Browser

Firefox 5 review: Tab perfection

The Firefox developers have been busy working on a couple of new features that are real game-changers for power users. Read on as Jack Wallen explains why he is on the cusp of jumping ship from Chrome to Firefox.

If you are a tab junkie -- the perfect browser for you has almost arrived. I'm talking, of course, about Firefox 5. The last few iterations of the open source browser from Mozilla has really taken a nose dive in performance. It seemed the developers were concerned more with bigger, better, flashier features than with performance. This was made especially true when compared, side-by-side, with Google Chrome. Firefox could simply not live up to the speed offered by Chrome.  Because of that, many users flocked to the faster browser.

So what has happened since? Well, Firefox has managed to get a small performance boost (at least it seems in real-world application) and (as has come to be expected) more features have been added. And so it goes...bloat before performance. But this time around, the added features are not only really impressive, they are incredibly useful.

I'm talking about tabs. That's right -- that feature that most of us have grown so used to, when we see a browser (or sometimes application); without them, we don't know how to behave. Tabs have become the de facto standard web browser interface and any user who does not take advantage of them, does not really understand how to best make use of their windows.

But what of the tab junkies? What about those users (like myself) who constantly wind up with way too many tabs open, which only serves to clutter up the browser window and confuse the user? Firefox 5 has taken some fairly huge strides to make the experience for the tab junkie an easier, more organized one. And they have done a remarkable job. Let me illustrate the two main features the developers have added to enhance tabs.

App Tabs

Figure B

If you have sites you always have open you can now pin a tab as an App Tab (left). An App Tab is basically a much smaller tab (using the sites favicon instead of the sites name for the tab name) that is ever-present. This is perfect for sites like Twitter, Facebook, your blog site, or a work-related site. When you open up Firefox 5, those App Tabs will automatically open and be ready for your use.

The screenshot illustrates App Tabs in action. As you can see, in the far left of the tab bar there are four App Tabs (Twitter, Facebook, my Goodreads profile, and my blog). To create an App Tab, simply right-click on a tab and then select Pin as App Tab. To unpin a tab from an App Tab, right-click the App Tab and select Unpin Tab.

Tab Groups

Figure B

Another outstanding tab-related feature is Tab Groups, which allows you to group tabs into categories (or however you would like to organize them.) The figure at right illustrates how the tab group feature works. As you can see, I currently have eleven tabs open, but the only tabs you will see in the browser are those belonging to the group currently being viewed.

To create a tab group, right-click a tab and select Move to Group | New Group. This will automatically join that tab to the new group. You can then open up the Tab Groups window (click the small square icon above the home button at the far right of the browser window toolbars) and then give the new group a name.

From within the Tab Group window you can also do the following:

  1. Drag and drop tabs from one group to another.
  2. Drag a tab out of a group to create a new group.
  3. Rename a group.
  4. Open a new tab within a specific group.

Once you're in the Tab Groups window, to get out of that window, simply click on a tab within a group.

Is it worth it?

The big question will be, are the new features worth the Mozilla developers continuing to fall behind in speed? To be honest, I have to say yes in this case. Why? I am a browser power user. I always have a lot of tabs open and these two features make browsing a whole lot better for me. I've been using Chrome for a long time. The speed of the browser is untouched by any other. But the tab features offered by Firefox 5 have been a real game-changer for me. No more do I have to click through all of my tabs to try to locate the one I need to work on. Now it's just a matter of either clicking an App Tab or going to a Tab Group.

And, on a final note, I will say the speed of Firefox has improved from 4 to 5. It is my hope that this release of Firefox 5 will succeed on the basis of its tab power-users and having gained even more speed to help catch it up to the fastest browser on the planet.

