Breaking Out Of Tabs
May 8th, 2007, By Duncan Gough
Tabbed browsing in Firefox, Opera and IE is now a standard. My first experience of tabbed browsing was with one of the early betas of Firefox. It made a huge difference to being able to browse the web casually, leaving pages open to return to later, aiding the idea of dipping in and out of content online.
Firefox happily evolved along this path and the newly released Firefox 2 offers built in support for both multi-tabbed homepages and session saving. These two features are a huge help and play an active role in reinforcing my current web browsing behaviour. For homepages I have a couple of site, like Gmail and Ecolocal stats, that I’ll always want open. However, with the session restore feature I have a much more resilient browser. Should it crash, drunk on twenty of so tabs, I can relaunch and pick up where I left off. If my laptop crashes, same thing. I can even drag and drop tabs around to sort them into a vague semblance of order – with high priority tabs to the left, like Gmail, calendar, stats and so on.
However, my browser is now being taken over by multiple ever-present tabs. The left hand side of the Firefox tab bar is taken up by four or five fixed tabs, and that’s becoming redundant.
Elsewhere, there’s a big push for offline desktop apps that sync when a network connection is present. To me, the Apollo idea for desktop apps seems vaguely silly. I wonder how this can get pitched with a straight face at a time when wireless connections are become more noticeable. In London, for example, you’re never really more than 10 minutes from a wireless connection point, so what’s the advantage of desktop apps and offline syncing?
But, plucking web-apps out of the tab bar and into a separate window, I’m rapidly becoming a convert to that. Using Pyro to break out the Campfire chat from Firefox and give it a separate mindshare on the desktop works well. There are other web apps like Gmail and Google calendar that could benefit from that same process too. Widgets were meant to do something similar but they’ve just evolved into a world of ‘Hello World’ demonstration apps – clocks, rss readers, parcel trackers, etc.
So, is it time to pluck out those homepage tabs and have them as desktop apps-cum-widgets? I’m a big fan of Gmail because of the asynchronous way it makes email work. With desktop email clients, like Apple Mail or Outlook, every new email results in a alert. With Gmail, there’s no visual or audio cue that new mail has arrived. You can install alert-apps to do this for you but I find email has become much more useful now that I can check it when I want to, not when new email has arrived. Making sure that the same system works on the desktop, then, a Gmail desktop widget would be a great first candidate. I’d want to pluck that tab out of Firefox, have it rollup into a small, dockable window with no audio/visual cues and then use it as a single windowed chrome-less browser window, for checking email and nothing more.
Since there are only three or four sites I’d consider doing this for, I’m inclined to think that the idea has got potential.