July 29, 2010

Pin Tabs in Firefox 4 Beta 2

The latest release of the Firefox 4 beta has arrived and among thehandful of new features introduced this round is the addition of "App Tabs." These favicon-sized tabs let you pin your most frequently used programs to the top-left side of your tab bar. In an introductory video, Mozilla suggests tabs for email, calendar, IM and streaming music - you know, Web applications.

But this new feature isn't a copycat of competing browser Google Chrome's forthcoming Web App support and accompanying Web App Store, sadly. It's a copycat of Chrome's simple "pin tab" option instead.

App Tabs are Just "Pinned Tabs" - No "Web Apps" Here

In Firefox, the ability to "pin tabs" - that is, make them into smaller tabs represented only by a favicon - has long been possible through the addition of a Firefox add-on. In Firefox 4 Beta 2, it's now a native feature. And while, yes, this is progress, it's also a somewhat disappointing reminder of how far Firefox has fallen behind Google Chrome, which has always had the "pin tab" feature in place, but shrank it down to favicon size back in October of 2009.

Google has long since moved on from basic pinned tabs and plans now for a built-in Web Application Store which will feature apps like those from Google itself (Gmail, Calendar, Docs) as well as choice selections from across the Web (Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox, etc.). The store is open to all developers and will feature both free and paid applications.

Where's the Firefox Web App Store?

In writing about Google Chrome's Web App Store, some have suggested, by way of the commentsthat the store is just another "rework of speed dial and pin tabs." Another commenter pondered,"For the life of me, I cannot tell what the difference is between the 'web app' and the regular Gmail I've been using since before time."

What? You didn't see the cute floating icon?

OK, we jest...but we have to agree. Google Chrome Web Apps are very much a new-fangled combination of pinned tabs and "speed dial" favorites. The genius is in the Store itself and the business model behind it.

As Chrome is positioned as an iPad-alternative on netbooks and tablets,  Google is betting on the Web for its "App Store." It's enticing developers to make "Web Apps" instead of iTunes Apps, since Chrome HTML5-enabled Web Apps work anywhere Web standards are supported...including the iPad. While precise details on the cut Google plans on skimming off the top are still scarce (the latest news is that it will be "similar to existing app stores"), it wouldn't be surprising if that cut was considerably less than the one Apple takes now.

Meanwhile, the folks at Mozilla are still pondering what an "open" Web app store should look like, the implication being, of course, that Chrome's isn't as open as it could be. But while Mozilla drags its feet, Chrome's Web App Store is nearly a go for launch. And it's open enough for most developers, considering how many have already embraced it.


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