Download.com guide: Tab Mix Plus

Some people (mostly me) think that Tab Mix Plus is the greatest Firefox extension ever created. Learn more about the features in this powerful browser add-on with this comprehensive walk-through.

In the spirit of my recently sworn allegiance to the powerhouse add-on Tab Mix Plus as the "best Firefox extension ever," I've created a resource guide for all of the features and options available in the Firefox add-on.

In a nutshell, Tab Mix Plus lets you customize nearly every detail of the appearance and behavior of your tabs without having to get into any of the about:config settings in Mozilla Firefox.

One important note: my Tab Mix Plus guide is based on the default Firefox theme. If you use a different theme, some of the Tab Mix Plus options may be affected. Also, this guide was written using Tab Mix Plus 0.3.6, which is important to note because the add-on does update semi-frequently.

First off, after you install Tab Mix Plus, you can access the options via the Tools menu in Firefox. The Tab Mix Plus options show up in the main Tools menu, as well as in the Extension Options submenu. The options window is divided into six sections, denoted by icons at the top: Links, Events, Display, Mouse, Menu, and Session.

Tab Mix Plus Links options

Links

The Links options are the most straightforward. These options control how normal HTML links behave, as well as those that request a new browser window or tab.

Open links that open in a new window in

This setting determines how such links will behave when clicked. You have three options: open in new window, open in new tab, or open in current tab. The default is "New tab."

Open links from other applications

This control affects links that you click in any other programs, such as your e-mail client or instant messenger. You have the same choices as above: open in new window, open in new tab, or open in current tab. Again, the default is "New tab."

JavaScript pop-ups

This setting lets you specify how user-controlled JavaScript pop-up windows will work. Again you have three choices. You can open all JavaScript pop-ups in new tabs; allow resized JavaScript windows; or allow all JavaScript pop-ups.

Open links with a target attribute in current tab

The HTML "target" attribute in "a href" links has long been used to open links in a new window. Target="_blank" will generally open a new window for every link, whereas target="_parent" will open each link in one new window. Nonetheless, if you want all "targeted" links to open in your current tab, select the check box.

Prevent blank tabs when downloading files

This option is a yes/no check box that will eliminate those blank tabs you sometimes see when downloading a file. The "Edit" button next to the selection lets you specify which types of file formats will be included with this setting.

Force to open in new tab

This general link setting lets you specify which links are automatically opened in a new tab. You have three options: nothing opens in a new tab (the default behavior); all links open in new tabs (the equivalent of "locking" your tabs); or all links from Web sites other than the current site open in new tabs.

Enable Single Window Mode

This unusual check-box option limits Firefox to one window when selected. You'll notice that the "Open Link in New Window" selection disappears from your right-click menu, "New Window" is gone from the File menu, and Ctrl+N simply opens a new tab.

Tab Mix Plus Events options

Events

Events is a general term for how tabs behave, including which types of links open new tabs, which grab the browser focus, and how tabs from different windows can be merged. The Events options are the heart and soul of Tab Mix Plus, in my opinion, and provide most of the valuable features.

Tab Opening

Load on new tabs

What do you want to see when you select "New Tab" from the File menu or hit Ctrl+T? You've got five choices in Tab Mix Plus: a blank page; your home page; the current page you're on; a duplicate of the page you're on; or a specified location. If you select the last choice, a text field becomes available to enter that exciting URL you want on every single new tab.

If the difference between "current page" and "duplicate page," seems semantic, I agree. The only difference I can tell applies to the selection two items down, "Open duplicated tabs next to original." If that option is selected, "duplicate page" will create new tabs next to your current tab, whereas "current page," will open your current page in the usual location for a new tab.

Open tabs next to current one

With this check box selected, every new tab created will open directly adjacent to your current tab. When selected, it also enables a sub-check box titled "Change opening order" that is rather ambiguous. A semicryptic tool tip reads "[a][3][2][1][b][c] -> [a][1][2][3][b][c]" but new tabs seem to open left to right for me, regardless of whether or not the check box is selected.