I highly recommend you give Firefox 5 a try. Download it and see what you think.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

29 comments
san antonio website design
san antonio website design

Firefox 7 and 6 are both pretty slow and or security concerns. There is a reason that they have kept the 3.x version of FF updated and patched. They know they have a serious problem and their codebase is out of control. I design websites for San Antonio Website Design and the real problem with a lot of what we are seeing in browsers that are unable to keep up have to do with one or two things. 1. You have too many plugins or bad plugins running. Disable those first and then see how you performance is going. 2. The website itself has a poor design and they are running tens of thousands of lines of unoptimized or conflicting Java Script. So many people are doing their own website nowdays that have no clue how to make it load in under 12 seconds. It's pretty funny because site load speed is a big factor in how your Search results page rankings are generated. Take a bit to think about this and hire someone to get things going in a day instead of a week and with many fewer problems. Just a bit of advice from a website designer here but always check the plugins first. It is unfortunate that Chrome does so much danged stealing of your information with their supercookies. That is a pretty slick browser. Opera just is slower and firefox hit the wall head first a few years back. I hate to say but ie9 is a rather fair browser all things considered nowdays.

karendavis
karendavis

Interesting read but i've now moved onto Firefox 7, I think ill downgrade back to number 6. FF7 seems to load slower.

insuranceman1
insuranceman1

I love this addition to FF5 because it's so dang simple yet such an improvement. As someone who always applauds a strike against google, I couldn't be happier with the new firefox. Come on home, everybody.

caro31
caro31

Should we switch to Firefox 6 for the javascript working? thank you stage de pilotage

mark
mark

These days, one of my main peeves with browsing the web is the amount of ram that gets consumed with all the flash/shockwave/silverlight ads that are embeded into web pages. Images can be optimised for the web, but none of those people making the flash ads can be really bothered to optimise them. I would be interested in seeing a report on how much memory can be saved by blocking those ads out.

Rick S._z
Rick S._z

If you're interested in a better tab GUI, you might give it a quick look-see. And it's compatible, both with FF 5.0 and the one I'm using: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux i686; rv:6.0a2) Gecko/20110629 Firefox/6.0a2 ID:20110629042007

scholarsarena
scholarsarena

They don't remain "pinned" per se. Middle click and your pinning is gone. I'm used to middle -clicking a tab to close it. So this one's pretty annoying. I'm an Opera user and love them and they keep the pinned tabs "pinned", so that they don't get closed by mistake. Tab groups are much better in Opera imho. I hate having to switch groups everytime I want to do something. Opera handles tab stacking pretty nicely and much better than the FF Tab Group. And you could create bookmark folders and open all folders at one time ... if you want a whole lotta stuff to open up :D

mwclarke1
mwclarke1

Speed not features. Although mostly an issue with web developers, if half can really be called that with the worse coding I have ever seen these days, It seems things are slowing down more, to the point that reminds me of the days trying to boot DOS on an XT even with the addition of more CPU cores, CPU speed and memory than ever ! The more compute power and Network bandwidth seem to have access to, the more web developers want to load up with Flash, and java everywhere, over use of frames and tables, etc to the point I feel like I am back in the dial-up days. I am not sure we can expect much from a performance boost with these issues from the browser end (I wish there was more discussions on bad web development than the browser) however I do fell as one poster replied about the resources being hogged from the browsers. We need better memory management and resource utilization in order to work with and perform better with all the other apps we need to run on our systems, The browser is not the only app we are usually running. I hate hour glasses !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Orodreth
Orodreth

I've been using bookmark all tabs to make groups in ff 3.6 or whatever but I'll be easier with tab groups. Could tab groups replace bookmarks right? What's I really need is some speed with addons enabled. I've used ff for years now and some of my addons I've kept but they don't seem to work. Slowly but surely I'm disabling and removing underutilized addons to improve speed and reliability. Any changes in ff5 to help?

jian9007
jian9007

FYI, FF 4.01 already has these features so for those not ready to make the switch to 5.0 yet, you don't have to if these are features you're looking for.

Mantvis
Mantvis

To add: with Internet Explorer 9 you can pin websites to your Windows 7 super taskbar -- like app tabs mentioned in this post. I'm telling you, there's no need for tabs.

