On the new Ctrl+Tab behavior


While I usually spend most of my time with stable browser versions, I still use Minefield frequently. And Minefield builds now have the new Ctrl+Tab behavior again. While this feature will certainly help most users navigate around their tabs, I cannot help myself disliking it. And now I finally understand my problem: usually I don’t even look at the screen when switching tabs.

When I am switching tabs, most of the time I know already which tab I want to switch to and simply press Ctrl+Tab or Ctrl+Shift+Tab the required number of times automatically. The new behavior is extremely irritating then as it is impossible to predict what you need to press to get to the required tab. Now I have to visually check the thumbnail to verify that I am switching to the right tab (I know what the tab header looks like but linking it to the thumbnail still requires a conscious decision). It doesn’t help of course that in the current version it isn’t very obvious which thumbnail is selected right now and this selection is indistinguishable from the thumbnail your mouse happens to hover over right now.

Of course, it is very hard to satisfy everybody when designing a feature like this and some people will always have to relearn. What are my options? Setting “browser.ctrlTab.recentlyUsedLimit” to 0 seems to be one, the thumbnails are still distracting then but that’s something you can get used to. Using Ctrl+PgDn is another option but none of the other tabbed applications I use frequently (Notepad++ and Total Commander) support this hotkey. Still, I wonder whether this feature can be adjusted in such a way that it isn’t as destructive to my workflow.



  1. Philip Chee

    Yeah, That was exactly my problem with the new CTRL-TAB. I don’t usually look at the screen when doing that either.


  2. Arthur

    Yes, my words. Tab switching has to be predictable otherwise it’s unusable.

  3. Mrinal Kant

    same problem here. Can’t there be a preference that can be set to true/false to invoke new/old behaviour?

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Such preferences causing alternative code to run are always problematic – while the standard code path is always well-tested, issues in the alternative code tend to go unnoticed for a long time simply because only few people use it. Also, developers tend to forget considering the alternative code path when making changes, in the end maintaining such a far less frequently used code path means an unproportional resource cost at Mozilla. Finally, it won’t help reduce the number of support requests – people won’t find the option without somebody pointing them to it.

  4. glob

    from bug 463211

    try setting browser.ctrlTab.recentlyUsedLimit to 0

  5. glob

    (note to self: drink coffee, then post) :P

  6. mscha

    Personally, I’ve been using the “new” Ctrl-Tab behaviour for years – configuring Tab Mix Plus to do so. I couldn’t imagine having to live without it.

    If you just want to move to a tab in a fixed, known position, and you have under 10 tabs open, you might want to consider using Ctrl-1 through Ctrl-9: much faster than pressing Ctrl-(Shift-)Tab a number of times.

    – Michael

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    I know these shortcuts – but I typically have more than 10 tabs open, and even with 9 tabs open it is already impossible to determine the tab’s “ordinal number” without counting (there was a study on this, I don’t quite remember but I think humans are able to recognize counts up to 6 without actually counting).

  7. Citizendruide

    I totally agree with you. This behaviour isn’t the best solution for people that are used to CTRL-Tab because we don’t look at the page content first, but at the position in the tab bar. We memorize how we have organized them. I’m not sure this behaviour help ‘non-expert’ people : each time I see one using a computer, they prefer using the mouse, partly because they don’t discover the ctrl-tab. For them it seems too technical compared to the polyvalency of the mouse.
    Also, if this feature help most of the people, maybe we can show the thumbnails and highlight the tab in the tab bar : https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/attachment.cgi?id=356162

  8. Dao

    Seems like you want browser.ctrlTab.previews.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Oops, how did I overlook that pref? Yes, I guess that’s what I will use if Firefox 3.2 ships like this. Thanks.

  9. David Naylor


    Couldn’t agree more WP.

  10. Zéfing


    It’s always expected? With Ctrl+Tab it seems me compromised.

  11. MoJo

    I already have loads of preferences userchrome to get Firefox 3 working more like V2 and even V1 did :(


    Firefox touts itself as being heavily customisable, but the devs keep changing things and not leaving any clean way of going back to the old system.

    I can understand doing that when it makes technical sense, but some consideration should be given to people’s existing workflows. Look how unpopular Office 2007 is – all the same features are there, they just buggered up the interface. Firefox is starting to look more and more like MS Office – pretty much feature complete so people start messing with the interface and upset all the current users.

    It’s even worse when it’s a feature that has a noticeable performance hit, like the thumbnails. It also seems like the devs don’t stress test the new systems enough. For example, the new history system gets very slow with the default setting of 90 days retention, even on a quad core with 6GB RAM.