Open duplicated tabs next to original

As mentioned above, when selected, this check box specifies that all "duplicated" tabs will appear directly adjacent to the original tab.

Open tabs from

A more specific name would be "Open new tabs from." This list specifies which type of links will open in new tabs. You can choose from any or none of: bookmarks, groups of bookmarks, history, address bar, and search bar. For example, if you're the type who hits Alt-Enter to view search-engine results in a new tab, selecting "search bar" cuts Alt-Enter out of the equation.

A sub-check box for "Open tabs from" is "Middle click opens items in current tab." With this option selected, using the third mouse button (often a wheel) overrides the "Open tabs from" settings to open links in the current tab regardless.

Tab Focus

Focus/Select tabs that open from

Decide which tabs should take "focus" or appear in front when they open. You can select any or none of: all links, diverted windows, new tab commands, address bar, search bar, and bookmarks/history.

In many cases, these options will only be applicable when they create tabs. For example, if your search bar queries don't open in new tabs, the "search bar" setting in "Focus/Select" is moot. It's also interesting that Tab Mix Plus bundles bookmarks/history under "Tab Focus," yet treats them separately in "Tab Opening."

Inverse middle-click focus

This check box for basic "Links" and "Bookmarks/History" links reverses the setting above, that is, when you middle-click one of those types of links, it will not focus on that new tab if the box above is selected, or vice versa if it's not. If you have "Middle click opens items in current tab" selected in Tab Opening, this option will be grayed out.

Tab Closing

Warn when closing multiple tabs

This basic option is as simple as it seems. If you do not want a warning every time you close more than one tab at a time, i.e., a window with multiple tabs, do not select this box.

Warn when closing window with protected tabs

"Protecting" a tab is an option that is in the right-click menu for tabs by default. A protected tab simply cannot be closed. Selecting this check box will warn you when you try to close a window containing any protected tabs.

Do not close window when closing last tab by hotkey

Another simple setting, this option prevents you from closing a window by closing all of the tabs using the shortcut key, which is Ctrl-W by default. If selected, a window containing only one tab cannot be closed with Ctrl-W. It can, however, be closed in Windows with Alt-F4.

Interestingly (or not), this option behaves differently whether or not you have "Hide tab bar when only one tab is open" selected under the Tab Bar settings under Display (see below).

Prevent last tab when closing

This option will be grayed out by default. It hinges upon, again, whether or not you have "Hide tab bar when only one tab is open" selected under the Tab Bar settings under Display. If you do not have that box selected, checking the "Prevent last tab when closing" box seems like it should keep your last tab open no matter what.

In reality, it eliminates all of the other "close tab" functionality aside from Ctrl-W, or selecting "Close Tab" from the File menu (which is the same thing as Ctrl-W) for the last (or only) tab open in any Firefox window.

When closing current tab, focus on

This drop-down menu specifies which tab should gain focus when you close another. There are six options: the first tab; the tab directly to its left; the tab directly to its right; the last tab; the last (previous) tab selected; and opener/right tab. The first five are obvious--the only thing to note is that if "right" is selected, and there is no tab to the right of the closing tab, focus will shift to the left, and vice versa for the "left" selection.

The six option, "opener/right," is unclear. It seems as if it should work with originating tabs or something like that, but I'll be darned if I can figure out how it's any different from "right." Anyone who knows better than I do, please help me out in the comments.

Tab Merging

Tab merging is not as cool as it might seem. You won't get to view 16 different Web sites in one tab. However, if you're the sort of person who keeps multiple windows open with multiple tabs, merging might be for you. Basically, merging takes tabs from different windows and combines them together in one window.

You can merge tabs generically, with no tabs selected, or you can merge specific tabs to create custom windows from open tabs. The Tab Mix Plus options window breaks down the features into those two sets of actions.

