Firefox's next big innovation: A new OS-like interface

Firefox's next big innovation: A new OS-like interface

Summary: Firefox has been losing momentum to Google Chrome in 2010, but a new innovation called Tab Candy could give Firefox a big leap forward.


During 2010, Firefox has had much of its momentum as an alternative Web browser stolen by Google Chrome. However, a new Firefox innovation called Tab Candy will make Firefox act more like a operating system, with much-improved multitasking and sharing capabilities. In fact, if the Firefox team can pull off all of the features of Tab Candy that it recently demonstrated, it would leapfrog Chrome in functionality.

The Tab Candy functionality is being spearheaded by Aza Raskin, the Head of UX at Mozilla Labs. Raskin is the son of Macintosh creator Jef Raskin and he joined Mozilla in 2008 when his software company Humanized merged with Mozilla.

Raskin said, "How many of us keep tabs open as reminders of something we want to do or read later? We're all suffering from infoguilt. We need a way to organize browsing, to see all of our tabs at once, and focus on the task at hand."

With that mind, here's what Tab Candy can do:

  • Organize tabs into groups that you can name and position on a desktop-like view (Figure A)
  • Save tab groups to look at later
  • Search through your tabs
  • Have multiple profiles so that you can sign into the same site with different logins in two different tab groups
  • Share tabs or tab groups between different computers and devices (Figure D)
  • Share tabs or tab groups with other users
  • Set up a shared tab group where several users can co-browse and see what each other is looking at on the screen
  • Choose colors or image backgrounds to distinguish different tab groups (Figure C)


Figure A: Basic Tab Candy interface

Figure B: Tab Candy can handle lots of tab groups

Figure C: To distinguish between different tab group you can give them a color or background

Figure D: Tab Candy will also let you share tabs across different computers and devices

Video demo

Here is Raskin's seven-minute demo of Tab Candy:

Sanity check

Raskin has perfectly articulated the workflow and tab overload problem in today's Web browsers, and his Tab Candy vision of innovating the browser experience would be a major step forward. And, Firefox needs a big shot in the arm. Not only is Google Chrome leaching away more and more Firefox users, it has also stolen away Firefox's reputation as the browser bringing the most innovation to the Web experience.

My only question with Tab Candy is if and when it will make it into Firefox. In the lackluster announcement of Firefox 4 in May, the Firefox team had Tab Candy listed in light gray at the bottom of its list of new features (giving no indication of its importance). Raskin said "The reason why Tab Candy was listed in grey in the product plan is that there are still some implementation challenges to be solved and a couple user experience questions to be answered for us to be able to commit to TabCandy being in Firefox 4."

Part of the challenge may be that Tab Candy is being developed entirely in HTML, Javascript, and CSS, and what they are trying to accomplish is extremely ambitious. The other part may be that the Mozilla leadership hasn't honed in on how big of a deal Tab Candy would be for users.

Make no mistake, this is Firefox's best shot at competing with Chrome, especially since the rest of Firefox 4 feels a lot like a copy of Chrome. Launching Firefox 4 with Tab Candy should be Mozilla's top priority.

Also see

This article was originally published on TechRepublic.

Topics: Browser, Google, Operating Systems

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  • RE: Firefox's next big innovation: A new OS-like interface

    What a great idea. this will be such a big help to me, since I work in several places on several machines.

    It should not be rushed out, since it could change the way I use the browser, so if its rushed through it could get very messy.
    Will T
    • RE: Firefox's next big innovation: A new OS-like interface

      I can hardly wait for this! I love researching, and I always preshop for things keeping many tabs open at once (I love how FF currently will save my tabs so I can shut off my computer to come back to my browsing session...something IE8 doesn't seem to do). Keep up the good work FF!
    • Seriously this is the answer to my prayers! ....a Dream Come True!

      @willt1984@... OMG... this will be perfect. I want it now, but I'll wait till it's perfected. I'm not coder but I could definitely add the input that could help move this along! :D
  • RE: Firefox's next big innovation: A new OS-like interface

    Aza emailed me only a few days ago to a link to his new creation. I said in reply: "It's got a very 'desktop' feel to it... it's like a desktop within a desktop". Seeing as the desktop OS is now more often than not just a 'looking glass' for the web and your online content, this takes on almost the values of what Chrome OS could achieve.
    • RE: Firefox's next big innovation: A new OS-like interface

      @zwhittaker Totally agree. This is what a Web-based OS should look like.
  • RE: Firefox's next big innovation: A new OS-like interface

    Very nice feature! This is something every browser needs!
    • RE: Firefox's next big innovation: A new OS-like interface

      @joarobles Not tab candy, but in IE8 there is a feature called related tabs and if you open tabs as done in the video, the tabs are grouped together and given a similar color. You can even click on of those related tabs , right click and can select close related tabs. Well, because this is from MS, people can ignore it. Had it been from any other company, it would be the greatest thing next to life on earth.
      • RE: Firefox's next big innovation: A new OS-like interface

        @jagansai Ome feature doesn't make up for that fact that IE8 is slow in comparison to all the other browsers (think "JavaScript thick" clients), missing things like the canvas tag, a robust and free extension community, etc., etc.

