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Mozilla Moves Tabs to the Top for Firefox 4

Firefox fans, your tabs are headed for the top of the browser. Opera started it, Safari flirted with it, Chrome brought it to the masses and now Mozilla is falling in line as well — Firefox 4 will feature the tabs above the URL bar by default.

Alex Faaborg, Mozilla’s Principal Designer on Firefox, has posted a short video explaining why tabs on top will be the default look for Firefox in Firefox 4, set to arrive at the end of 2010.

Before you panic, bear in mind that the location of tabs will still be a preference. No one is forcing you to use the new tabs on top look, but that will be the look for new installations of Firefox.

Frankly, after watching Faaborg’s video, which outlines the four main reasons that led to Mozilla’s decision to switch, we’re hard pressed to offer a counter argument. As Faaborg says in the video, the change is less about a trend and more about the evolution of the web as a platform.

Here are Mozilla’s reasons for moving tabs above the URL bar:

  • Conceptual model — The URL bar contains state information about the tab, therefore it makes more sense to place the URL bar within the tab. Visually, having the tab above the bar makes the URL bar part of the tab.
  • App tabs — App tabs are smaller, semi-permanent tabs designed to hold web applications you want to keep open all the time — Gmail, Facebook, Pandora, etc. App tabs are coming in Firefox 4. Because app tabs don’t really need a URL, having tabs on top makes it easier to display the app tab without a URL bar.
  • The new tab-based Firefox UI — Firefox 4 will move Firefox’s dialog boxes into the browser window itself. For example, the add-ons manager is now just a page displayed in a tab. As with app tabs, there’s no need to display the URL bar.
  • Notification — Firefox 4 will have a new panel-based notification system. Small overlay windows drop down from the URL bar giving you an easy way to log in to sites or authorize geolocation requests. Tabs below the URL bar will be hidden by these overlays, making it impossible to see or interact with other tabs at the same time.

While Faaborg doesn’t mention it and the mockups he uses don’t take advantage of it, tabs on top also use less screen real estate — at least if they’re designed like those in Google Chrome. Because Chrome’s tabs are nearly flush with the top of the application window, there’s a bit of extra room on the screen. It’s not a huge amount of space, but it really can make a difference on small netbook screens.

Still not convinced? Well, you’ll always have the option to revert to the old, tabs-below-the-URL-bar look, but check out the video below to see if Faaborg doesn’t convince you that tabs on top are the way to go.

Keep in mind that everything Faaborg shows in the video is still in the mockup stage and will no doubt change a bit before it works its way into Firefox 4.

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