Mozilla has decided that tabs will appear above the address bar by default in Firefox 4.0. The tab positioning debate has raged for years, but the organization has determined that on-top is the most logical arrangement.
Until now, the browser vendors have been fairly evenly split. Opera 7 was one of the first browsers to feature tabs — they were positioned above the address bar although the back, forward, refresh and home icons were above the tabs. Opera 10 now has tabs at the top.
Google Chrome went further than most vendors and replaced the window title with a tab bar. Apple tried a similar arrangement in the Safari 4 beta, but abandoned the idea and returned to tabs below the address bar in all subsequent versions.
Microsoft position tabs below all the other controls, although I suspect the IE7/8 interface was designed by committee. Let’s hope they address it in IE9.
Firefox had tabs below the address bar since the early Phoenix days and, although there are many tab extensions, there aren’t many which rearrange the position.
Mozilla cite four main reasons for their change of opinion:
- The conceptual model: the address bar and controls apply to the current tab.
- App tabs: like Chrome, Firefox 4.0 will allow you pin small regularly-used tabs to the tab bar. The address bar and other controls will be removed for these web applications.
- Tab-based UI: Firefox 4.0 will show windows such as downloads and the bookmarks organizer in tabs. It makes no sense to have the address bar and other controls visible.
- Notifications: some error and warning messages now appear below the address bar.
I’m sure Chrome and Opera also influenced their thinking.
The downside is the increased mouse distance to the tabs. However, it’s possibly easier to select tabs at the top of a window which is positioned at the screen edge.
Mozilla has asked for feedback and is undertaking usability testing. They have provided a page with a video and screenshots and, so far, the response has been mostly positive. You should also note that it will be possible to change the Firefox configuration if you prefer tabs below the address bar or can’t adapt to the new layout.
Should browser tabs be above or below the address bar? Please cast your vote on the SitePoint home page or leave your comment below.
Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.