I'm Aza Raskin @aza. I make shiny things. I simplify.

I'm VP at Jawbone, focusing on health.

 

Firefox 3.1: Control-Tab Woes

Atul recently had a great post about the problems of Control-Tab, which is currently in the nightly for Firefox 3.1. While I agree with everything Atul said, and I’d go a couple steps further. The problem that Control-Tab addresses exists—we waste a lot of time switching between tabs, an in particular switching back and forth between a set of tabs. It is also great that we are taking the steps to ensure a better user experience without being scared of adding animations and escaping standard widgets. Control-Tab, as it stands now, is a good starting place for discussion.

Besides the points Atul points out (unexpected results due to tab-state modality as well as breaking natural mappings), the new interface has been completely seduced by interaction seduction. It has a low information density, which is particularly apparent in that only only 3 tabs are displayed at a time, and even then only the current tab’s title is displayed. Low information density results in a high-interaction (fidgety) interface that feels constraining. It’s like trying to solve a maze in which you can never see further than the next turn: you can’t see where you are going or where you come from. I give a talk called Don’t Make Me Click, where I show a marginally humorous redesign of Google—the apropos bit starts at minute 10—you’ll see a lot of not-as-humorous parallels to the current Control-Tab design.

There are two levels of problems here. The first is of the interface for feature as-is. The second is questioning the assumption for why we need the feature in the first place, and whether we can get a better product by re-asking the question differently.

Redesign

Most of the interaction problems have to do with with the visual design of Control-Tab. Let’s take a cue from Tufte to find a high information-density solution, that uses macro/mico scaling to not overwhelm.

Let me propose one solution. It draws inspiration from the semi-circle visualizations that highlight similarities.

The basic idea is to extend the tab bar down, to include thumbnails combined with the favicon (the later of which is an Alex idea). Using some sort of arrow, Firefox indicates which tab you are jumping to in the context of the current tab strip. It can also show further jumps. This attempts to solve the problem of the current interface by not providing a confusing new tab ordering by giving a strong visualization of which/where the tabs you are switching between. You also end up with a much higher information density, and the ability to easily visually browse without much interaction.

The main problem to be solved with this approach is extreme scale. What happens when you have 100 tabs, and are Control-Tab’ing between the 2nd and the 98th? There are lots of ways of dealing with this, but the easiest is ellipsification to contract the space between the separated tabs.

I’d love someone with a bit more visual design talent to take a stab.

The Bigger Picture

Jenny Boriss recently added new mockups to the design process. The design addresses many of the information-density concerns of first problem, although it doesn’t look at the problem of an ever-changing order that frustrates my spatial memory (which is my personal bane when using Command-Tab on the Mac).

Before we dive too deeply, it may also be worth looking at entirely different solutions. The solution proposed by Madhava of adding tabs to the Awesome Bar is a much more scalable and elegant solution. With barely any new interface, it provides a weak form of visual search coupled with a strong form of textual search. It also streamlines my work flow by not incurring a Hick’s Law penalty for making me think about whether something is already open, or whether I need to open it in a new tab. In addition, it solves the problem that it is easier to open a new page than it is to find an existing tab—leading to multiple duplicate tabs.

I’d add one thing to Madhava’s proposal: a bit of semantics. Let’s add a “last viewed tab” as something you can type into the Awesome bar. That way, to switch back to the last tab I was viewing, I’d hit Command-L and type “last viewed tab”, return. As the awesome bar is, indeed, awesome, soon I’d only have to type the first two characters, “la”, to get there.

RT @aza Firefox 3.1: Control-Tab Woes | Follow @aza on Twitter | All blog posts

View all 92 comments


Aza: It would also be nice to see linear tab navigation key commands like the following:

Ctrl+Home – jumps to first tab
Ctrl+End – jumps to last tab


“although it doesn’t look at the problem of an ever-changing order that frustrates my spatial memory”

And that is very much the main problem with the current Ctrl+Tab implementation. It makes it SOOO frustrating. This really is interaction seduction and I hope Mozilla have the courage and sense to back it out.



Abi

I’ve been thinking a bit about the whole problem of “finding the tab you want” (mostly cos I have too many tabs open at a time). One possible solution is introducing automatic tab groupings and the simplest way to do this would be to group tabs by where you opened it from. This might actually work pretty well because personally, I tend to go to a website and then, open a bunch of links from there. Say, you’re on Digg and most of the time, you would want all the tabs you opened from Digg to be seperate from the tabs you opened from Gmail or Google Reader. Perhaps, when a tab grouping becomes too large, like you end up on Techcrunch from Digg and you open 10 blogposts from Techcrunch, this would become a separate group. By grouping, I mean the way they are ordered on the tab bar (with a little space between each group). Whenever you open a new tab, it’ll insert itself into the appropriate position instead of the end of the tab bar. You can also drag and drop tabs to change their grouping. Another advantage of this is if you’re searching for something on Google and you open a lot of tabs from the search results, once you find what you want, you can simply close this whole group.

