I’ve received quite a few useful comments from last week’s posting of Chromatabs, and I thought it might be nice to summarize some of it. Personally, I’m satisfied — though not thrilled — with the extension. The idea has merit, but the implementation exposed some issues… Which is exactly what it was supposed to do, as a labs.mozilla.org prototype! Here’s some of the common comments:
What’s this thing do?
This was a little surprising to hear at first, but it makes sense. Even though we’re just coloring tabs, unless you already know what’s going on it probably seems like the tabs are being randomly colored. This would be a significant issue if this was a default feature that shipped with Firefox. [As an extension, probably not so much.]
It’s hard to determine which tab is active.
I think this originates with the default theme itself, in that it can be hard to find the active tab even when they’re not colored. However, colorizing the tabs clearly makes things worse. You have to pick out somewhat-subtle brightness differences between different colors, and the myriad of colors is visually distracting.
I had been thinking that simply changing the tab’s luminance would be enough to make it look active, but I don’t think that’s enough. Some other cue needs to be provided. Maybe add a border, or design a stronger 3D look? The difference in luminance could be increased, but then tabs would seem to change color when they become active.
The colors of site X and site Y are too similar.
The extension generates hundreds of different colors, but the reality is that anything more than, say, a couple dozen is going to be too subtle. You can usually see the difference with close inspection, but at a glance the hues can look the same.
Is there a good solution to this? I’m not sure, but trying to give millions of web sites unique and differentiable colors doesn’t seem like the way to do it… A tweak that might help is to only color a tab when a site is open in at least one other tab. But I think this would probably end up being confusing to some users, and it still doesn’t address the problem of two sites having nearly identical colors. [Well, it might help a little in that you wouldn't see the problem as often -- on average -- until you open 2 tabs for each site.]
Instead, for future work, a cleaner problem to tackle might be to give groups of tabs (eg, those showing same site) a unique color. The color wouldn’t be persistent, so the same group might get a different color the next time you open them. The point is that you could always pick a unique new color up until you have a few dozen tabs open. And even then, you could still distinguish groups spatially (“the red group on the left is Yahoo tabs, and the red group waaaaaaaaay on the right is Google tabs”).
I think this is actually closer to the original problem I wanted to solve, which was having a bunch of Bugzilla and LXR tabs open… I want to tell the difference between the two, but don’t really care what the exact color is.
This would also be an opportunity to use a color palette that’s more esthetically pleasing than random colors.
Other suggestions for Chromatabs included making it work with Tab Mix Plus, choosing the color from the favicon, and coloring the menu entries for bookmarks, history, and the tab list. Using Munsell palettes also seems like a great idea.
We mentioned the first two of these in the original labs.mozilla.org post, and readers brought the last two to our attention: