I spent an hour testing the new Panorama (aka Tab Candy) in the last nightly of Firefox and I have a few thoughts to share about it:
- it's not ironed yet (no tooltips, apparently low accessibility, tabgroup close buttons sometimes unresponsive at least on my Mac and w/o :hover effect) but hey that's a beta so no worries here; I loved the fact you have "magnetic lines" on the panorama viewport to make sure your groups nicely align.
- this is not a criticism but I find pretty amazing that we're moving back to some kind of UI/UX Opera offered long ago on Windows with their MDI desktop browser. With real zoom being available in Gecko, the Panorama view could be live... I mean the current canvas screenshots could be real live zoomed-out browser and then we have almost MDI again.
- no journalist noticed but the Panorama view is not a XUL view. It's based on HTML. It's one of the first times a major, shipped-in-the-browser and differenciating new feature of Firefox is entirely based on HTML from a UI perspective and not on XUL. This is very nice. Very nice but it has a bad side effect related to extensibility, because the current extensibility system in Mozilla (hear overlays) does not apply here. Creating then an add-on adding specific stuff to the Panorama view itself seems to be harder than expected.
- at first glance, having the app suddenly turning into a big grey area w/o menubar or toolbars or decorations feels really weird. I really wondered if it was a bug. The next item proposes a way to fix that issue.
- I think the UX could be improved in particular now we have canvas, CSS transitions and super powerful effects. The transition normalview-to-Panorama could be smoother with a better dissolution of menubar/toolbars and expansion of tabs into tab thumbnails ; probably requires a lot of work but would make the whole think better understandable, in particular the fact you see only one Tab Group at a time. Similarly, the panorama-to-normal transition is not smooth enough; that's partly because zooming from 0.1 to 1 blurs things a lot but that's also because reflows are not fluid enough and only one viewport expands and not the chrome. The selected tab could also expand while the rest of the Panorama view dissolves. Anyway, I'm just thinking out loud here but the fluidity of the whole thing can be improved and that would really help the user understand what's going on.
- I do like the concept a lot. I have mixed feelings about it though because after an hour using it and having six Tab Groups set up, I ended up having too many times to go back to the Panorama View w/o really needing it. The Panorama View then becomes de facto a focal point of the application and I'm not sure this is desirable. This is a browser after all and Panorama is only, IMHO, a helper feature. It can sound like a minor comment but I don't think it is since Panorama drastically changes the gravity center of the whole app and this the kind of things average users are easily lost with. Here are a few ideas (again, thinking out loud here) to possibly fix that issue or at least decrease its importance (these ideas are not mutually exclusive):
- add an option/UI allowing to directly cycle not only between the currently shown tabs but between tab groups (if it already exists, I did not find it, sorry)
- offer the choice (hear a pref) between show-only-one-tab-group-in-normal-view and show-all-tabs-anyway-in-normal-view ; with the latter, Panorama is only a supplementary enhanced tab list not interfering with a browser behaviour users have been dealing with for years.