Firefox has been getting a lot of attention for its new Tab Candy feature. Tab Candy is essentially Expose (the task-switcher included in Mac) for tabs. Pressing Ctrl+Space will make Firefox zoom out and display thumbnails of all open tabs. As you might expect, most of the blogosphere is going crazy about this feature. And to be honest, it is quite a brilliant feature. It certainly one-ups Opera’s vanilla tab switcher (although Opera might justifiably argue that visual tabs nullify the need for tab expose). However, Firefox is not the first browser to offer a thumbnail tab switcher. Internet Explorer 8 supports something called Quick Tabs, which looks a lot like Tab Candy. Go ahead and try it out. Open a couple of tabs and press Ctrl+Q to see it in action. Mac also had access to Tab Expose through Shiira and TabExposÃ© add-on for Safari. However, Firefox’s implementation is definitely far superior. None of the other browsers support the advanced grouping features Firefox is touting.
Another browser which offers this feature is Element browser. Element Browser is a webkit based browser for Windows, Linux and Mac, which was hailed as being “Too classy for Windows operating system” by Software Informer.
Element Browser is quite a bit larger than some of the other browsers, but it also packs in a lot more features than most of its competition. By default, Element browsers uses visual tabs (thumbnail tabs), however this can be disabled. The visual tabs, called shelves in Element browser, aren’t resizable like in Opera, but they support live website preview.
It also includes a Web Applications dock that provides quick access to your favourite web apps. The New Tab page (called Start Hub) looks a lot like Chrome’s New Start Page. However, Element displays the most recently opened pages, instead of the most frequently used ones. You can also pin your favourite websites to the Hub and customise a few other aspects of its appearance.
Element browser includes mouse gestures, bookmark synchronisation, hardware acceleration, private browsing and HTML5 video payback. Inbuilt parental protection, malware protection, social networking (Twitter) and instant messenger (Windows Live) integration are also present.
Element browser is also quite customisable. You can install extensions, accelerators, macros and widgets to extend Element browser’s capabilities. Of course, there aren’t a lot of add-ons to choose from.
As mentioned earlier, the user interface is striking. The skin is minimalist and modern. There are subtle animation effects that add to the charm. However, once you start using the browser everything sort of falls apart. The UI is gorgeous but horribly inconsistent and at times plain annoying. It doesn’t respond to back/forward mouse buttons, middle clicking on a tab as well as double clicking on the tab bar have no effect. Even worse, clicking on the Element browser’s menus or buttons makes the page lose focus. Some basic features like URL auto-completion (Ctrl+Enter) are missing, and the integrated Twitter app refused to log me in. Element browser is also resource intensive. I don’t mind the RAM consumption, since I have plenty. However, the high CPU usage could have been lower.
In the end, Element Browser is a promising project. The developers definitely have a lot of good ideas. However, the execution is severely flawed. The application gave the impression that it was a pre-alpha build, rather than a finished and polished product.