Merge windows when no tabs are selected

The generic merging of tabs when none are specifically selected offers two main options. You can either merge all tabs into one window, or merge tabs from the current window with the last window, i.e., merge two windows. A separate check box lets you specify whether pop-up windows will be included, and whether they should be placed next to tabs that spawned them.

Merging after selecting tabs

You can select a specific tab for merging by holding down the Ctrl button and left-clicking a tab. An asterisk will then appear in the tab title. You can select as many tabs as you'd like, in multiple windows. However, as far as I can tell, you can only merge specific tabs from one window into another window, unlike the ability to merge multiple windows above.

The lone option under "Merging after selecting tabs" is "Close windows once they have merged," which means that all tabs that aren't selected to be merged will be closed when the windows merge. If you select that option, you can also select a check box to "Warn when closing tabs that aren't being merged." With that second option selected, you'll get a warning whenever unselected tabs are about to close during a merge. If you hit "Cancel" in that dialog, the unselected tabs will not close.

Tab Features

Enable undo close tabs

Once you enable this feature, you won't know what you did without it. Everyone has accidentally closed tabs before. Sure, you can look it up in your History and reload it, but wouldn't it be easier to have a menu of your recently closed tabs that you could instantly access? Here you go. Enable the feature by selecting the check box, then specify how many tabs you would like to save in your list.

There are two submenu check boxes if you decide to enable "undo close tabs." The first, "Restore the tab's original position" specifies where the restored tab should be placed. If not selected, it will be placed at the end of your tabs. The second, "Make the toolbar button display only a list," is more confusing. I use the "Undo Close Tabs" toolbar button in Firefox, and it always looks like a list to me, regardless of whether or not this option is selected.

Ctrl-Tab navigates tabs in the most recently used order

Woohoo! Here you go. If you've made it this far, I congratulate you. You've made it to my No. 1 feature for my No. 1 Firefox extension.

Have you ever had multiple tabs open in one Firefox window, and wanted to switch back and forth between two that weren't adjacent? How did you do it? Veteran Firefox users might retort that you can use Ctrl-1 through Ctrl-9 to automatically jump to any of nine open tabs in one window, but what if you have more than nine in one window?

In that case, you simply select the "Ctrl-Tab navigates tabs in the most recently used order" check box. It's that simple. Now, instead of navigating tabs left to right, Ctrl-Tab works just like Alt-Tab for Windows, navigating them in the order of use. Holding down Shift with Ctrl-Tab then rotates backward, starting with the least recently used tab.

Ctrl-Tab displays a tab list pop-up menu

When selected, this option spawns a pop-up tab list in the middle of your Firefox window when you press Ctrl-Tab. It looks like you can navigate through the list with arrow buttons, but you can't. You simply press Ctrl-Tab repeatedly to move through the list.

Pressing F8 rotates tabs every

This option is one of those goofy features that will scare the crap out of you one day. At least it's not a default option anymore. When selected, this option will cause Firefox to automatically rotate through all of your tabs when you hit F8. You can also set the time period for each page before rotating. I have no idea why anyone would use this feature, but I can tell you I've accidentally turned it on and had a hard time stopping it. Use it at your own risk.

Tab Mix Plus Display options

Display

The Display options of Tab Mix Plus let you designate the appearance of both the tab bar and the tabs themselves. The menu options are split into those two categories.

Tab Bar

Show

There are four optional components for the Firefox tab bar that can be selected here: the new tab button; the close tab button; the all tabs button, and extra spaces on both sides of the bar.

Hide tab bar when only one tab open

This option is selected by default, but if you want to see the bar for lone tabs, unclick it.

Drop indicator

It took me a little while to figure out what the heck a "drop indicator" is. It turns out that it's the icon that is used to display a tab's new location when you drag and drop it somewhere on the tab bar. You can select the native style, a vertical purple arrow, or the built-in style, which puts two opposing arrows on the tabs adjacent to the tab's new position.

Position

This option lets you place the tab bar at the top of the browser (the default) or at the bottom. If you prefer the tab bar at the bottom, tell me about it in the comments. Do you also run your address bar at the bottom of the page?