    Why not just have a simple preference option for this? Getting lots of support requests is just a sign of the support website not being easy enough to use. The old code is presumably stable and working, and a full test suite should cover it’s use. I’m sure plenty of devs will use the old system anyway, so anything that breaks it will be spotted quickly.

    While I’m here, why do downloads default to not asking where to save them? I get a lot of people asking me where Firefox puts downloads, especially on Vista where the downloads directory isn’t even visible by default (i.e. not in Documents, on the desktop or even in Computer, you have to click on your user name to see it.)

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Heh… My point was showing that this change breaks an important usecase, not saying that nothing should ever change in the user interface. There is a preference for what you need, see the comments above – but I feel that there should be less need for such a hidden pref.

    Btw, nobody ever said that Firefox is heavily customizable, that’s SeaMonkey. Firefox should be customized via extensions, that’s what they are good for.

  12. Adi K.

    I have to say, that I like the new order of tabs. It’s like a linked list (with “tabs” in the data fields). When switching a tab, it goes through the list from the beginning. When you select the tab you wanted, it is being moved to the front of the list. (Window switching in Windows works the same, I think.) That’s a logical and somehow natural behaviour.
    I find this very useful, if you write a formal email for example: one tab the webmail, the other a dictionary and the other tabs that you have visited before, or that you have not visited yet.

    BUT: The graphical interface slows down the switching process. I know, we’re not talking about seconds, but I noticed, if you scurry over the keyboard and have released the keys again already, you watch Firefox still rendering the thumbnail graphics. That’s quite annoying and it needs CPU resources what leads my laptop to increase the fan speed (and therefore becomes louder). That’s annoying, if you want to work quietly.
    I think, Mozilla should “outsource” that again, as it tends towards bloat (or at least something which is not really necessary) (as “Get Add-ons” does, too).
    I claim for regular users of Firefox, this feature doesn’t improve usabilty at all and for novice users, it isn’t accessible enough (most inexperienced users don’t know of keyboard shortcuts).

    There are more important things to improve than a graphical tab switching interface! The behaviour of switching to tabs when closing one and navigation with the mouse is horrible… Iron (defused Chrome) does it almost perfect.

    I think, you, Wladimir, have some influence on the development, don’t you? I would be willing to study tab switching preferences in an algorithmic accuracy, so that it can be reused.

    Gruss, Adi :-)

  13. Mark

    >Using Ctrl+PgDn is another option but none of the other tabbed applications I use frequently (Notepad++ and Total Commander) support this hotkey.

    I have the opposite case: my most frequently used tabbed applications (Konqueror, Konsole, and Firefox 2) all support ctrl+PgUp and ctrl+PgDown for moving through tabs.

  14. phips

    if you’re running tabmixplus, i think the preference you’ll need to change (set it to ‘false) is extensions.tabmix.lasttab.handleCtrlTab

    (responding to Dao · 2009-01-09 13:16)

    “Seems like you want browser.ctrlTab.previews.”

  15. A. Wik

    I’m using a version of Firefox that has your preferred Ctrl+Tab behaviour (the “old” one – switch to next/[shift]prev. tab in bar), due to compatiblity problems (* see footnote for trivia).

    You claim that the “new” way (switch to most/[shift]least recently used tab) is unpredictable and that it forces you to look at the tabs. However, I find that it is in fact the “old” behaviour that forces me to look very carefully at the tab bar – and then use the mouse or Ctrl+<number> to execute the switch, as Ctrl+Tab is effectively useless for alternating between tabs that aren’t adjacent – for example, how would one switch between tabs 11 and 18 with Ctrl+Tab without carefully calculating the number of (shift+)ctrl+tab presses required, or closely watching the process of stepping towards the desired tab and letting go of the keys when reaching the destination? One could manually reorder the tabs (to make them adjacent), but that would require a new way of doing things that’s not generally portable to other tabbed applications. Even if you do reorder the tabs, a Ctrl+Tab that always moves one step in a fixed direction still won’t work to alternate between a pair of tabs, such as for example, a tab with an editing session (like a textbox, such as this one) and a tab with reference data (such as a dictionary), but you have to keep track of whether or not to hold down Shift on next switch, lest you find yourself transferred back in time all the way to tab number 1.

    (I think I might take a look at that tabmix extension…)

    (*) The footnote as promised:
    Firefox3 only runs on the latest bloatware versions of Wind0ze. Really any version of W. that can’t be configured to wait until you type “win” at the prompt is without justification for existence, because you would have switched entirely to Unix (Linux/*BSD, etc.) long ago if it were not for backwards/DOS compatibility.

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