I guess this solution changes a lot of things from their current state but it would scale well. (I’m gonna try implementing it using Ubiquity and see how it goes).



Simon

“the problem of an ever-changing order that frustrates my spatial memory”

I love you.


I had actually made the suggestion earlier that Firefox bring tab context into perspective.

Think of it this way, on your television you can change channels in numerous ways. The remote you get with the TV gives you the option of switching between two different channels with one button.

Oh and I love this idea for the record. In general, with any Window you can preview the tab without actually switching to it. How annoying would it be if you were to hit ALT+TAB, and without being able to “surf” through options, the application automatically switched to it.

I think you could use this thumbnail concept and extend it further so you’re not immediately jumping between tabs.

In addition to this, you could possibly add something where say CTRL+SHIFT+TAB switches between two different tabs repeatedly. This way, I can for instance switch between a blog post and an e-mail without having to tab through a dozen tabs in between (like the Last button on a TV remote).


Thomas: Shouldn’t CTRL+SHIFT+TAB scroll through tabs in reverse, in order to be consistent? I believe FF3 already works this way.


Idea: use scale just like in semi-circle to show that the 2nd tab is larger as is the 98th tab. You still get the thumbnail but it is presented more like the Mac OSx launch bar.



Bubba

Its called ColorfulTabs dammit. Best damn addon for tab management ever.



pd

I completely disagree that tab management is a problem. That said I do run Tab Mix Plus. The default configuration of that seems fine.

I find it really hard to believe people spend any amount of time poking around looking for tabs. Maybe it’s just me but I can easily navigate the tabs I have open through a combination of favicon and the smallest pieces of text available even when tabs get squished. I’ve considered using whatever that extension is that makes tabs just the favicon but that’s not effective.

All this hassle about Control Tab is toying with a feature that is not really required IMHO. Admittedly Colourful tabs thingo is the 9th highest addon at AMO but is this from downloads or ratings or both? If downloads that is a completely false metric unless the figures are decremented when an extension is uninstalled. How many downloads really are used?


I try not to have to many tabs opened in the same window… but when I have to, the extension “faviconize tab” is a very nice solution: on double click it reduces the tab to it’s favicon — it makes it easier to organize my tabs bar and saves a lot of space — right now this page (no favicon, shame on you Aza) stands between the favicon of google reader and the favicon of youtube, I also know, even though it is not written there, that the “don’t make me click” movie is the third youtube favicon… not perfect, I know, but it works very well for me.



Tobu

Instead of building a pile of hacks to make Ctrl-W, Ctrl-tab, Page-Up and the tab bar use three different tab orders (last visited only, last visited sequence, last opened), it would be far smarter and less confusing to use just one, sensible, order.

A bit of history:
firefox 1: tabs open to the far right, closing a tab goes to the left. Only one, visual, order. This makes you jump from the far left to the far right of the tab bar, but at least it is consistent.

firefox 2: tabs open to the far right, closing a tab jumps to the last tab displayed, but only if you close just one tab. We now have two different orders.

firefox 3.1: Ctrl-tab uses last-displayed tab order. We now have three different orders, two of which are visually represented in different contexts.
The ctrl-tab hack will help the heavy browser at the expense of cognitive load, and be useless to the average non-shortcut-aware user.

IE 7, tabs open relative: tabs open next to their parent. One order for everyone, shortcuts don’t clash with the spatial metaphor.
There is no need for any other order because related tabs are already next to each other.

The bug for having parent-child tab order was unfortunately shot down by the infuriatingly unjustified opinion of mozilla “UI experts”.


@Colin: Ctrl/Cmd-1 and Ctrl/Cmd-9 are the horribly underdocumented ways of getting to the first and last tabs in Firefox.

To Asa: Thank you very much for your look at this. I’m tired of being the grumpy habitual user who is completely ignored in such UI changes. I consider the non-linear changes to be just as bad as Window Grouping in the Windows taskbar and Mac Dock/Cmd-Tab window. All of these things badly break muscle memory – and I’m a visual person…so I can very easily recall “Oh yeah…that’s /n/ tabs back.” I heavily rely on Ctrl[-Shift]-Tab in Firefox, and will be a decent bit saddened if I have to hack it out with about:config.



gxg

I think the is no stringent need for this feature in the browser, much less for it to have a graphical interface showing thumbnails of the tabs. That time would be much well spent improving the performance of the browser and the standards compliance.
I personally use the Tab mix plus extension to change the order in which tabs open (next to the one that opened them) and close (to the last selected). This arrangement works best in most cases. Through this extension I have also tested the possibility to have ‘Ctrl+Tab’ switch between the most recent tabs and I can’t say it’s a big improvement over the normal behavior.



David

Regarding your semi-circle visualization, there’s also a much simpler way. Firefox already makes the currently-active tab’s appearance different. If the recently-used tab also looked different (like a much simpler version of Aging Tabs), one would immediately know which tab Ctrl+Tab will focus.

Of course, whether the recently-used function is even necessary is still a good question. I hate that window managers force me to stop what I’m doing and analyse the Alt+Tab list in order to find the window I want, instead of using the visual order that I already know.


Hi there,

(Apologies for the reposting). I’ve been thinking about tab navigation a lot, and I think I’ve developed a pretty good and interesting solution. I wrote a blog post to make a case for it.

http://einfall.wordpress.com/2008/08/24/enhance-multitasking-improve-our-minds/

I thought that I should post this now, in the interest of being part of the conversation, but I do not, of yet, have a (computer) drawing or mockup, though I’m working on one. If there’s interest, I’ll find a way to scan my paper mockups, and put them up.


I commented about the Firefox 3.1 tab stuff on someone else’s blog somewhere…

I just wanted to say that I watched your whole “Don’t Make Me Click” talk and thought it was great. Really easy stuff to follow, and yet everyone (including me) seems to get it so wrong so much of the time. So thanks for the insights.


I would like to know if it is easy or possible to do an extension that provides new sources for the awesome bar to search. For example, maybe I want tit to check my delicious bookmarks or Google Web History (which collects from multiple places) or from my friends shared bookmarks.



Alex

I would do unspeakable things in order to get a firefox plugin that made the tabs look/behave like the mockup shown underneath the text “Let me propose one solution. It draws inspiration from the semi-circle visualizations that highlight similarities” (up above in this post).



Alex

Here is a way to get the older tab switching behavior back in Firefox 3.1 (and fix the hated 3.1 tab switching). In about:config, set:

browser.ctrlTab.mostRecentlyUsed false

browser.ctrlTab.recentlyUsedLimit 0

This will remove the “task switcher” that appears, but tabs will move in order like they used to, instead of jumping all around.



blindgaenger

I replaced the build-in tab-bar with a preview of the TabSidebar extension (http://www.oxymoronical.com/web/firefox/TabSidebar). Although it’s called sidebar you can put it on top. Now my tabs show a little preview, just like in your visualization.


Think of it this way, on your television you can change channels in numerous ways. The remote you get with the TV gives you the option of switching between two different channels with one button.


And that is very much the main problem with the current Ctrl+Tab implementation. It makes it SOOO frustrating. This really is interaction seduction and I hope Mozilla have the courage and sense to back it out.



Sex

And that is very much the main problem with the current Ctrl+Tab implementation. It makes it SOOO frustrating. This really is interaction seduction and I hope Mozilla have the courage and sense to back it out.


improve mens belts the laws that protect workers’ cheap gucci belts rights to combat poverty, according cheap louis vuitton belts for men cheap desiger belts to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. gucci belts on sale He said the number louis vuitton belts cheap of people MBT often moving between unemployment and employment increased by 60% since 2006.


improve mens belts the laws that protect cheap gucci belts workers’ rights cheap louis vuitton belts for men to combat poverty, according cheap desiger belts to the Joseph Rowntree gucci belts on sale Foundation. louis vuitton belts cheap He said the number of people MBT often moving between unemployment and employment increased by 60% since 2006.


It’s clear that this isn’t the right interface for a mouse-based Ubiquity. We’ve got another couple on the drawing board, but we’d love to hear ideas and see sketches of other ideas!


Thomas: Shouldn’t CTRL+SHIFT+TAB scroll through tabs in reverse, in order to be consistent? I believe FF3 already works this way.


thnks
goooooooooooood
min:)


wholesale beads from china


I’ve browse one or two superior stuff the following. Absolutely worth bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise the amount effort you place to produce this kind of an incredible instructive web site.


