In-Depth Review: What Makes Firefox 1.0 So Compelling - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications

In-Depth Review: What Makes Firefox 1.0 So Compelling

Mozilla's new Firefox Web browser can make believers even out of loyal Internet Explorer proponents.

Firefox's tabbed-browsing system is very basic but highly effective. (Click on image to expand.)
Pros: There are two ways to open Web windows. With Internet Explorer, every Web page you open launches a separate program window. The result is often a blizzard of open IE windows and the ongoing headache of switching among them. The other way is the method that virtually every other Web browser (and many IE add-ons) uses: tabbed browsing.

Tabbed browsing adds the ability to open multiple Web windows within one browser program window. When opened this way, each Web page has a labeled tab that runs across the top or bottom of the screen (similar to program tabs on the Windows taskbar). It's a paradigm that many people prefer because the size and location of the browser doesn't change, and unless you choose to open more, there's only one open browser window.

Firefox offers a very low-overhead version of tabbed browsing. There's very little to configure, and it works pretty well. What it does, it does well.

Cons: Unfortunately, there's a long list of nice-to-have things that Firefox's tabbed-browsing feature doesn't do that are worth toting up:

  • You can't change the order of Firefox's tabs. They appear in the order they're created. The ability to reposition them using drag-and-drop is an obvious omission that Mozilla should rectify.

  • You can't leave tabs open when you close the browser and have them reappear automatically the next time you launch Firefox.

  • You can't name and save sets of tabs to be re-opened later. Firefox's bookmark feature lets you do something that approximates this: you can open all bookmarks in a folder. But that presupposes that the seven Web pages I want to open later are already in my bookmarks, tucked away safely in a single folder. There should be an ability to create tab sets. Of the many extra features that were streamlined out of Firefox, this is one that it would Mozilla would do well to add in a future version of the browser.

    Update: A Firefox extension called Session Saver was designed to provide exactly this functionality, but at press time it had not been properly updated to work with Firefox 1.0. I was able to install it after a fashion, and I found that it works to both save tabs between sessions and also provides a way to name and save tab sets. So whenever Session Saver is updated for Firefox 1.0, it will be a welcome addition to Mozilla's newest browser.

  • You can't highlight several tabs and close them simultaneously.

  • You can't close a tab window from the context menu for the Web page it displays. The right-click menu that appears when you click any blank area on any tab window doesn't offer you the ability to close its tab. There are several other good ways to close a tab (including right-clicking the tab label itself), but this obvious way has been ignored.

  • Finally, while a last-minute rearrangement of tab-browsing options in the 1.0 release of Firefox was a welcome improvement, it doesn't get us all the way there. The "Open links from other applications in ... a new tab in the most recent window" selection configures the browser so that when you click a URL in an email or instant messaging window, the new Web page opens in a newly created tab of your already open instance of Firefox, instead of opening another new Firefox program window.

    But for those of us who prefer to greatly limit the number of instances of the browser program, it doesn't provide a default behavior for one of the more prevalent causes of new-browser opens. Webmasters can easily force a new instance of a browser by adding a simple attribute to any hyperlink on any Web page. What Firefox still needs is an additional option to "Open tabs instead of new windows for links on a Web page."

    This easily implemented customization neatly solves the problem by adding a new tabbed-browsing option in the Tools > Options > Advanced dialog. If you want to reduce extra browser windows on your desktop, be sure to carry out this quick fix. Once you've completed the customization, be sure to put a check in the box beside "Force links that open new windows to open" and make your preferred behavior choice. There's also a Firefox extension called Tab Clicking Options (version 0.2.1 or newer) by Twanno that gives you additional control of your tabs. (Being able to find quick solutions to petty annoyances is one of my favorite things about Firefox.)

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