Mozilla cuts Firefox's tab groups and complete themes

Firefox is doing away with features that aren't used by many and take a lot of effort to maintain.


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Mozilla wants to reduce the number of little-used features in Firefox in order to move faster when it comes to rolling out new stuff. To that end, Firefox will lose two features in the near future, but to hear Mozilla tell it, only a few people will actually miss them.

First up is tab groups, a feature first introduced in 2011 with Firefox 4 (back when those version numbers truly mattered). The idea behind Tab Groups was to take a bunch of webpages and group them together kind of like app folders on your smartphone.

Then when you need those pages, you click on the tab group and they appear. You can create a morning tab group, for example, that opens your email and collaborative documents when you get into the office. Tab Groups can also be used to keep numerous tabs organized during research.

While Tab Groups sounds good on paper, Mozilla says not many people were using the feature. “Tab Groups was an experiment to help users deal with large numbers of tabs,” Dave Camp, Firefox’s director of engineering, told VentureBeat, which first reported on the demise of the feature. “Very few people chose to use it, so we are retiring it.”

Why this matters: Firefox is a very good browser, but it often seems behind the curve compared to the frantic pace and new features coming to Google Chrome. Making some hard choices about how Firefox works and where Mozilla spends its energies is probably long overdue. Mozilla says it plans on dumping features that have few users but take up significant time and effort to maintain and improve. The open source organization is using the internal name “great-or-dead” for this effort.

No more heavy themes


The Walnut complete theme for Firefox.

Mozilla is also getting rid of complete or “heavyweight” themes, as reported in early November by The Windows Club. When installed, complete themes overhaul pretty much every aspect of Firefox’s visual chrome (all the browser stuff that isn’t the webpage). The change will not dump lightweight themes that just add color or an image to the top of the Firefox window.

On a bugtracking thread on Mozilla’s site, Mozilla senior engineering manager Benjamin Smedberg says Firefox lightweight themes may get some added features from complete themes, such as the ability to change icons or colors of the entire browser. Smedberg hopes to have a revised plan for Firefox themes by December.

In addition to user-facing features, Firefox also wants to move away from its XUL and XBL markup languages. These Mozilla-specific tools are used to change how interface elements in Firefox look and behave. Mozilla hopes to replace them with native web technologies.

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