        In short, IE8 sucks, one UI feature isn't going to change that.

      • RE: Firefox's next big innovation: A new OS-like interface


        The website I must use for work requires that I use IE. Win 7 has IE8 installed, and I've used the function your talking about. But it is nowhere NEAR the scope of what this project is aiming to be.

        First, IE makes them a "group" simply by placing the tabs next to each other. You can do this in any modern browser (rearrange tabs so they are next to each other). Next, it colors them the same color. Big, freaking deal. I have a small FF extension that also colors tabs spawned from other tabs the same colors, but also colors tabs that completely unrelated, OTHER colors!

        IE is a pretty lackluster browser.
  • Or, you know...

    ...just don't open so many tabs at once?

    You have 50 tabs open at once? Really? Why?

    Seriously? Why do you need so many tabs open at once? It's not like you need them all at once. This Tab Candy sounds like crack for ADHD types...
    • RE: Firefox's next big innovation: A new OS-like interface


      One can make the claim that all porn addicts have ADHD, and they seem to me to be the ones who would be most likely to have that many tabs open. Personally I never have more than 8 or so open, and that's when I'm too lazy to close them.
      Michael Kelly
      • Eh?

        @Michael Kelly

        Why would porn addicts have that many open tabs? I mean how many movies can you watch at once, how many pictures can you look at at the same time?

        Seems like if you're looking at naked women you'd want to give each one your undivided attention! (laughing)
      • RE: Firefox's next big innovation: A new OS-like interface

        @Michael Kelly

        At first I thought your comment was a tangent, even though the correlation you mention is strong. Then I realized the connection. It is the name "Tab Candy". Seriously, that name has luscivious overtones in our culture. Hey, Firefox, if you're reading, then rethink the product name. Maybe that is why it was in grey! ;)
      • RE: Firefox's next big innovation: A new OS-like interface

        @Michael Kelly: Why is it that a new option for people who browse a certain way led to a porn discussion? I've been using more than 10 tabs at a time since I was a teenager, at the time when it took 5 minutes or more for them to load. Different doesn't mean bad, and multiple tabs does not indicate a population of porn fiends that need 50 tabs of nudie pics. Open your mind, and think before you type!

        Using the web for porn is an individual choice, and one that every person has the right to choose to use, or not. That said, I think that there is a large group of people in the United States alone that knows what it is like to be looking at that many web pages. It can be frustrating when you have to actually click on each tab to find the one you're looking for, and know that you can't close the other tabs because you need them for whatever you're doing at the time.

        @ all skeptics: If you don't like the idea, use another browser! It's just like the played out debate between Mac and PC. Pick what you like, and be happy with it, and I will do the same!
      • wollf_z and you are probably siamese twins, no doubt!

        @Michael Kelly What a couple of morons or empty headed baboons you two are. 90% of people here on ZDNet are tech litterate junkies or more likely normal people and the last thing on their mind is porn or even knowing what ADHD is. That said, it sounds like you two are both afflicted with these diseases and need some therapy bad!!!
    • RE: Firefox's next big innovation: A new OS-like interface


      "You have 50 tabs open at once? Really? Why?"

      info-guilt? ;)

      Sometimes you want to get back to something later, but don't think it deserves a bookmark, I guess.

      I currently have 84 open.

      I've had 100+ open before, and I think at one time I hit 200.
      • Info-guilt gone wild


        Work or play, 100+ open tabs is excessive, 200 = ridiculous short of porn indulgence gone wild (lol @ Wolf ;) yup). At that point you might want to start questioning your organizational or prioritization abilities - or uh, lay off the fantasy strokes. :p

        It is a modern wonder and joy to be able to run lots of browser instances concurrently; most of us have been indulging as such for years. But like everything else, there are - or should be - practical limits. ''Info guilt'' overload will likely drive one bonkers if left unabated. Rein it in! [if you know what's good for you]

        You heard it here first.
        Dr. Klumper
      • RE: Firefox's next big innovation: A new OS-like interface

        Not porn, but a bunch of stuff.

        -A few with ZDNet

        -A few with WoW

        -A few with forums

        -A few others for other purposes

        -And yeah, sometimes tabs do act as TODO placeholders for things I want to do or haven't decided to do.

        It all adds up.
      • I Have Had 3 & 4 Browsers Open to Do What Tab Candy is Doning w/ ONE!

        @CobraA1 When I get shopping ebay and various web sites it's not uncommon to have 200 tabs open total. In fact I think nothing of a 100 tabs being open and about 75 is average. I also tend to use session saver as a form of bookmarks. This would make my life so much easier!!!<br><br>97 tabs now with thirty of those ebay! haha...
    • I'm with you.

      @wolf_z: Puzzling why people have so many tabs open.