Though the idea did alarm me at first, a careful study suggested it to be more productive than the layout we have right now. Aza Raskin, the head of user experience at Mozilla Labs, came up with the idea after being inspired by addons that provide a somewhat similar functionality. The mock up sketch he shared on his blog gives an idea of one of the several possible layouts we can have. Though the discussion has just started, I already believe that this would actually be far more productive then having a horizontal bar of tabs spread across the screen.
I have a vertical resolution of 1200 pixels, which leaves only a 1170 pixel working area for applications on Windows XP. I did a quick screen real estate analysis of Firefox and found out that in my current screen configuration, the status bar takes about 23 pixels from the bottom. The controls on the top aren’t consistent with their vertical heights. The title bar is 26px tall, and the menu bar and the navigation toolbar take 21px and 38px from the available screen area. The tabs take a further 30 pixels, and if you have other addons installed, they to require their space. My configuration has the Facebook toolbar, StumbleUpon toolbar, the Web Developer toolbar and the Bookmarks Bar running, that add up to take a total of 225 pixels from the top side of the screen.
Even if you don’t use these addons, the interface still takes a lot of space. Most web pages today are designed with a maximum width of 960 to 1024 pixels. The average screen width of visitors to The Technopath is well north of 1280 pixels. So that leaves about 300 pixels going to waste in most web apps we use today. In contrast pages have varying heights as content is spread vertically. This emphasizes the need of having a larger viewable vertical area, which would minimize the need to scroll up and down.
Google took the minimalistic UI approach with Chrome, which focuses on the web page instead of the browser. But in my opinion, they overdid it by not providing some of the basic interface features. Though the focus should be on the page displayed, some essential UI still needs to be displayed like a separate search bar which easily lets you select a search engine you want to search with.
Having a sidebar instead of toolbars would solve a lot of issues like these. Flock kinda does this already but their focus is different. Aza Raskin discusses a lot of possibilities which could be implemented, like tab grouping by domain and collapsible workspaces etc. I believe we can also dump the whole bookmarks bar idea in favor of something like quick launch – display icons to commonly used web apps and launch them with a single click whenever you need them. Having collapsible groups would be nice, but grouping opened websites like Windows 7 does in its taskbar would be better. Hovering over the icon/label shows a preview of the tab. And maybe ad smart features like mail/update notifications like Flock does.
All of this packed into one sidebar can be a lot more productive then having separate elements stacked vertically like toolbars. If you have any ideas or suggestions, then feel free to share them here in the comments or at Aza’s blog.