site allows malware to start poking around in any other part of the same process. But one can implement tabs with separate processes too. The UI and the back-end simply aren't related.

Neither is there a great usability argument for tabs, since they don't allow you display pages side by side, they consume screen space, and most desktop managers have their own set of tabs (for all applications, not just the browser) already at the bottom (usually) of the screen (also taking up space now you mention it).

No, I think tabs just became fashionable and for a few years they were a stick to beat Microsoft with. Now Microsoft have caught up and the people who need a stick are having to find another one. I'm sure they'll find one.

Perhaps Mozilla labs will invent "pop-up tabs" (what us old lags might call a menu). Perhaps they'll invent "separate top-level windows" and proudly proclaim that this integrates more seamlessly with the desktop manager. (Yeah, I know "invent" is hardly the correct word, but I doubt they will present their new baby as a retrograde step even if the prior art is obvious to everyone.) Perhaps they'll adopt the Ribbon UI, and pay all the Mozilla Foundation's spare cash to Microsoft in licence fees, before armies of outraged users storm the palace and lynch everyone. Whatever they do, it is unlikely to be ground-breaking, simply because no-one has ever done anything ground-breaking in GUI design since Xerox first put the G in there.

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Anonymous Coward

Non-existant Solution Trying to Create a Problem?

There is no problem with tabs, although I'm sure some users can create one somehow. Tabs are what kept me with Firefox long enough to be pretty-much committed to it now.

Currently I have all The Register articles that looked interesting opened in tabs from the front page, and I am working my way through them. I would hate it if they were all in different windows; that would be completely unworkable --- imagine the mess if I want to go the desktop and then return to the same place in the browser.

Maybe Mozilla think they have to come up with something they can call "new" just because MS *have* eventually caught up with tabs. They don't.

I am not saying that research on the interface should be closed. There may be all sorts of interesting, useful, and yet unthought-of ideas, but tabs is not a problem.

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where are the tabs

The strange thing about firefox is there is no new tab icon in the navigation toolbar by default.

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Incorrect understanding

I think the author misunderstands the inner workings of Firefox:

"Tabs were a minor revolution for internet users because they meant that rather than having to keep opening new versions of your browser for each site you wanted to view, killing the machine's performance and exposing yourself to crashes, you could work within one browser."

In Firefox, using default settings, you are ALWAYS using exactly one instance of the executable. All browser windows are created and maintained by one process. If any one of those windows crashes, then ALL of the windows close.

Interestingly, because Firefox only allows one executable instance at any given time, you cannot (using default settings) run Firefox 2 and Firefox 3 at the same time, even though they are separate executables installed into separate directories. If you have FF3 open, then running the FF2 executable will open another FF3 window.

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Must admit

I work with 20+ tabs open in Opera and find it very easy to work with, plenty of tools to help me find the tab I want and it just remembers them between sessions, including the back button history as well which is very nice.

I do use firefox occasionally and find its tab handling atrocious

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@Sampler

> "but I also like what google have done with chrome where you can take a tab out of a group and into it's own instance or another instance of chrome"

As alluded to by previous posters, this is something that has existed in Opera for yonks before Chrome was a twinkle in Google's eye.

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Paris Hilton

Hooray

Seems like the peanut gallery here can get upset about anything; even tabs in browsers. Can't we turn all this Modeo-man-rage into electricity somehow?

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Anonymous Coward

Tabs are rubbish

I also don't use tabs and have task bar grouping turned off. I use this clever thing called a 'brain' to remember where each window I've been using appeared on the task bar when I opened it. I regually change between multiple different applications, the browser, development environments, multiple instances of textpad and others and the ability to get to any of these in one click is invaluable to me. I am slightly concerned about the redesigned Windows 7 user interface for this reason although I'l admit I haven't used it yet.

Every time Microsoft 'copys' some 'revolution' it just seem to me to result in making my computer less efficient to use.

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Gates Horns

re: twoddle

> By Robert E A Harvey Posted Saturday 16th May 2009 09:31 GMT

> "the browser is more of an operating system than a data display application; we use it to

> manage the web as a shared hard drive."

