When I got my first MacBook a few years ago, I opened Safari and didn’t look back. It’s slick, fast, fits the OS like a glove and renders websites well. So why am I now back with Firefox? Two things: Tree Style Tab and the awesome bar.
The awesome bar I’ve spoken of before, and it’s still just as great, so lets talk about Tree Style Tab.
First, a little bit about how I use a browser. I’m a bit of a tab addict. Before tree style tab, I would group my tabs into different windows. Each window would have a group or two of related tabs. A Twitter tab and a few links opened from tweets. A newspaper’s homepage and several stories open. The website I’m designing and several sites full of reference material. The tabs often stay open for days or weeks before I get around to reading them. It soon adds up to several windows containing several tabs. The total number of tabs spirals.
Back to Tree Style Tab. It’s an extension which allows you to open your tabs in a hierarchical tree view rather than in a single-level strip along the top of your browser. I have the tree on the left. A vertical tab bar allows many more tabs in a single window. With the collapsible tree structure, even more fit. And, boy, as we’ve seen, do I love having tabs open. It should be becoming clear why tree style tabs fit me much better than the usual bar.
Tree Style Tabs allows me to keep all my tabs in one window. Many windows all start to look the same after a surprisingly short time and it becomes hard to manage them all. Put the tabs in a tree, where I can collapse tabs to a recognisable title, and all of a sudden things are far more manageable. The tens of tabs I end up with are now neatly stacked down the side of a single Firefox window. When I open Firefox they are all there in front of me and I don’t have to scramble around for the correct window. It’s brought a much needed dose of calm to my desktop.
I also use the SidebarStyleTab extension, which allows me to squeeze even more tabs in comfortably by morphing the tabs into an OS X styled sidebar rather than vertical tabs with the attendant wasted space that entails.
Finally, I discovered BarTap today, written by the same person as SidebarStyleTab. BarTap is a very simple, yet clever idea. When you have many tabs open—at work fifty-plus isn’t unusual—it takes rather a long time to restart Firefox. BarTap fixes this in an unusual way:
BarTap intercepts when a tab is loaded in the background (e.g. after a browser restart) and will only load the content when the tab is actually visited.
It’s a great idea, and one that seems to work surprisingly well. The extension uses the Firefox history service to show the titles of the unloaded tabs, so the tabs are not stuck showing the URL. The overall effect is that Firefox takes just a few seconds to open, rather than up to a minute while several dozen pages load in the background. It also prevents the dozen authentication dialog boxes which pop up from the various Zope admin instances I currently have open.
Even with all these addons, obviously it’s not a complete solution. Firefox is just one application. Building websites requires many tools, so there are still many windows spread across my desktop, stacked on top of each other like so many dropped cards. But at least the windows of different applications look different, which my Firefox windows never seemed to. So it’s a step in the right direction.