Mozilla wants help to reinvent browser tabs

The Mozilla Labs Design Challenge Summer ’09 is looking for creative solutions to reinvent browser tabs. But do tabs need reinventing?

The Mozilla Labs Design Challenge Summer ’09 is looking for creative solutions to reinvent browser tabs.

Tabs worked well on slow machines on a thin Internet, where ten browser sessions were "many browser sessions". Today, 20+ parallel sessions are quite common; the browser is more of an operating system than a data display application; we use it to manage the web as a shared hard drive. However, if you have more than seven or eight tabs open they become pretty much useless. And tabs don’t work well if you use them with heterogeneous information. They’re a good solution to keep the screen tidy for the moment. And that’s just what they should continue doing.

I think that this could be very interesting, and it's good to see some stirrings of innovation coming to browser design. Problem is, I'm not sure that tabs are the best place to start. There are plenty of other aspects of browser design that sucks - history and favorites are two that spring instantly to mind. I've got to the point where I'll turn to a search engine before I bother looking through my saved stuff. I'd like to see this stuff reinvented before tabs.

I can see downsides though, specifically that innovation usually brings with it that sense of bloat. The problem I'm feeling with browsers, and Firefox in particular, is that they are trying to be all things to all people. I know that a lot of people want Google's Chrome browser to start supporting extensions, but to be quite honest I'm happy to have a fast, lightweight browser. I used to like Firefox add-ons but because there's usually a time-gap between a new browser version, and a compatible extension, it was hard to know when to upgrade the browser. It then became a choice between an updated browser or the add-on. That was too much hassle for me. For me, speed, reliability and simplicity are key.

So, do you think tabs need reinventing? If you do, what suggestions do you have?