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:
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:
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.