Time to Stop Managing Tabs

Ed Lee

There have been many add-ons to Firefox that help users organize their tabs to hide unwanted tabs. One approach is to automatically place newly opened tabs as children of a parent tab, and another is to let the user manually group tabs by dragging them over each other. Now with a group of tabs, the user can collapse the group to appear as a single item to give more space to the remaining tabs.

Home Dash approaches tabs from the other direction, so instead of showing all tabs by default and allowing some to be hidden, only tabs that are relevant to the current one are shown. Even then, these tabs are not shown during normal browsing so that the whole screen space is devoted to the web page. The tabs only appear for a few seconds to help users focus and recall what they were doing previously (video).

Only related tabs show up as context to the current tab

Home Dash currently internally organizes tabs based on various relationships and displays them in that order:

  1. self: the current tab gets the highest priority and is shown first
  2. child: links opened from the current page are highly relevant
  3. friend: tabs that happened to be opened around the same time
  4. sibling: other links that were opened from the same parent
  5. parent: where the current tab came from
  6. none: an unrelated page

The default behavior for Home Dash is to only show thumbnails of the current tab and its related pages plus one unrelated page off to the side. However, when searching, all matching tabs will appear, still separated by the dashed line if they’re not related to the current tab. From this filtered set of tabs, it’s easy to scroll the mouse wheel on the Firefox icon to switch through the matching tabs and get a large preview of the page while maintaining context with the thumbnails.

Previewing an unrelated tab matching 'mozilla' after scrolling to it

A relatively simple but important change in Home Dash 5 removes the “wrap-around” ability of switching through tabs. Now when scrolling the mouse on the Firefox icon, it is very easy to jump back to the current tab by scrolling all the way left — no need to worry that the preview might wrap to an unrelated tab on the other end. There’s now an easy way to get the current page’s context without showing the full dashboard; scroll towards the left (or up) on the Firefox icon.

This also means it’s relatively hard to get to old, unrelated pages. And this is by design! One feature of various tab management add-ons generally includes a way to get rid of a group of tabs that aren’t used. However, the Prospector team believes that this will be unnecessary in future. Home Dash could detect which tabs or groups are unwanted and automatically unload them. These unloaded pages would look just like open tabs, except they would only start loading when selected.

Automatically unloading tabs blurs the line between open tabs/pages and any other page in Firefox’s history. While unloading tabs might initially be done to help restore unused computer resources (memory and CPU), Home Dash could in the future also suggest pages from Firefox’s history even if the user didn’t recently open them.

There’s several other features and bug fixes in Home Dash 5 based on the quick feedback, so check out the full list of changes since Home Dash 4.

If this sounds interesting, make sure to check the Home Dash announcement then install Home Dash on a Firefox 4 Beta, and leave feedback or contribute! For keyboard users, make sure to check out the tips page.

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