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Fresh Candy for Firefox: Tab Candy Makes Tabs Managable

Have too many tabs to deal with in Firefox? You can tame your tabs with a bleeding edge Firefox build with a brand-new feature called Tab Candy.

Tab Candy, a tab management feature in development for Firefox, is one of the best new features I’ve seen in a browser in years. Plenty of tab management extensions have been developed to tame tabs, but Tab Candy takes the cake.

Try to remember life before browser tabs, if you can. Managing three, four, or twenty browser windows was an enormous pain in the posterior. Then tabs became a standard feature in Mozilla browsers and others. If you remember how much nicer using a Web browser was when going from dozens of windows to dozens of tabs, you’ll appreciate how much Tab Candy improves using tabs.

Firefox developer Aza Raskin writes about the problems posed by tabs and that he’s trying to solve with Tab Candy. Basically, the problem is “information proliferation” where we have so much information at our fingertips that it’s virtually impossible to keep track of it all easily. Unless you use the Web very sparingly, you’ve probably had the experience of working on a bunch of different tasks all requiring the browser. For instance, I’m writing this column about Tab Candy while I also have my Webmail open, Twitter and Identi.ca, a page showing flight information and travel plans, and the Linux Magazine backend open. That’s a light load, because I’m traveling. In my home office I usually work on three or four writing projects at a time, plus social media sites, mail, and so on.

In short, information overload. Using Tab Candy I can still have all that information at my fingertips, but organized in such a way that I can move between tasks easily.

Groups and Visualization

Tab Candy gives me two important capabilities that have boosted productivity in a short time. First is a simple Expose-like tiling feature that shows all open tabs as thumbnails. Other tab extensions have done this, so in and of itself the thumbnail feature is a nice addition to mainline, but not revolutionary.

The next feature is what makes Tab Candy insanely great, to borrow the words of Steve Jobs. Groups. Other extensions have allowed for groups, I believe, but not as easily as Tab Candy. Here’s what you get: Tab Candy starts with a single group. When you have two or more tabs, you can drag a tab away into its own group. Repeat as needed to build a tab group with the tabs you want to use.

Here’s where it gets even better, click on a group and Firefox will only show that group — assuming you have only one Firefox window open.

So if you have five tabs open for a project that you’re working on, you can open just that tab group and focus on the pages you’re using for the project. You can keep another group for sites like Twitter and Identi.ca, and hide that group when you’re working. You could have yet another group for mail, or for Web applications, etc. One little oddity, at least at this stage of development, is that Tab Candy doesn’t display some child windows at all. For instance, when you open a new window from an email in Gmail, it doesn’t show up at all as a manageable tab.

The tab groups are also resizable. You can resize the groups in the thumbnail view to be smaller or larger depending on the importance of the group. So if you use a group frequently, you can make it larger, or smaller for sets you don’t use often. Each group is shown as a tile with smaller thumbnails for the content of each tab.

Even better, the whole thing is navigable using the keyboard. Ctrl-Space triggers it on Linux, and you can use the Tab and arrow keys to navigate between the open tabs and launch a group.

I Want Candy!

Unfortunately, Tab Candy isn’t ready for the mainline Firefox releases and it’s provided (right now) as a full-blown Minefield (Firefox development) build rather than as an extension. It looks stable and like it’s headed for inclusion in Firefox, but it is important to realize it is in development and might not even make it to mainline.

But if you’re willing to go with the bleeding edge, you can start using Tab Candy today. The builds that Raskin has provided are working out fairly well for me so far, if a bit slower than the Firefox 4 beta I’ve been running. But I haven’t tested them on all platforms or for very long. Use at your own risk, and make sure to back up your profile before running experimental versions of Firefox. (But you knew that already, right?)

The only complaint I have with Tab Candy is that I didn’t have it sooner. Want to follow the development discussion? Check out the meta-bug for tracking Tab Candy’s trek to trunk. Give it a try and let Mozilla know how it works for you.

Comments on "Fresh Candy for Firefox: Tab Candy Makes Tabs Managable"

tlroche

Plenty of tab management extensions have been developed to tame tabs, but Tab Candy takes the cake.

Anyone have specific comparisons? E.g. Tab Candy vs Tab Mix Plus?

Reply
baluks

I’ve implemented an addon for grouping tabs. But not very feature rich, Just the basic stuff.

https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/58950/

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mikehaun

I hope it has the ability to use keyboard shortcuts for moving sequentially from tab to tab. I find the need to do that all the time!

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ddennedy

Interesting that this borrows ideas from the desktop environments like expose, virtual desktops, taskbar (tab strip), and arguably even KDE plasma activities. it some ways, it seems to refine these a bit (easy grouping and group resizing). It will be interesting to see how much it influences desktop environments and whether these two environments will ultimately converge.

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leamanc

Never I have I seen so much hype for such a marginal improvement.

Everyone is acting like Tab Candy is the greatest thing since…well…tabs.

Information overload in the browser will continue to be a problem as more and more of our lives move toward the browser. But casual users–still the vast majority of the people on the web–will have no need for something like this. In fact, they will look at Tab Candy with befuddlement.

For those who have seriously needed tab grouping and thumbnail views, there have been many extensions to tackle the job. I don’t see many power users dumping their favorite tab extension to switch exclusively to Tab Candy. There will be some, but not many.

Don’t get me wrong, Tab Candy will be a welcome addition to Firefox, but I think people are getting way too worked up about it. It’s not going to be a revolution. The sad fact is that there is only so much you can innovate with web browsers before you start getting into bloatware territory, which is where Firefox has been headed since v3.0.

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grabur

When I first encountered tabs in Opera, I was hooked.

Tabs in Firefox are a pain. New tabs used to open at the end of the tab stack. Now the behaviour has changed to open in the adjacent tab. There was nothing wrong with the previous behaviour apart from the fact that getting to the last tab was a pain!

I’m one of those people that have dozens of tabs open, but eventually, I just get fed up that I’m not reading them and ultimately dump them. All I’ve achieved is to drown polar bears with unneeded computation in background tabs. I’ve tried a couple of tab extensions, but none of them grab me.

You only really need a couple of ‘live’ tabs, the rest may as well be bookmarks. So I say improve the bookmark and history UI.

I just visited my brother, I gasped as I witnessed him using Internet Explorer 6. He doesn’t know what a tab is, and doesn’t care, and will probably be miffed when he finds I updated it to the latest release and installed Firefox. Those new to tabs can have difficulty getting the idea of them at all. It’s easy to loose windows with tabs, watch new comers use the browser. It’s only power users and/or procrastinators that benefit from them.

The nice thing about tabs in something like firefox, is that you can jump from one OS to another and the browser has the same interface.

If you think about it though, it’s the inability to manage your windows, that has led to the emergence of tabs. Each browser, has a different approach to tabs i.e. shortcuts and behaviour. This helps no one ultimately – as you do not have a standard UI. Relearning a new interface takes time, and inconsistencies can be a pain.

Window managers need to step up to the challenge with some radical innovations. It seems to me that too much attention is paid to browser layout engines, while the browser UI remains sorely neglected.

I just want to be able to take command of my computer! I’m not saying that tabs are all bad, just don’t assume everybody wants to use them.

While we may pretend that we can all multi-task, it’s ultimately distracting to have a dozen apps or windows running at the same time. Try using one window at a time, and using throw away bookmarks and see if you can live without them.

Reply
bedge

Tree style tabs. Simple, hierarchical and much easier to use.

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I cannot thank you enough for the blog article.Really looking forward to read more.

Reply

Major thanks for the blog article.Really thank you!

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