Favourite Firefox Four Feature FAIL!

I’ve been playing about with the beta of Firefox 4 for a little while now, and I wanted to tell you about a feature that I thought was absolutely amazing, until it turned out that it was a bug and they “fixed” it. This feature is made possible by a handful of other new tools that are coming into Firefox in this new version:

  1. App tabs. You’re now able to turn tabs into small tabs which sit at the left-hand side.
  2. Tab groups. You can “group” your tabs and display only a subset of them at once.

I run with a lot of tabs open most of the time. Not so many as Ruth, but a good number. These can be divided into three major categories: those related to my work with SmartData, those related to my work with Three Rings, and those related to my freelance work and my personal websurfing. Since an early beta of Firefox 4, I discovered that I could do this:

  1. Group all of my SmartData/Three Rings/personal tabs into tab groups, accordingly.
  2. This includes the webmail tab for each of them, which is kept as an App Tab – so my SmartData webmail is an app tab which is in the SmartData tab group, for example.
  3. Then – and here’s the awesome bit – a can switch between my tab groups just be clicking on the relevant app tab!

Time to do some SmartData work? I just click the SmartData webmail app tab and there’s my e-mail, and the rest of the non-app tabs transform magically into my work-related tabs: development versions of the sites I’m working on, relevant APIs, and so on. Time to clock off for lunch? I click on the personal webmail tab, look at my e-mail, and magically all of the other tabs are my personal ones – my RSS feeds, the forum threads I’m following, and so on. Doing some Three Rings work in the evening? I can click the Three Rings webmail tab and check my mail, and simultaneously the browser presents me with the Three Rings related tabs I was working on last, too. It was fabulous.

Firefox 4 app tabs

The other day, Firefox 4 beta 7 was released, and this functionality didn’t work any more. Now app tabs aren’t associated with particular tab groups any longer: they’re associated with all tab groups. This means:

  • I can’t use the app tabs to switch tab group, because they don’t belong to tab groups any more, and
  • I can’t fix this by making them into regular tabs, because then they won’t all be shown.

I’m painfully familiar about what happens when people treat a bug as a feature. Some years ago, a University Nightline were using a bug in Three Rings  as a feature, and were outraged when we “fixed” it. Eventually, we had to provide a workaround so that they could continue to use the buggy behaviour that they’d come to depend upon.

So please, Mozilla – help me out here and at least make an about:config option that I can switch on to make app tabs belong to specific tab groups again (but still be always visible). It was such an awesome feature, and it saddens me that you made it by mistake.

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