Archive for April, 2007

Firefox 2.0: Tabs Gone Wrong

Thursday, April 5th, 2007

Firefox introduced tabbed-browsing to the masses. And it was good. It took Microsoft years to catch-up.

Why are tabs good? Frankly, because the standard windowing model is bad. It’s much easier to scan through a horizontal list of tab names then it is to wade through alt-tab’s textless, iconic grid. One of the benefits of tabs is that they are always linearly arranged in a fixed order. To find your tab, you simply have to run your eyes from left to right; once you get to the end, you’re done. With windows, however, your eyes have to rove around the screen looking for the one you want and you might never find it because windows can hide behind other windows. And unlike tabs, unless you’re very careful, windows will not stay in a consistent place because they are constantly being shuffled to accommodate limited screen real-estate. The net result is that finding a particular window is like playing whack-a-mole blind-folded, whilst finding a particular tab is like fishing for fish in a barrel with dynamite.

In short, tabs are better than windows because they don’t conceal as much information.*

In Firefox 2.0 a “feature” was introduced that dealt with the edge-case where there were many tabs in a new way. It takes a giant step backward by actively concealing information.