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Chrome for Mac tries graphical tab management

Like Mozilla's Panorama, Chrome "Tabpose" combines tab management with Apple's Expose idea in Chrome for Mac. Also on the way: hardware acceleration and Chrome labs features.

Experimental work under way in Chrome gives the browser a graphical way to switch among tabs similar to Apple's Expose feature.
Experimental work under way in Chrome gives the browser a graphical way to switch among tabs similar to Apple's Expose feature.
Nico Weber

Chrome programmers have begun experimental work to endow Google's browser with a full-screen tab-management interface similar to the Panorama feature Mozilla is adding to Firefox.

As browsers have expanded to accommodate ever larger amounts of computing tasks, separating different tasks into different tabs across the top of the browser window, managing them has become more onerous. A list of five or six tabs isn't so bad, but when there are 20 or 40, it's a different story. Mozilla's Panorama, nee Tab Candy, provides a full-screen view of all a browser window's tabs, grouped how the user desires into sets.


Chrome could get a comparable feature, at least on Mac OS X, called "Tabpose." Work on the project began in July, but it's labeled "experimental."

Though it has some similarities with Panorama, Tabpose developer Nico Weber said Tabpose was started before he became aware of Mozilla's project and isn't based on it. "Tab Candy and the Chrome tab overview idea developed independently," Weber said.

"We don't support grouping or dragging around or closing tabs or anything like that. It works very much like Apple's Expose: Swipe your trackpad to get an overview; click to select a tab. Nothing else," Weber added. "But it's an experimental feature, so all that is subject to change."

Dealing with larger numbers of tabs is a bigger issue as people spend more and more time in the browser, said Linus Upson, Google's vice president of engineering for Chrome and Chrome OS. "I think Mozilla is doing interesting things there," he said. However, he cautioned, Google tries a lot of things that don't necessarily become permanent.

"We try lots of things and experiment. We put things out in the developer channel and take them back if we don't like them. The key to building a great user interface is iteration and velocity," Upson said. "We try something, throw it away, and try it again. We put [something] on a shelf, maybe pick it up a few months later."

Firefox Panorama lets people group tabs in a visual array in an attempt to bring some order to browser tab chaos.
Firefox Panorama lets people group tabs in a visual array in an attempt to bring some order to browser tab chaos. Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Chrome gets 'labs' ability
It seems likely people will be able to try it relatively easily, though. Tabpose is one of the features set to be enabled by a new "about:labs" mechanism to enable experimental features. Google likes the "labs" approach to letting people try new technology, with labs projects for search, Gmail, Maps, and more.

That contrasts with today's much more user-unfriendly mechanism, launching Chrome with specific options enabled via textual command-line "switches" or "flags." Changing Chrome options by using a regular browser interface is similar to Mozilla's "about:config" command, which exposes many options for tweaking Firefox behavior.

But Google has a little more on its mind than just convenience, Upson said. That's because Chrome OS doesn't expose any underlying operating system to make the change.

"With Chrome OS, it's challenging when it's the whole operating system and there is no command line you can launch it from," Upson said.

On Windows, the "about:labs" mechanism also will be used to enable a feature to put tabs on the left side of the interface.

One aspect of Chrome's hardware-acceleration approach.
One aspect of Chrome's hardware-acceleration approach. Google

Graphics chip acceleration
After a few months of planning, Google also revealed Friday its full plan for Chrome's hardware acceleration technique. Hardware acceleration lets faster, more power-efficient hardware handle tasks such as scaling images, drawing vector graphics, processing Web page display instructions, and rendering text, and it's a big performance overhaul under way in the browser market.

Google had a trickier time implementing hardware acceleration than some rivals because Chrome isolates browser rendering chores into a separate process that for security reasons isn't permitted to talk directly to the operating system's hardware interfaces. Thus, Google needed to create a separate process with appropriate authority to enable hardware acceleration.

It's not yet clear when exactly hardware acceleration will arrive in Chrome. Many features, such as accelerated compositing of two-dimensional Canvas graphics, were just pushed back from Chrome 7 to Chrome 8. The move happened about the same time that Google began working on the development version of Chrome 7.

Updated 3:22 p.m. PDT with further Google comment and corrected at 10:52 p.m. PDT to note the independent development of Tabpose from Firefox Panorama.

Via unofficial Google Operating System blog.