Good news for tab addicts

February 5, 2010

Hi. My name is Philipp and I’m a tab addict.

I treat browser tabs as applications, bookmarks, to do items and many things more. I keep a lot of them open all the time. To organise them I use the excellent Tree Style Tab add-on. But more on that below. First let’s talk about the implications of having lots of open tabs.

Pay now, drink later

The thing is, when you’ve got lots of open tabs, you become reluctant to restart Firefox. Not I want to do that often, but sometimes I have to, e.g. when Firefox is being a memory hog again. Or when you need to restart your computer because of a software update.

So why do you become reluctant? Sure, Firefox’s excellent session restoring facility can bring all tabs back, but having ca. 100 tabs restored sucks up a lot of network traffic and a lot of CPU power. That can effectively render your browser unusable for a minute or more.

Here’s the deal, though. I don’t need all the tabs immediately. As said, a lot of them are just bookmarked as “I want to read that later” or “need to check that out.” That means Firefox shouldn’t need to restore all tabs immediately.

Hence BarTab was born.

BarTab is a Firefox extension that hooks into the tab mechanism. It intercepts when tabs are restored and/or opened in background (this is configurable) and doesn’t load their contents until you actually visit them. When restoring tabs from a previous session, it will even pull the favicon and website title from Firefox’s history service so you won’t have to stare at a URL. This is what it looks like:

Firefox after a restart. The three tabs on the left haven't been loaded yet, hence their dim appearance.

There’s a usability lesson in this

Now some of you might give me a perplexed look and wonder why I don’t simply use bookmarks. The answer is pretty simple: tabs are right in front of me. Bookmarks are either in some menu, toolbar or sidebar. And as a concept they are orthogonal to tabs. But why have another concept when one will do?

So BarTab effectively blends bookmarks and tabs into one. In that process the session store service has replaced the bookmark service. That’s good because the session store keeps track of all tabs I have opened and even the ones I’ve recently closed. That makes my interaction with the browser a more humane experience, because not only do I not need to do anything special to make Firefox “bookmark” something, I also get a second chance, or “undo,” if I accidentally close something.

Beautifying tree tabs

As said, I use Tree Style Tabs to organize my various tabs. Two weeks ago I started creating my own custom theme of the tree, modeling it after the trees we find in sidebars of various OS X applications (e.g. Finder, iTunes, Mail.) This effort has now culminated in SidebarStyleTab 1.5 which replicates the OS X experience quite well, including tricky things like resizing the tab bar and drag’n’drop. Here’s what it looks like:

SidebarStyleTab 1.5 in action. The tree looks native to OS X. Notice the altered status bar with buttons and slider.

The best news, however, is that thanks to the author of Tree Style Tab, Shimoda “Piro” Hiroshi,  most of SidebarStyleTab will be integrated into the next version of Tree Style Tab (0.9). He has also provided some useful insights into the development of  SidebarStyleTab and BarTab, so much thanks to him.

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21 Responses to “Good news for tab addicts”

  1. romanofski Says:

    Reminds me of all the enquires I got, if I work on my own PixelZilla theme again… If the day would have had more time ;)

  2. Mike Rhodes Says:

    Loving BarTap, it’s doing the job of making Firefox restarts manageable again admirably well.

    One bug: if a page doesn’t have a title, I get blank tab titles–maybe fall back to URL? E.g., svn source at http://bit.ly/9jkcMV

  3. Bert Singels Says:

    First of I love the add-on.

    I’ve got one request, it does not play nice with the Speed Dial add-on (http://speeddial.uworks.net/) if you have it set as the default home page. you get a blank screen instead of the dials and “chrome://speeddial/content/speeddial.xul” in the address bar.
    If you could make them work together i would be very happy.

    Thanks for a great add-on.


  4. [...] case for why we need web browsers that are designed for today’s cloud apps. In parts 2a and 2b I have been exploring tabs, particularly how to deal with lots of them. And how a simple change in tab behaviour can allow me [...]

  5. Tobu Says:

    Excellent news!

    I was trying to pester the author of Taboo to create a taboo from about:sessionrestore to solve the same problem (using lots of tabs, and restarting without exploding memory). I’ll try using BarTap instead.

    • philikon Says:

      Just make sure you get the latest version (1.2 at the time of this writing). The reviewers at addons.mozilla.org are always a couple of days behind, so the latest version doesn’t show up on the main page right away. Follow the “View all versions” link at the bottom of the page.

  6. Chas Says:

    I’m using v1.3.2 and I love the “When I don’t visit a tab for a while” option. However, I’d really like to see the addition of a white-list for this feature; basically, there are a few sites that I want to be left active at all times. So, I’d add (for example) wordpress.com to the white-list and any tabs with that in the URL would not end up on the Bar Tab. These sites would also actively load when restoring from a previous session.

    Does this sound like a reasonable request?

    • philikon Says:

      It does. :) A lot of people have requested this feature, and I too want to have it. That’s why I implemented it recently. It will be available in the 1.4 release. If you’d like to try it out, try the 1.4 beta available from https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/67651

      • Chas Says:

        I’ve installed the beta version, but I don’t see any way to add a site or tab to the white-list (either in the options or on the context menu). How do I do this?

      • philikon Says:

        Yeah, just discovered that 1.4b1 and b2 didn’t come with a default preference setting for this, so the context menu item for controlling this setting wouldn’t show. It’s fixed in 1.4b3 (released just now).

      • Chas Says:

        I’ve got the newest version and it’s working great. Thanks so much for your great extension.

  7. xStylezx Says:

    Hey,great extension,has been very nice for a tab addict like me! Thanks for it! Just a question though,it seems to be broken in the trunk builds and if its not that hard a fix could you update it please,thanks alot! It loads up with all my previous tabs on the bartab as it should,but when you click on a tab it doesnt load up the webpage and you cant click refresh or anything. Im having to just copy and paste the url into a brand new tab to get the webpage to load up. Hope that helps in fixing it. Thanks again(oh and im using the latest beta)

    • philikon Says:

      Thanks for your feedback! The biggest issues with the Firefox 3.7a4 have been resolved in the latest beta release of BarTab 1.4. However, supporting the moving target that Firefox 3.7a is isn’t my top priority (which is why it’s not officially supported).

  8. xStylezx Says:

    Hey,thanks for the fix for the firefox trunk! I know its a moving target trying to keep up with the latest and greatest.lol I dont update trunk builds daily unless i see perf improvements or its just been longer than a week or two. Sometimes its hard to not be curious at whats coming down the pipe on trunk.lol Thanks again for the fix though,its appreciated! I dont know how ive made it before this extension.lol Ill keep an eye on the github for this extension!

  9. Citywalker Says:

    BarTab is great for what it does, but it interferes with bookmarking: the standard FF option of “Bookmark All Tabs” then bookmarks only loaded tabs. Is it possible to somehow bookmark the unloaded tabs as well, without having to load them all?


  10. [...] that changes tab loading behaviour so that they’re loaded only when they’re accessed. As I wrote in a blog post then, it was initially intended for tab addicts like myself, but thanks to lots of feedback from all [...]


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