Group Tabs in Firefox for Greater Web Productivity

Mozilla’s Firefox web browser now includes a feature that some of you out there might find useful. First, though, I think it makes sense to say a few words about browser choice more broadly.

Web Browser Statistics from Wikimedia contributor Daniel.CardenasRight now the ongoing “browser wars” are dominated by three options, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE), Mozilla’s Firefox, and Google’s Chrome. In the last few years Chrome has been steadily eating away at IE’s market dominance while Firefox remained fairly stable at around 30 percent of the market. There are other options out there, most of which have small but very devoted user bases. But for our purposes I’ll just address the big three.

So as you probably guessed from the title of this post, I’m a Firefox user. For now I’m locked into that choice because I use Zotero, a Firefox add-on, to organize my research. Currently the fine folks at the Rozenwig Center for History and New Media are hard at work on a standalone version of Zotero that will allow it to work with other browsers. But since I’m not willing to trust my dissertation research to the currently available Beta version of that system, I’ll happily keep using Firefox for my web needs. And, frankly, when a standalone version of Zotero is ready for prime time, I suspect that I’ll remain a Firefox user. Here’s three reasons why:

  • First, Firefox’s main draw for me beyond Zotero is the high level of customizability offered by Firefox add-ons. Both Chrome and, to a lesser extent, IE offer add-on options but right now the Firefox community provides many more ways to spruce up your browsing experience.
  • Second, I think it is important to recognize that Firefox is an open-source project produced by Mozilla, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the internet as a public good. That a nonprofit can even compete against the likes of Microsoft and Google seems more amazing with every passing day. It’s definitely the type of work that deserves our support.
  • Finally, the Firefox team has recently stepped up their development and release cycle. For a while there, Chrome’s developers at Google had been pumping out new features much faster than the folks at Mozilla. This made Firefox seem stagnant as months went by between major releases. That changed this summer when Mozilla took a page from Google’s book and adopted a release cycle that favors incremental change over grouping many features into a big dramatic release. As a result we’ve seen new features come out in the past few months along with back-end upgrades that have improved Firefox’s performance.

Tab Groups

The August release of Firefox version 6.0 included a feature that I’ve found very useful. The browser now allows you to create groups of tabs. If, like me, you are the sort of web user who ends up with many open tabs at a given time, sorting them into groups can greatly improve your web experience. You access the different groups by clicking a button on the menu bar or by pressing Ctrl+Shift+E. That action brings up a set of boxes showing you all your groups and listing the tabs open in each. The screenshot below shows the three groups I’ve been working with recently.

Tab Group Screenshot

In the upper right corner, I’ve got a group of tabs that I’m referencing as I write my current dissertation chapter. It’s full of Google Books entries, Congressional documents, and historical newspaper clippings. I’ve also got a group of tabs that I’m using as I prepare and send off materials for my job search. And finally, I’ve created a group for all the other miscellaneous tabs I need at the moment. Mostly this group contains pages I visited while researching this post.

For me, the utility of grouping my tabs comes from the fact that the browser displays only one group at any given time. By separating my tabs out into these groups, I’m able to concentrate my attention on one subject or project at a time. It also frees up real estate in the tab bar so I don’t have to scan through three rows of tabs whenever I try to find a particular article or website.

In order to get started with tab groups, check out this how-to page from Mozilla. They’ve got a video explaining the very simple process as well as step-by-step text instructions.

Bonus Tip

Those of you with slow computers or sluggish internet connections might be wondering how many agonizing minutes it takes for my browser to start up and load the the dozens of tabs I keep open. I get around that problem with a very easy tweak to the Firefox settings. This change tells Firefox to only load the active tab (the one you are looking at) when it loads up. It still remembers your other tabs but it doesn’t actually load their content until you click on them to view them. Unfortunately this setting isn’t a part of the regular settings menu. You have to dig down a bit further to make this tweak. Here’s how…

  • First, type “about:config” in the address bar and press enter. This gives you get access to all of the software’s internal settings.
  • Click past Mozilla’s warning message.
  • Type “browser.sessionstore.max_concurrent_tabs” in the filter field at the top of the screen.
  • Double-click on the setting with that name and change its value to zero.
  • Now either use the back button to leave the about:config menu or simply close that tab. Then restart Firefox for the change to take place.

Let us know in the comments if you’ve discovered ways to make your web browsing experience more efficient or productive. And happy browsing!

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