Mantvis
Mantvis

Since Windows 7 came with its super taskbar, there's no need for tabs. Why? If you're switching between applications and a browser, you only get to see the top browser tab. You then need to remember that: oh, it's a browser, let's stop switching apps at it, and let's use clicks to choose the right tab. Phew... annoying. So I just disabled all the tabs, and happily switch between multiple browsers and Excel, and Outlook, and whatever I have, using the Windows 7 super taskbar only. Of course, if your 100% of computer life happens in the browser, only then the tabs are justifiable. But then again, why do you do browsing on the computer, why not the iPad?

fjpoblam
fjpoblam

FF (or Aurora, the version I'm using) is the only browser with pintabs that actually work. Chrome's are flakey at browser restart. Now: FF needs to do two VERY important things! [off-topic rant] (1) THIS: In recent news, Mozilla has announced a disdain for enterprise users. This is totally unacceptable. Supporting legacy apps, especially, is important to enterprise users, who must otherwise think of the ongoing expense of rewriting inhouse apps and continuously rebuggering inhouse training and support. Enterprise is is an essential arena for FF market share, and Mozilla may find that serious web developers abandon FF due to the fact that (for economic reasons, obviously) they must devote their primary attention to paying customers. Anything free is worth about what you pay for it, as the saying goes. That includes a developer's time. (2) Somewhat along with (1) and also for other reasons, FF must make every effort to minimize code bloat and remain lightweight (or get lighter-weight!) Every tenth-of-an-ounce of code which yields microseconds of responsiveness and bits of memory-holding is a deadly impact on users. I've noticed many times in which I've had to exit and restart the browser in order to achieve proper results. For example, last night, when attaching a photo to an email, and trying to fetch it from iPhoto, I had to stop and start FF because the photo had been imported while FF was running - a browser refresh/recache didn't suffice. This doesn't occur with other browsers!

amulroya
amulroya

Firefox 3.6 with Tabkit is awesome.

Lewis Goddard
Lewis Goddard

I believe Opera has had these features for a few versions now. And anyone saying they copied Firefox's design, you need to check release dates.

Rohan Jayasekera
Rohan Jayasekera

I'm astounded that a "browser power user" who's "been using Chrome for a long time" would be unaware that Chrome has long provided app-tab capability. It's called the ability to "pin" a tab (and as another commenter mentions, Opera has it too). The only difference I can think of is that pinned tabs will disappear on exiting Chrome if you haven't selected the option to automatically reopen tabs when the browser launches - which is such a useful option that almost everyone should be using it anyway. It used to be that Opera would lead the way; now Chrome does too. Firefox now leads in self-destruction. For instance, many bank sites etc. tell people to clear their cache. Doing that in Firefox used to be easy. Now it's an IQ test.

cdgoldin
cdgoldin

I downloaded and installed the Firefox 5 update, and discovered that Adobe Flash Player no longer works in Firefox (although it continues to work in IE). After spending a few hours searching the net for a solution, I found none, even though the problem has been widely reported for over a month (with the Beta version). So, I uninstalled Firefox 5 and reinstalled Firefox 4. Now the problem occurred with Firefox 4, even though it had worked fine before. This second problem was also widely reported. So, I restored everything to a backup that had been done several days earlier, and declared the entire day a waste. Will I migrate to Firefox 5? Not likely.

hellof
hellof

your app tab feature has existed in opera. it is know as a pinned tab but before that as a locked tab. as for your tab grouping/firefox panorama there is in opera tab statcking. tab stacking was released about the same time as firefox panorama dev was announced. tab stacking is better also as you don't have to jump in and out of a special mode to switch tabs or even manage them. in opera you just slide tab on top of another tab to stack them. as for changing them if you hover over a stacked group you will see all the tabs with a window preview and title or you can expanded the group to see all the tabs instead of just the most recent active tab.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

I haven't noticed. I run Chrome and FireFox side by side because I use them for different things. I have not noticed a speed difference. Are we talking about milliseconds in a bench test? I know that can make a difference when gaming but I don't play time sensitive games within my browser. In my experience my browser (and my computer) can respond much faster than the remote server can feed me bits. I am always waiting on the network and I have a good (20Mbit) connection. Once the information is downloaded it's up on my screen. Within the blink of an eye.

