RealTime IT News

Firefox 2.0: Mozilla's Tabs Overfloweth

For many Windows users, tabbed browsing is a key attraction for the Mozilla family of browsers. The ability to add multiple 'tabbed' views within one browser window is a feature that some users like to push to extremes.

Microsoft's current stable production version of Internet Explorer does not include tabs, though its next generation version 7 (currently at Beta 3) does.

So how many tabs can you fit in one window? No matter how many you can fit into Firefox 1.5.x, the next release of Firefox 2.0 Beta 2 will give you more.

Using a default configuration in Firefox 1.5.x, at a screen resolution of 1024x768, in tests performed by internetnews.com 34 tabs can be squeezed in before they start to get lost.

A user can add more than 34 tabs but in a default Firefox 1.5.x installation, those tabs will fall off the end of the tab bar and will not be very usable. Even at 34 tabs, the default tab width makes it difficult to figure out which tab is which.

Enter a feature called "tab overflow," which is set to make its official debut in Firefox 2.0.

With tab overflow, the general idea is that beyond a certain fixed number of tabs, the other tabs will overflow and be accessible via alternative means, such as a separate pulldown.

Firefox 2.0 Beta 1, released earlier this month, provides a preliminary solution, according to Mozilla developers.

In tests conducted by internetnews.com, the default Firefox 2.0 Beta 1 release allows for 17 open tabs on a 1024x768 resolution, with a forward and back tab navigation bar scroller for overflow. Further improvements in tab overflow are expected to materialize in the Beta 2 release.

Tab overflow may be a new feature for default configuration of Mozilla Firefox, but it is not a new idea for tabbed browsers. Microsoft's Internet Explorer 7 Beta 3 does tab overflow, as does Apple Safari version 2.0.3.

The idea of tab overflow isn't even a new idea within the Mozilla community. There are a number of add on extensions available for Firefox that will enable some form of tab overflow capability. Yet for various reasons, tab overflow has not been a baked-in feature in Firefox.

Heck the idea to get some kind of tab overflow into Firefox dates back to at least when Mozilla was still calling its next-generation browser Firebird.

There is an entry in Mozilla's bugzilla tracking database dated October 9, 2003 on this topic. The actual bug is summarized as being, "when opening too many tabs you can't move to them with the mouse ("X" button and tabs overlap)".

At one point it was considered to be significant enough issue that it was a blocker for the 0.9 release of Firefox.

"Does this really block 0.9? Is there really a need to have umpteen jillion tabs open in a single window?" a Mozilla Bugzilla commenter wrote in 2004. "While I appreciate that some of us like to have a large number of tabs open, IMVHO the majority of tabbed browsing users will only have at most maybe eight tabs open at once.

"Something should definitely be developed by 1.0 - but by 0.9?"

As it turns out, something wasn't developed to fix the problem by the Firefox 1.0 release in 2004, but nearly years later it's almost finally here.

Code freeze for the Firefox 2.0 Beta 2 is expected to happen by August 1, with a tentative release date of August 8. The final release is targeted for September 26.

Tab browsing overflow is only one of many new features and bug fixes in Firefox 2.0. It also fixes a number of bugs, some of which date back as far as seven years, according to Mozilla developers.

"As of this writing we have taken ~2300 bug fixes, ~750 were opened before the ship of FF1.5/Gecko1.8," Mozilla developer Mike Schroepfer wrote in a recent mailing list posting.

"Taken as a whole these fixes are helping to make FF2 the best FF release to date."