I mostly will not comment in Weblogs but your write-up pressured me to, wonderful operate.


thnks
goooooooooooood
min:)ااا


you’re in reality a just right webmaster. The website loading pace
is incredible. It seems that you are doing any unique trick.
Also, The contents are masterpiece. you have done a magnificent task on
this topic!


thanks bro


Finally, I’ve found what I’m searching in your post. I liked this so much..


Excellent post! My spouse and i? michael merely starting out in area management/marketing mass media and also trying to learn how you can do it properly : means in this way content are incredibly helpful. While your organization is based in the united states, that? ersus almost all a little a new comer to us all. This case in point preceding can be something which We stress about also, the best way to demonstrate your own personal real excitement as well as reveal the fact your own product is advantageous therefore


The post is pretty interesting. I really never thought I could have a good read by this time until I found out this site. I am grateful for the information given. your writing is also very excellent. Thanks for nice post. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! keep up the good work.


Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.


I admit, I have not been on this webpage in a long time. however it was another pleasure to see It is such an essential topic and ignored by so numerous, even professionals. I thank you to help making people more aware of possible issueExcellent stuff as typical.


Just what I needed. Thankyou I have been looking for this sort of information for ever. I have made note of your blog in order for me to read more on the topic.


i love your blog, i have it in my rss reader and always like new things coming up from it


I must tell you I am impressed. Very seldom do I encounter a blog that s both educative and entertaining. Just want to let you know that you have most definatly hit the nail on the head. Your thought is excellent. Thx is all I can say .


A powerful share, I just given this onto a colleague who was doing a little analysis on this. And he actually bought me breakfast as a result of I discovered it for him. . smile. So let me reword that: Thnx for the deal with! But yeah Thnkx for spending the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love studying more on this topic. If attainable, as you turn into expertise, would you mind updating your weblog with extra particulars? It s highly helpful for me. Big thumb up for this blog put up!


I actually learned about nearly all of this, but with that in mind, I think it is still useful. Great job!


Hello I found your blog by mistake when i was searching AOL for this matter, I must tell you your blog is actually useful I also adore the design, which is cool that!


I see you put a lot of work on this site! Keep writing!


Although I am not a noob in the website industry, your site is truly unique and features some useful insights. Enjoy it fully! I, ll have entered my blogroll, I think it will give more value to the visitor.


An interesting dialogue is worth comment. I feel that you should write extra on this topic, it won, Aot be a taboo subject but usually people are not enough to speak on such topics. To the next. Hail


This is a great resource that you are providing and you give it away for free. I enjoy seeing websites that understand the value of providing a major resource for free. I really loved reading your post. Thank you!


Super blog post, I count on updates by you.


I was very encouraged to find this site. I want to thank you for this special read. I definitely enjoyed every bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.


I admire the valuable information you offer in your articles. I will bookmark your blog and my children check here often. I am quite sure they will learn lots of new things here than anyone else!


Finally, an issue that I want. I have searched for information of this caliber for the last several hours. Your site is greatly appreciated.


Thank you for another essential article. Where else could one get this kind of information in such a complete way to write? I have a presentation next week, and I am on the look for such information.


The beauty of these blogging engines and CMS platforms is the lack of limitations and ease of manipulation that allows developers to implement rich content and skin the site in such a way that with very little effort never see why the site tick all without limiting content and effectiveness.


This is the perfect blog for anyone who wants to know about this topic. You know so much it s almost hard to argue with you (not that I really want . HaHa). You definitely put a new spin on a topic that has been written about for years. Great stuff, just great!


This is a smart blog. I really do. You have so much knowledge about this issue, and so much passion. You also know how to make people rally behind it, obviously from the responses. You have a design here that is not too flashy, but makes a statement as big as what you say. Great job, in fact.


What you say is absolutely true. I know that everybody must say the same thing, but I just think that you put it in a way that everyone can understand. I also adore the images you put in here. They will fit well with what you re saying. Im sure you ll reach so many people with what you say.


This is my first time i visit here. I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I m not the only one having all the enjoyment here! Keep up the good work.


Simple, wonderful what you ve done here. It is pleasing to look you express from the center and your clarity on this significant content can be easily viewed. Extraordinary items and expect your future updates.


Aw, this was a post that was really good. In theory I d like to write like this too taking time and real effort to make a good article . but what can I say . I procrastinate a lot and never seem to get something done that.


Far, this post is really sweet about this important topic. I am in harmony with the conclusions and are greedily looking forward to the update entry. Saying thank you will not just be sufficient, for the wonderful clarity in your writing. I will immediately grab your rss feed to stay informed of any updates. Wonderful work and much success in your business dealings! Please excuse my poor English as it is not my first language.


