Archive for August, 2008

New Control+Tab Discussion Thread

Thanks everyone for contributing to the discussion on Control+Tab on my posts here and here. We’re going to be making the main thread of discussion from now on here, in dev.apps.firefox’s Google Group, so all the conversation going on in bugs & blogs can come together as we narrow down the design space to the final solution. I encourage everyone who commented earlier will continue to join in!

Tab View vs. Application View

I posted on Wednesday about why the new Control+Tab feature should be changed so that it both displays all tabs and looks native to whatever operating system it is displayed on. To make the point of the importance of native look and feel, I posted Control+Tab as it would look designed exactly like Cmd+Tab on OSX.

With that image I wanted to make the point that looking native to the OS is important.  The final visual design of Control+Tab would need to factor in the differences between tab and application preview. So, here’s the version I’d actually like to see be in 3.1. Labels have been added to tabs, so that a user can perform textual as well as visual search. This is especially useful when tabs can look similar (application preview rarely results in indistinguishable icons). Also, I’ve decreased the opacity so that the text can be read on multiple backgrounds. This new opacity is the same as OSX’s opacity in “Quick Look” mode. I suspect that Quick Look is darker than Command+Tab for exactly this reason – text is displayed throughout Quick Look mode.

Also, being able to close tabs from this preview mode I believe is important. I suspect a use case will be that if the user has too many tabs open, accessing this Control+Tab preview will be a quick way for them to close the tabs they are done with without having to navigate to them individually. Because the user would only close a tab that they are targeting, the close icon does not appear on a tab until the user has targeted it.

Windows’ preview mode already has text, so the design there would be very similar to current Alt+Tab.

Tabs Want to be Seen

I’ve been posting lately about how browsing in Firefox could be greatly enhanced with visual navigation. Last month, I posted about Control+Tab, a new Firefox 3.1 feature which is the first step in this direction. Now, let’s take another step by improving Control+Tab to meet the needs of more users.

Design for everyone is hard…

The hardest thing about designing for Firefox is that the solutions have to meet the needs of everyone, and everyone is different. There are generalizations that can be made about how humans tend to behave, but each person works and even thinks differently – even from moment to moment. So, good designs for Firefox should support different ways of working and thinking.

An issue with the current design of Control+Tab is that it supports one way of working but neglects others. For people that often switch between two tabs, this is an excellent quick key-stroke. But for people who switch between three or four or hundreds of tabs, it isn’t very efficient. A better system would adapt as a user’s browsing session changes and allow for multiple modes of use, drawing on the many ways our memory encodes and recalls items.

…let’s go shopping (for existing solutions)!

If you’re on Windows or Gnome/KDE, hit Alt+Tab (Cmd+Tab on Mac). What you should see is a visual preview of your running windows or applications, and likely in most-recently-used order. This display does some important things that the new Control+Tab feature doesn’t. Most importantly, it allows for visual search as well as quick-switching. If your last used item is in your short-term memory, it’s a quick keystroke to flip back to it – just like Control+Tab. However, if you have an idea of what something looks like, just visually scan to the match. If your item is recent, tab over to it – if not select it with your cursor. Another benefit of this system is that it gives you a survey of your whole inventory so you can get a sense of not only what kinds of items are open, but how much content there is.  This is a positive solution for operating systems, and I believe it’s a positive solution for Firefox too.

This method even integrates well with operating system seach: Cmd, Alt, and Ctrl are all near each other, so you change between OS-wide and browser-wide preview by a shift of the thumb. It could also be designed to have a visual look identical to the current OS previews.

This new version would also solve some of the general problems with Control+Tab, such as only showing three previews at once and having to wait for distracting animations. Also, by introducing grid-view, the linear view of Control+Tab would no longer compete visually with the linear list of tabs in the shelf chrome.

This is, like the previous Control-Tab, is only a step in the right direction. There will be plenty more to do from here. For instance, application icons are recognizable and therefore don’t need labels – tabs probably do. There are also ways to enable search and content organization from this window eventually – but I’ll blog about that later. For now, I just want to continue the discussion on Control+Tab that’s currently going on in bugs and hopefully reach a consensus on what to build for 3.1.