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Mozilla preparing to scrap tabbed browsing?

By Barry Collins

Posted on 18 May 2009 at 08:21

Mozilla Labs has launched a design competition that aims to find an alternative to tabbed browsing.

Mozilla's Firefox has helped to bring tabbed browsing to the mainstream, although rival Opera was the first well-known browser to offer tabs in 2000.

Microsoft eventually relented and introduced tabbed browsing with IE7 in 2006, but now it seems Mozilla thinks the concept may have had its day.

"Tabs worked well on slow machines on a thin internet, where ten browser sessions were 'many browser sessions'," Mozilla claims on its Design Challenge website.

"Today, 20+ parallel sessions are quite common; 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.

"However, if you have more than seven or eight tabs open they become pretty much useless. And tabs don't work well if you use them with heterogeneous information. They're a good solution to keep the screen tidy for the moment."

Thus, Mozilla has launched the challenge called: "Reinventing Tabs in the Browser - How can we create, navigate and manage multiple websites within the same browser instance?"

Mozilla has already given serious thought to the idea of replacing tabbed browsing itself. Aza Raskin, the head of user experience at Mozilla Labs, has already blogged on the possibility of moving tabs down the side of the browser, with tabs grouped by the type of activity involved (i.e. applications, work spaces).

Tabs are more of a problem on mobile browsers, such as Mozilla's own Fennec, where switching between different tabs can be difficult, and the phone's limited processing power limits the number of tabs that can be left open simultaneously.

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User comments

Tabs are essential!

I have to totally disagree with this:

"However, if you have more than seven or eight tabs open they become pretty much useless."

Useless? I don't know what they have in mind, but I like the pages I have opened to be visibly available and I really don't see anything better than one or another form of tabs - the only other way that comes to mind is somehow hiding the buttons behind menu or something, which would be simply horrible...

So 8 tabs is unusable? Currently I have firefox running equipped with screen estate saving micro-theme and a plugin that arranges tabs into rows when there are too many of them for one row. In this browser window alone I have 22 tabs in two rows open.
Does that sound like a lot? Well, I have four of them windows open with total amount of 52 tabs...

I really wonder how does these guys at mozilla mean by saying that 7-8 tabs comes unusable - and I would *really* like to hear what kind of system they would claim to be better for me than tabs...

This quote seems to actually support my view that tabs ARE good:

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

Yes, and with my Linux desktop I like to have couple of virtual desktops for different type of tasks and applications - in "browser-as-OS" a browser windows are the virtual desktops.
On each desktops bottom I can have bar with rectangle shape buttons with text and icon on each and they represent different application windows that I can switch to by clicking them - now, in "browser-as-OS", is the tab bar the very equivalent of this bar in bottom or top of most of our desktops?

If anyone can come up with anything better for web browsing to replace tabbing I would certainly like to hear their thoughts. I promise to be open minded but I do doubt that anyone can convince me on that...

By robsku on 10 Sep 2009

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