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.