Firefox 4 has entered the home stretch. The recent release of beta 8 added the last of the major new features for Firefox 4, including a new add-ons interface, better syncing and more hardware accelerated WebGL support. From now until the final release later this year, Firefox development will primarily focus on squashing bugs and refining the user interface.
The Firefox 4 UX roadmap outlines the user interface changes that Mozilla is hoping to complete before Firefox 4 is released. Most of the changes are very small — improving the contrast of the type in the URL bar or tweaking the session restore dialog — but there’s one welcome change in the list that many Firefox fans have been clamoring for — tabs in the titlebar.
The idea of saving screen real estate by smashing tabs up into the title bar of the browser windows started with Google Chrome and has since been copied by other browsers and applications.
It’s a tiny tweak, probably not more than a few dozen pixels are saved, but it can make all the difference when you’re using a netbook or other small screen device. Putting tabs at the top of the browser window also adheres to Fitts’ law, which says that the closer things are to the edge of the screen, the easier they are to click.
In Firefox’s case Fitts’ law seems to be the main reason for the new look — tabs are only pushed into the title bar when the window is maximized, making it easier to flick the cursor to the top of the screen and click a tab.
The new tabs-in-the-title-bar look is expected to arrive in Firefox 4 beta 9 (which will be the next release in Firefox’s beta cycle), but you can preview it today by grabbing a special build of Firefox for Windows and Linux. The builds are the work of Firefox developer Bill Gianopoulos, and as such are not official releases nor are they supported by Mozilla.
Also bear in mind that the code used to create these experimental versions of Firefox comes from Firefox’s nightly builds, which means there may be more bugs than you’ll find in the latest Firefox beta. That said, these builds worked just fine for us on Windows 7 and XP.
If you’ve got a small screen or have been looking for a way to make Firefox’s tabs a bit more like Google Chrome’s, grab the experimental builds. If you prefer to wait for something official, Firefox 4 beta 9 should be released in the relatively near future.