amulroya
amulroya

Same idea I had, eliminate bookmarks, there unnecessary with grouped tabs. And for those of you having trouble with slow speeds, yes mine is a little slow on start-up, but if you're having major problems it can probably be fixed with few changes in your settings. If it's using all your ram because you have to many tabs open, download configuration mania add-on, and under session store, set the save interval as high as it will go. On the rare occasion when your browser crashes it won't save your session, but who needs it, you have bookmarks and history.

Greenknight_z
Greenknight_z

It's just an extra click or two. I don't know why they moved it, though.

mudpuppy1
mudpuppy1

Don't know what happened to you, but when I started FF 5 after the update, the first thing it did was want to update Flash. I let it and everything is fine.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Odd, i've the latest flash plugin behaving fine here I think. Youtube and Vimeo both pushed clean video through the flash wrapper far as I can tell. I gather you've tried already but maybe reinstall the latest flash plugin? Else, it's possible I've just been lucky in missing that particular bug.

rpb_
rpb_

I currently have 26 tabs open, and Firefox takes an age (i.e. many, many seconds) to start up and shut down, and starts to hang when opening new links, etc. It gobbles up memory and my PC starts to swap. The main problem I find is that Firefox would be fine if it was the only thing running on my PC (32-bit Windows Vista, 3GB available RAM). However, I also need Visual Studio 2010 running on a large solution (which eats memory) and Lotus Notes for company email/database, and it is this combination that means the available memory for a browser is limited, and Firefox's profligate memory usage causes me grief. Chrome also gobbles up memory, but at least it starts up in the twinkling of an eye and then eats up all my memory with its tabs, compared to Firefox, which starts up very slowly and then eats all my memory. Often, to get everything else running, I need to shut down the browser to free up some memory, so startup time is very important.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I start around 122 tabs on news review mornings. depending on what tabs remain open, I start to see pauses. The browser will freezed for upwards of a minute before it figures out it's resources or whatever the issue. It's to the point now where I just go back to something else and check in with it in five to see if it response to mouse clicks again. Now after skimming the monday morning news I'm down to fifteen tabs and 415 meg of ram consumed. No pauses yet so maybe FF5 includes some cleanup in the resource management area. We'll see as time progresses though.

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

I use Firefox under Linux and it's much quicker than anything under Windows, but even Firefox under Windows have won the hearts of my clients based primarily on the fast boot up speed. Can someone with the slow firefox startup please give us your system, OS, and plugin specs?

rengek
rengek

For me the biggest downside to FF over the last 2 years is how much slower it has gotten to start up even with no plug-ins at all. I always thought it was the plugs ins over time that made the browser take longer to start. But when I built out a new PC and loaded FF for the first time I realized it was FF itself. As for your test, I think it really depends on what you are testing and how you are doing your test. The main difference I can tell is javascript. I can test it out pretty easily from personal development. But if you are testing out with a site that only has a short page of javascript you're not really going to notice a difference. But if you run a page that has heavy javascript you will notice that its not as fast as chrome. Thats not to say FF is slow. It just hasn't kept up with the competition.

Slayer_
Slayer_

What the hell is it doing, trying to cure cancer? I Have huge games that require less memory, and I guarantee they have a lot more code than firefox.

mudpuppy1
mudpuppy1

I'm reading this in Firefox 5, so I did a little experiment. With 10 tabs open, Firefox was using 366,000K. I closed 5 of them, memory dropped to 266,000K. I closed and re-opened FF. Memory was at 75,000K until I clicked 'Restore previous session.' Then it went to 221,000K with 5 tabs open. Now, it's creeped up to about 245,000K. YMMV. Also, I have only a few add-ons. I like FF and have been using it since 0.9 days. If I changed browsers every time one overtook another, I'd be changing every day (slight exaggeration), I'll just stick with FF.