Firefox tabs move to the top

Tabs on top — Safari got in on the trend, then dropped out. Chrome jumped in, did it better, and stuck with it. Now here comes Firefox 4.

But before we look at what Firefox is up to, let’s take a stroll down memory lane. Here’s what Safari looked like with tabs on top.

Safari with tabs on top

The tabs went all the way up to the top edge — and this was their downfall. People would grab at the top of the browser window if they wanted to move it, and in the process click on a tab they didn’t want. And if you wanted to move a tab, you had to zero in on a grab bar at the right — another nuisance.

If Apple coudn’t get it right, then who could? How about Google. First of all, the tabs in Chrome don’t go all the way to the top, so you still have grabbing space. Plus, you can click anywhere on a tab to move it. And to top things off, an X to close the tab is always visible. With Safari, you have to hover to find it — a leftover from its tabs-on-top days.


Now we have Firefox joining in with the beta version of the upcoming version 4. As is often the case, Firefox has a utilitarian feel to it. The tabs have two rounded corners — the minimal effort needed to indicate that they are indeed tabs. Chrome’s tabs are more stylin’, but that’s not just eye candy. The tabs overlap each other slightly to make it more obvious which one is in the foreground.

Firefox 4

On the other hand, the Firefox tabs stay well away from the top edge of the window, giving you a good 24 pixels to glom onto. Chrome only allows about half this amount. That extra space in Firefox also allows for insertion of the name of the site. Chrome is too cramped for this feature.

But there are tradeoffs. Chrome, overall, takes up less space with its tabs, tool bar and bookmarks bar, leaving more space for the content below. We’re talking about a difference of about five pixels less than Firefox and Safari. Is this enough to be considered a feature? Hard to say.

Another tradeoff is that the Firefox tabs fit under the traffic lights in the top left corner. This means you have more horizontal space for open tabs to march across the window.

Firefox 4 vs. Chrome — widget positioning

Firefox 4 and Safari do have one thing in common. If the name of a website is too long, they will cut it off with an elipsis. Chrome uses a nice fade. One last touch in Chrome’s favour is that hovering over a tab highlights it.

Safari 5

Firefox currently stands out from the crowd when it comes to moving tabs. Instead of a simple slide, a thumbnail image appears as you start moving the tab. You can then move the image to the position you prefer, as indicated by a blue vertical line that appears between other tabs. It’s an interesting idea — you get to literally see what it is you’re moving. But I find it more disturbing than helpful.

Moving a Firefox 4 tab

So is Firefox getting it right? They’re close, but they could learn a few tricks from Chrome. The best idea is keeping the tabs below the top-left widgets, leaving space for window grabbing, the name of the site, and more tabs. But it would be nice to see highlight-hovers and a bit more overlap for the foremost tab. And dump the thumbnails for tab moves.


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Comments are open

  1. Actually Chrome had tabs on top from day one, which is where Apple got the idea from.

  2. I must have a faulty memory. Anyhoo, I’ve amended the story.

  3. Actually, all of them get it wrong. But it’s not their fault. Google got it right with Chrome on Windows, by obeying Fitts’ Law — they allowed users to “throw” their mouse at the top edge of the screen, where there is an infinite amount of pixels.

    Unfortunately, Apple’s menu bar is always situated at the top of the display; hence, not the developers’ fault (that they disobeyed Fitts’ Law, which is takes precedence over “grabbing space,” which is actually fairly low on a users’ list of common in-browser actions).

    The only solution I see would be to put the tabs on the bottom of the display, but then that would force the user to move the dock to either the left or right edges of the display. Not a lot of wiggle room here, hopefully at some point we’ll see tabs flush against the top edge sooner than later.

    Tyler Hayes