Home Fixing Tabs in Firefox: Design Challenge Winners Announced

Fixing Tabs in Firefox: Design Challenge Winners Announced

Tabs, tabs and more tabs, crawling all over your browser; impossible to sort, eating up system memory – what part of using a browser is more maddening than tab overload? Mozilla is trying to solve that problem with a big design challenge. One hundred and twenty eight teams entered the Mozilla Labs Design Challenge Summer ’09, five winners were announced today, and I’m not sure anyone’s really nailed it yet. But the attempts are quite interesting.

“Most Innovative” was won by a University of Michigan team that designed a pretty awesome radial display for tabs spawned by tabs. It doesn’t work very well yet and it’s not clear that it really solves the problem at hand, but some of the other winners are worth a look too. There’s even a 3D/Augmented Reality entry! What do you think, do any of these look like they could fix your tab troubles?

TabViz is the name of the entry deemed most innovative. It displays “parent-child” relationships between tabs through a radial display of clickable screen shots. It’s live on Google Code now, and it’s cool, but it doesn’t work very well yet.

How important is the parent-child relationship between tabs, though, once you’ve got a bunch of them opened up? It is one way to group related tabs, but how many of us think of our tabs as groups? I don’t – I think “where’s that darned tab I was trying to find?”

Collapsible Tabs is an entrant from Martin Polley of Israel. It too puts tabs in groups, but it does it in interesting ways. Most important – this proposal lets you search tabs by title name and hides all of them that don’t match the letters you’re typing! Hello! That’s what I want. Unfortunately, this is just a visual mock-up so far and hasn’t been developed.

A Firefox plug-in called Showcase is really close to the user experience I’m looking for in refining tab focus by typing search terms. I just found it and so far, I am pretty excited about it. It could be much easier to use, but you should probably go try it out right away.

Here’s Polley’s design.

CubeZilla was the Peoples’ Choice winner and it’s pretty far out. It’s a 3D and Augmented Reality tab manager that would let users organize all their tabs into groups that are displayed on sides of a floating cube. It’s cool – and it might be useful. It’s a little reminiscent of Spaces on the Mac, but for web pages. It’s mostly just cool, though.

Another option I’d like to see in some design is for tabs to decay over time. If I haven’t accessed a tab in a couple of hours, partition it off someplace accessible but out of the way. Limit its memory usage and get it out of my way.

The best solution to tab management I’ve found so far? My MacBook Pro’s multi-touch functionality altered using the MultiClutch program. I just swipe three fingers down my track pad and the tab I’m on is closed. Repeat, repeat, repeat; suddenly life feels far more care free.

Getting rid of tabs, that seems like the solution to me, more than managing them. How about you – what are your favorite methods of dealing with tab overload? What do you still dream of being able to do with all the tabs in your life? It’s a major problem and people are listening.

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