Mozilla is currently hard at work to integrate a new feature into the next iteration of its open source browser. Essentially, Firefox 4.0 nightly development builds will get Tab Candy, provided that the Tab Candy team is successful in the implementation of the new feature. At the end of the past week, Aza Raskin, Head of UX, Mozilla Labs, unveiled a new concept designed to revolutionize the way in which end users navigate and manage Tabs within the Firefox browser. Watch the video embedded at the bottom of this screen in order to get an idea of what Firefox Tab Candy can do.

“With one keystroke Tab Candy shows an overview of all tabs to allow you to quickly locate and switch between them. Tab Candy also lets you group tabs to organize your work flow. You can create a group for your vacation, work, recipes, games and social sites, however it makes sense to you to group tabs. When you switch to a grouped tab only the relevant tabs are shown in the tab bar, which helps you focus on what you want,” Raskin stated.

Built leveraging HTML, Javascript, and CSS, without any native code, Tab Candy is still in the earliest stages of development. Mozilla did make available for download a pre-Beta 3 release of Firefox 4.0, but in reality there’s no guarantee that the feature will actually make it into the next version of the open source browser. For the time being, work is being focused on enhancing performance, but also on testing, putting together code documentation as well as refactoring, and providing nightly builds with the new feature for early adopters.

Tab Candy allows users to easily zoom in and out in order to get a complete perspective over all of their open tabs, beyond what’s possible via the Tabs strip at the top of the browser. In addition, the new feature also allows for Tabs to be grouped together, streamlining visual search, with Tab bundles offering the option to be housed together in custom named groups.

“When you go to a tab in a group, you’ll only see the tabs from that group in the tab strip. That means you can focus on the task you are doing. Work tabs stay separate from play tabs. Clean tab bar, clean mind,” Raskin added. “Tab Candy is not just the ability to move tabs around, you can move groups so that they fit your needs. Make the group with your calendar and email bigger so that you can see what’s new just by zooming out to Tab Candy. Hide the group with distractions in a corner. Keep things to read in a long vertical list.”

Microsoft needs to pay extra attention to the work Mozilla is doing in terms of Tab management for Firefox. The Redmond company is currently building Internet Explorer 9 which needs to offer a superior user experience for Tab organization and navigation compared to IE8. This is especially true taking into consideration the integration between IE Tabs and the Thumbnail Taskbar Previews made possible by Windows Aero in Windows 7.

Fact is that for just a few opened Tabs, Windows Aero offers an exceptional experience. However, for 20 or more open websites/tabs in a single browser window the experience deteriorates dramatically, and becomes even painful. Trying to navigate through 100 opened tabs in IE8 on Windows 7 using Taskbar Thumbnails is almost impossible, as there’s not even a way for users to jump at the start or at the end of the list of opened websites, instead having to crawl, and scroll one item at a time.

Internet Explorer 8 does offer the concept of Quick Tabs, but this, if it is to survive in IE9, needs to deliver instant speed, which means that Microsoft will have to do a lot of work on performance. Further integration between Thumbnail Previews on the new Superbar, and additional Windows Aero features could enhance the UX for Internet Explorer 9 beyond what rival browsers will be able to deliver.

Firefox 4.0 Beta 1 and Firefox 3.6.7 are available for download here.

Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) Platform Preview 3 Build is available for download here.

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