Let me start by saying beautiful post. Im not sure if this has been discussed about, but when using Chrome I can never get the entire site to load without refreshing many times. It may be my computer. Thank you.


Great stuff from you, man. Ive read your stuff before and youre too magnificent. I love what you ve got here, love what you say and how you say it. You make it entertaining and you still can stay smart. I can not wait to read more from you. This is really a great blog.


Not? T better written. Reading this post reminds me of my old room mate! He was always talking about it. I will forward this article to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!


I thought it was going to be some boring old post, but it really compensated for my time. I will post a link to this page on my blog. I am sure my visitors will find that the most useful


Great post! I m just starting out in the media community management marketing and trying to learn how to do it well resources like this article useful. As our company is based in the U. S. , it? S all a bit new to us. The example above is something that I worry about as well, how to show your own enthusiasm and share the fact that your product is useful in this regard


Hrmm that s weird, my comment got eaten. Still I would say that it is great to know that someone else also mentioned this as I have trouble finding the same information elsewhere. This was the first place that told me the answer. Thank you.


Hey, just looking around some blogs, seems a pretty good platform you are using. I m currently using WordPress for some of my sites but looking to change one of them to a platform similar to yours as a trial. Anything in particular you would recommend about it?


You can not intended to do so, but I think you have managed to express the state of mind that a lot of people entering Taste want to help, but not knowing how or where, is something a lot us are going through.


    You have a nice sense about the books you like; I’m happy to see we have a few in common. You might want to check out The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith it’s less a decettive story than a series of heartfelt character sketches as seen from the POV of the traditionally-built Precious Ramotswe. Get it if you find it growing up in Davao, I could never find the books I wanted, although that might not be a problem these days. (Remember, all I had growing up was Velasco bookstore and that effin’ Alemars that used to be near Ateneo.)Another thing you might want to check out I always recommend to my bibliophile friends. It’s amazing how clear your book preferences become when you’ve cataloged the whole kit. Don’t worry, it’s ridiculously easy to enter your books just enter the ISBN number, and the site will find the rest of the details for you. Here’s what looks like. Have fun.


You got a really useful blog I have here reading for about an hour. I am a newbie and your success is very much an inspiration for me.


This article gives the light in which we can observe the reality. This is very nice one and gives in depth information. Thank you for this beautiful article


Keep em coming . you all do a great job at such concepts . can not tell you how much I, for one appreciate all you do!


Thank you for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind taking updating your blog with more information? It is extremely useful for me.


Hi webmaster, commentators and more! Blog is absolutely fantastic! Lots of great information and inspiration, both of which we all need! B Keep em coming . you all do a great job at such concepts . can not tell you how much I, for one appreciate all you do!


Have you ever considered adding videos to your blog posts to keep the more entertained the audience? I mean, I just read your entire article and it was quite good but since I m more of a visual learner, I found that to be more useful well let me know how it turns out! I love what you guys are always up too. The clever work and reporting! Keep up the great work man I added you guys to my blogroll. This is a great article thanks for sharing this informative information . . I will regularly visit your blog for some latest post.


Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I ve really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I will be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.


Wow, this is a post that is really good quality. In my theory, AOD want to write like this also, AI took the time and effort to make a real good post. but what can I say. I procrastinate a lot and never appear to get something done.


I admit, I ve never been to the webpage in a long time. however it was another pleasure to see that this is an important topic and ignored by so many, even professionals. I thank you for helping to make it aware of possible issueExcellent things as typical people.


“%KW%”


Thanks so much for writing all of the excellent inaformation! Looking forward to checking out more posts!


Stories like this restore my faith in humanity, best medicine within the planet is happiness and really like!


This post is quite interesting. I really never thought I could have a good read by this time until I found this site. I thank you for writing given. your information is also very nice. Thank you for the great post. From tons of comments on your articles, I guess I m not the only one having all the enjoyment here! continues to work well.


That fantabulous post this has been. Within no waay seen this kind associated with useful post. I am grateful to you and anticipate much more associated with posts such as. Thank you very much.


Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your bloga and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.


Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, Ia feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful for me.


Keep em coming. you all do such a great joab at such Concepts. can t tell you how much I, for one appreciate all you do!


This article gives the light in which we caan observe the reality. this is very nice one and gives indepth information. thanks for this nice article


Thanks for sharing!


I can’t seem to get this setting to STAY THE WAY I SET IT. I cghane it, then a couple of restarts later, it’s back to false. Very maddening.Any way to lock the setting so Firefox doesn’t cghane it again later?


Leave a Comment