> gibberish. It is, perhaps, another UI but nothing more than that.

I remember back when Netscape declared their new browser paradigm an OS.

Then M$ got worried and kicked their arse.

Things haven't changed ,then.

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Happy

Lots of browser windows, lots of tabs

Tabs work well for research. Open a new browser *window* with Google, type a search term, then <cmd><click> to open up a dozen or so 'answers' in new tabs. By the time you get down a couple of screenfulls, the first couple or three tabs are ready to view.

Click on the first tab. Quick glance to see if the content's relevant, then either read on or close the tab and move on to the next one. It only takes a second or two to assess the page.

It's fantastic when used in conjunction with adblock and flashblock, there's little crap and fast page load times. Once you've found the info you need, close the entire browser window with all its tabs.

I just don't understand how the "I don't use tabs" people get by without them. After all every time you <shift><click> on a link, it opens in a window above the current one. Little wonder you complain of poor user interfaces; all the browser windows (20, 30, 40...) look the same and there's no grouping. Using the technique above, it groups related info together. Or am I missing something?

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Opera got there first guys...

To all those people posting that IE or Moz had tabs first... sorry but you are all mis-informed. Opera got there first in 1994 with the very first version of Opera (1.0), publically demonstrated in April 1995. Admittedly that was a limited release but V2 was an open release in 1996. Further; Opera has always been an MDI based browser with independent windows for each tab (which no other browser has to the best of my knowledge).

Checkout: http://www.opera.com/docs/history/ for the full skinny including features, release dates etc.

@Stormy_2021: IE1 was released in 1995 with the Windows 95 Plus Pack and OEM releases. The very earliest that those additional apps could have appeared would be around that time frame. With that said, 2 minutes of searching found that NetCaptor started development around 1997 with a first release at the beginning of 1998 (http://www.netcaptor.com/). Whereas, the earliest date I can find for MyIE is 2002 for a 0.1 release (http://www.maxthon.com/changelog.htm). Both quite a while after Opera. Oops.

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Anonymous Coward

Capture Sites

Tabs are good for some of the sites that try to take control of your bowser window. Still have to kill the browser sometimes though. This whole idea of using the bowser as a replacement for the OS is not a good idea.

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I use multiple browsers

An IE7/8 with a bunch of tabs on one subject, an FF with some more opera with yet another (the save session fubction in opera I use as a collection of bookmarks)

Each browsr has a different set of bookmarks

When I got a widescreen 22" LCD I found it was like watch a tenis match, here I would tile vertically, something M$ has done really well in Win 7, with that drag to the edge auto arrangement thing

Oh and the taskbar mouse hover showing thumbnails of all tabs in IE on win 7 certainly helps

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Anonymous Coward

Underlying problem of the OS

I think this problem really points to an underlying problem with the entire operating system - if the OS provides a better way to manage window, then applications wouldn't need tabbed interfaces.

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Tree Style Tabs

+1 for this extension. I'll never go back. Memory and CPU allowing I could comfortably manage 80+ tabs with this, probably more.

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IT Angle

Don't change what ain't broke -

why not just use tab kit add-on? You can have 3 rows of tabs or stackthem in a sidebar, if you prefer.

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Dead Vulture

@Grant & Nexox Enigma

Err chaps. You're actually reeling off a list of advantages that Firefox already has, with regards to tabbed browsing. Session's saved after a crash or restart, draggable tabs, scroll to select, right click, new window links to new tabs etc etc etc..and all without add-on's. Try it you might like it.

It also has a handy drop down button on the right side that you can click. Showing the full title of all open tabs in a scrollable list for ease of use, should you have 90+ tabs open. Opera doesn't have this, but it's a feature that they should adopt, it's quite handy.

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Linux

tree style tabs

This is good, now I would like the tab menu to disappear until I move the mouse to the left of the screen ..

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"I use tree style tabs, It changes the tab layout to a tree style (hence the name), very good for using loads of tabs on a widescreen monitor"

By Anonymous Coward Posted Saturday 16th May 2009 06:59 GMT

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