Firefox3.1/control tab

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This will be the main page of reference for the design of Ctrl+Tab, a new feature for Firefox 3.1, and will be kept up to date with any changes.


Ctrl+Tab is a new feature for Firefox 3.1, based on Dao Gottwald's Ctrl+Tab Add-on. It will allow users to navigate their open tabs visually, textually, and through quick-switching.

The design of Ctrl+Tab will integrate as closely as possible with the operating system it is running on. Where possible, it will imitate the design and interaction of existing OS-level preview modes (such as Control+Tab on OSX).

Use Cases

Name Description Recall Method Limit
Quick-switcher The user wants to switch to a tab they've used recently. Either they know exactly what order it's in, for instance switching back and forth between two items, or the know it was very recent but need to confirm the order. Short term memory 7 +-2 items
Visual seeker The user knows roughly what a window looks like, but they don't remember the name of it. They're searching for key visual elements they remember, such as a big logo or a green background. Visual Longer search time the smaller the thumbnails, can be stumped by similar looking tabs
Text seeker The user knows the domain or title ("awesomebar info") of their tab. They could be looking for a site they use frequently ("slashdot"), or they might remember the content of a page that was opened awhile ago ("that article had 'bacon' in the title"). This user might know exactly that the tab looks like, but because of similar tabs they know a text search will be most efficient (ie finding that one Bugzilla page out of all the others). Long-term memory, terms that "stick out" Needs quick access to text field, thumbnails are useless until search query made
Text and visual seeker This is the user that knows that tabs is somewhere, but doesn't remember it fully. It could be that they opened it so long ago that they forgotten what it looks like, or they remember part of the title but not enough to limit the search to one. Short and Longterm Needs to be able to scan through all tabs easily
Browser This is a user who opens many tabs at once. It could be that they see tabs as "to-do" items for later, or open tabs to look at when they're bored, or simply never close their tabs and offload memory to keeping content open. This user may also want to delete certain tabs, or find that FIrefox is running slowly and want to delete many at once. none Needs to be able to delete items easily and quickly without opening them

Design Specification

Ctrl+Tab will consist of two different "modes" which cater to different use cases:

Topic Quick-Switch Mode All-Tabs Mode
Which use cases caters to Quick-switcher Text seeker, Text and Visual Seeker, and Browser
How window is called Command+Tab Button on chrome interface, key command (not yet specified)
How window is dismissed Releasing Control ("temporary" state) Clicking outside of the window ("persistent" state)
Features Allows user to quickly navigate back to their last 7 +-2 MRU tabs and switch to All-Tabs mode Allows user to view all of their tabs, search tabs using text query, close tabs
Pagination TDB yes (at least 12 thumbnails per page)


Original Proposal


The original proposal of Control+Tab consisted of two similar modes, with the level of transparency marking the difference between All+Tabs and Quick+Qwitch. The number of thumbnails did not change between modes.

First Landing Results

Ctrl+Tab landed and was tested in a where Quick-Switch Mode and All-Tabs mode were very similar - each showed 9 thumbnails, and the only UX difference between the two was that All-Tabs was dismissed by letting go of Control+Tab and was a lighter grey than All+Tabs. Clicking the text box of Quick-Switch would turn Quick-Switch into All+Tabs.

Ctrl+Tab in this landing was not wholly finished and contained some glitches, but valuable feedback was still received:

  • 9 thumbnails is too few for All-Tabs
  • The landed thumbnails were too big (roughly 200px width)
  • An inconsistent ordering of tabs is confusing. For this iteration the first seven tabs of All+Tabs were in MRU order, and the rest were in tab order. Several people found this confusing, wondering what order the rest of the tabs were in and if it would matter. This lead to the decision to keep the tabs in MRU order for 3.1.
  • Some users didn't like MRU ordering and wanted tab ordering instead. This is primarily because the key command control+tab in Firefox has long been a linear switch of tabs in tab order, and it is an interaction many users have become very accustomed to. While tab-ordering will not likely be a part of the 3.1 release, the potential of allowing users to specify the order tabs are displayed in is being considered.
  • Ctrl+Tab was too slow. Even mousing over different thumbnails showed significant delay

New Beltzner Proposal

  • Change quick-switch mode to a filmstrip with 7+-2 tabs and a button with which to enter all-tabs mode
  • Add slight delay to call of Quick-Switch so quick-switching can be done without the window flickering
  • "Ctrl-shift-tab" keypress should instantly switch to the "Show all N tabs" button, and thus the tabsearch UI; currently if you hold down ctrl-shift-tab to invoke quickswitch, a bug is triggered where the tab movement is inverted from standard (continuing to hold shift while pressing tab moves forewards, releasing shift and pressing tab moves backwards)