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Vertical tabs and why Firefox is the new hotness (again)
3 min read

Vertical tabs and why Firefox is the new hotness (again)

A few weeks ago Microsoft announced that vertical tabs were coming to its Edge browser later this summer. (Yep, MS has a browser called Edge, and it, like everything else these days, is Chrome under the hood.) This news, together with a recent off-hand comment from a friend, got me thinking about vertical tabs again. But let’s be crystal clear here: I never really stopped thinking about them. 🥰

It must be over a decade ago now, maybe 15 years, since Opera introduced vertical tabs, and listen to me when I tell you this: they were a goddamn revelation. But, at some point, none of us used Opera anymore, and I think they eventually yanked vertical tabs besides. Now that it’s based on Chrome, the only options are poorly-integrated extensions. (The young bloods will say it’s fake, but back in the day Opera was all about power-user features.)

Anyway…

Why the hell don’t any of the major browsers currently support native vertical tabs? It’s insanity. Everyone knows that vertical tabs make more sense—I mean, you do keep your Dock vertical (and hidden), right?

One of the many virtues of vertical tabs is that you can glean much more information from them. I suspect that most of us these days have so many tabs open that the only information we can garner from the actual tabs is the favicons. (A very fun fact: Safari didn’t support favicons until 2018.) And this is especially grating when the favicon is the same for more than one tab; for example, if you rely heavily on Google Docs, you might have 10 tabs with the same favicon. Useless.

With vertical tabs you can make the tab list as wide as you want, and thus can fit the favicon plus portions (if not all) of the document title. In addition, if implemented with some thought, you could have new tabs nest under their parent tab.

As an example, if you’re like me, researching anything usually entails opening background tabs for every link on the page you’re currently reading. Now, imagine all of the “background” tabs being nested automatically under the current one, and then being able to act on that collection of tabs. Collapse them. Open them in a new window. Close them. Sort them. Go nuts.

Brave → Firefox

I’ve been using Brave for a few years now and absolutely love it. It is Chrome, but with a genuine focus on privacy and security. That said, the options for vertical tabs (i.e., Chrome’s options for vertical tabs) are shit and right now that’s all that matters. Lucky for us though, there’s another browser similarly focused on privacy and security, and this one has some vertical tab goodness. Sort of.

Enter Tree Style Tab for Firefox. It’s an add-on that does all of the things mentioned above, plus it lets you choose whether you want the list on the right or left, amongst 100+ other options (seriously). It’s fantastic and has convinced me to uproot my entire life and move to Firefox. (Remember back in the day when this was something us geeks did basically with every version update, and liked it? 🤪)

(I’m still using Brave as a single-site browser for Roam, at least until Firefox allows SSB’s to hide all irrelevant chrome.)

If, after implementing Tree Style Tabs you'd like to hide the horizontal tab bar (so you don't have two lists of tabs), it's super simple:

Jump into your Firefox profile directory, create /chrome/userChrome.css, and add the following CSS to it.

#TabsToolbar { visibility: collapse !important; }

Toggle toolkit.legacyUserProfileCustomizations.stylesheets to true using about:config and then restart Firefox. Boom, no horizontal tabs!

Pocket and Firefox

I know you're wondering, "Does he ever miss a chance to talk about Pocket?" Nope. I'll take it every time.

Firefox now has native support for Pocket. That’s great and all, but there are effectively zero usability options. You can fart around in about:config, but it’s kind of a crap shoot and I’ve found nothing that moves the needle for me.

Did a little searching, and it turns out I wasn't the only one less than impressed with Firefox’s implementation. A knight in shining armor named Pierre-Adrien Buisson was too, and he created the In My Pocket extension to fix everything. It has all the features I want/need, including:

  • Show unread count in address bar icon (it’s called masochism, look it up)
  • Add to Pocket from address bar
  • Add to Pocket from contextual menus
  • Don't block when adding to Pocket (from either the address bar or contextual menus); the native add-on throws up a tiny window that includes suggested tags, which further slows down everything (especially infuriating if you don’t use tags)

Once you’ve got all of that set up, you can turn off the native Pocket add-on (including all of the chrome) by using about:config to toggle extensions.pocket.enabled to false.

Anyway, the point is, vertical tabs. Check ‘em out.

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