Mozilla: Designing Firefox 3.2


In January 2000, T-Online asked us what we’d do if we could design a browser from scratch. Our answer was “Tabs”. Eight years later Aza Raskin, head of user experience at Mozilla Labs, asked me what I think a new tab should look like. The answer after days of mailing back and forth: “Forget tabs!”

Before you get a heart attack: This sketch is not about eliminating tabs, but trying to reduce them by offering a file system (instead of a blank screen) in each new tab:

Tabs worked well on slow machines on a thin Internet, where ten browser sessions were “many browser sessions”. Today, twenty+ parallel sessions is 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. If you have more than seven or eight tabs open they become pretty much useless. Also, God said that tabs don’t work 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. For the overall organization of your browsing, a cloud file system works much better.

To be clear: It’s not what Safari or Chrome do. The idea is not to show screen shots but to turn the browser into a media system organizer more than a media display application. Instead of structuring a browser to keep the screen tidy for the moment, we thought that it’d be awesome to structure the browser as a (multi media) file system. Like iTunes. With predefined folders. Like OSX. So whenever you open a new tab you see what you last saw in your iTunes, uhm, Firefox library.

Yeah, yeah, I know... But, hey, in spite of its flaws, iTunes does a good job as a multimedia file system. In my library of tens of thousands of songs it never takes me more than five seconds to find the song that I am looking for. I want to find my websites as fast as that. If you combine search (URL bar) and sort with a thought through file structure things should get fast and simple.

Of course, we couldn’t resist building in more nice-to-have-candies in our mockup:

  1. A previous/next button next to the URL bar (in Firefox lingo: “Awesome Bar”) to flip through the RSS feed of the website you’re on.
  2. A full screen modus, where the useless top menu disappears and the browser becomes what it is: A new OS layer.
  3. A tab modus to still keep the screen tidy for the moment if things get messy ;-)
  4. Integrate RSS without mentioning the notion “RSS” (the word RSS is its own spell).
  5. Automatically categorized and filed bookmarks, surf lists, statistics, and and and...

This initial screen is full of flaws, but it does what it does what it needs to do; it shows the idea. We’re eager to hear your comments below or through twitter.

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