When tabs don't fit width

This setting is another one of my favorite features in Tab Mix Plus, because I don't like the fact that Firefox 2 got rid of multiple tab rows and replaced it with a scroll bar. I prefer the rows because I can read all of the tab titles. A drop-down menu lets you specify what Firefox should do when the tabs run wider than the screen. You can make them scrollable without buttons, scrollable with buttons (the default), or multirow. If you select multirow, you need to also specify the maximum number of rows Firefox should display.

Tab

Highlight

This Tab Mix Plus feature lets you designate styles for certain tabs, specifically the current tab and unread tabs. Select which of those you'd like to style, then click the "Customize Styles" button to determine the actual formatting. I generally mark unread tabs in a red font, and make the current tab bold, just in case I lose my place.

Also notable under "Customize Styles" is the ability to change the color of the tab progress bar that shows the amount of the page that has been loaded.

Show

These three options control which information is displayed in each tab. The first check box, selected by default, indicates whether or not to display "locked" and "protected" icons on tabs. The second option determines whether or not tabs will display the progress bar mentioned above. The final option controls whether or not tabs should display a "close" button. If you want tabs to include a close button, you can decide whether to display it on the right or left side or on specific types of tabs: all tabs; all tabs wider than a specific width, the current tab, tabs that are moused over for a certain time; or tabs that are current and moused over for a certain time. If you select the "wider than" or "moused over" options, you'll also need to set the minimum pixel width and mouse-over time for "close" buttons, respectively.

Tab width

Select a range of pixels for the minimum and maximum widths of your Firefox tabs. I generally set both the minimum and maximum quite high, because I like to read tab titles and, as mentioned, I have no problem with multiple rows of tabs.

Tab width fits to tab title

This feature is actually niftier that you might think. Rather than setting all your tabs the same width, it dynamically resizes them to display the entire tab title. However, the tab title will still be constrained by the minimum and maximum width settings above.

Use bookmark name as tab title

This option scared me for a little while, because I couldn't figure out why all of my favorite community sites had odd HTML title tags. Then I realized that those weird titles were the same as my bookmark names for those sites. What happened? Then I noticed this option in the Tab Mix Plus interface. When selected, it will display your bookmark name for any site in the HTML title.

Tab Mix Plus Mouse options

Mouse

I've never been a fan of the mouse. Keyboard shortcuts are where it's at, as far as I'm concerned. If you're the click-loving type, however, these Tab Mix Plus features are likely to please.

Mouse Gestures

Select tab pointed for

Sometimes you're just too lazy to click. I know the feeling. With Tab Mix Plus, you don't have to click to select an inactive tab. Just hover your mouse over the tab for a customizable time period, and voila. You're moving tabs via mouse gesture.

Switch to last selected tab when clicking current one

Another mind-boggler here, but I suppose that if you like to click around the Web, it makes sense that you might want to switch back to your last selected tab by clicking on your current tab. If so, check this box and specify a delay for the tab switch.

Allow scrolling to select tabs

I actually kind of like this feature, though it seems silly. When selected, if you hover your mouse over your Firefox tab bar, you can scroll through your open tabs using your mouse wheel. By default, scrolling down moves right in the tab bar, and scrolling up moves left, but you can reverse those directions by selecting the "Inverse the direction in which tabs are selected" check box.

Mouse click (down and release) to select a tab

Honestly, this option is one of the most baffling, if not the most baffling in Tab Mix Plus. Since it's listed under the "Mouse Gestures" tab and not "Mouse Clicking" (below), it seems like it's not referring to clicking on tabs, but I can't figure out what it means. If you know what's up, help me out in the comments.

Remove Tab Mix Plus menu list entries using middle-click

I'm sorry, but this option is another stumper for me, or else it's a bug. It seems like it should allow you to edit the right-click menu options for Tab Mix Plus by removing entries by middle-clicking them, but I wasn't able to confirm that in my testing. Again, if anyone has the inside info, fill me in.

Mouse Clicking

This tab in the Mouse settings doesn't look like much, but there is mighty power in these settings.

Double-click, Middle-click, Ctrl-click, Shift-click, Alt-click

These five key-click combinations can all be set to trigger certain actions when they are performed on either a Firefox tab or the Firefox tab bar. Each can be preset to perform 27 different actions that I will list here: Does nothing; Opens a new tab; Duplicates the tab; Duplicates the tab in a new window; Move the tab to a new window; Protects the tab; Locks the tab; Protects and Locks the tab; Renames the tab; Copies the tab's URL to the clipboard; Selects the tab for merging; Merges windows together; Bookmarks the tab; Bookmarks all tabs; Reloads the tab; Reloads all tabs; Reloads other tabs; Reloads left tabs; Reloads right tabs; Closes the tabs; Closes all tabs; Closes tabs from similar domain; Closes other tabs; Closes left tabs; Closes right tabs; Reopens the closed tab; and Reopens all closes tabs.

As mentioned, I'm not much of a mouse fan, but I always keep Alt-click for individual tabs set to "Move the tab to a new window," just for those cases when somebody says it's not possible.

Tab Mix Plus Menu options

Menu

These options look dry, but these three collections of check box options are valuable stuff. The next time someone laments the inability to "peel" off a Firefox tab into a new window, you can either chuckle wisely or pass along the Tab Mix Plus secret of "Move to New Window."

You can mix and match the menu options you'd like to include in the tab right-click menu, the main Firefox right-click menu, and the Firefox "Tools" menu. I'll explain a little bit more about some of the menu options after I break them out by location.

Tab Context Menu

These are the Tab Mix Plus menu items that appear when you right-click a Firefox tab. There are 27 options. I've italicized the ones that are selected by default in Tab Mix Plus: New Tab, Duplicate Tab, Duplicate in New Window, Move to New Window, Merge Windows, Rename Tab, Copy Tab URL, Reload Tab, Reload Tab Every, Reload All Tabs, Reload Left Tabs, Reload Right Tabs, Reload Other Tabs, Undo Close Tab, Closed Tabs List, Close Tab, Close All Tabs, Close Similar Tabs, Close Other Tabs, Close Left Tabs, Close Right Tabs, Permissions, Freeze Tab, Protect Tab, Lock Tab, Bookmark This Tab, and Bookmark All Tabs.

Main Context Menu

These are the Tab Mix Plus menu items that appear when you right-click the main Firefox window or a link in the main window. There are 16 options, and again, I've italicized the default selections: Open Link in This Tab, Open Link in Foreground Tab, Open Links in New Tabs, Open Link in Duplicated Tab, Reload Every, Close Tab, Duplicate Tab, Duplicate in New Window, Move to New Window, Merge Windows, Freeze Tab, Protect Tab, Lock Tab, Opened Tabs List, Closed Tabs List, and Undo Close Tab.

Tools Menu

These are the Tab Mix Plus options that appear in the Firefox "Tools" menu, and there only three: Tab Mix Plus Options, Session Manager, and Closed Windows List. The first two are selected by default. The Tab Mix Plus options are also accessible via the Extension Options, also in the "Tools" menu, so be aware that selecting the first option will duplicate that item in the Firefox menus.

Menu option notes

Some of the options in the first two menus are obvious, but others are less so. As mentioned above, "Protecting" a tab means that it can't be closed. "Locking" it means that it's status won't change. All links will open in new tabs or windows, depending on your preference. "Reload Every" is an unusual yet helpful feature. You can set any Web page to automatically reload in a certain amount of time. You can select any range from 5 seconds to 30 minutes, or set any custom reload time you'd like.

"Move to New Window" is one of my favorite features in Tab Mix Plus. When I have a link that I know I'm going to use to open a number of new tabs, I'll usually want to start in a new window. If it's already open, all I do is right-click on the tab, select "Move to New Window," and then get to work.

Tab Mix Plus Session options

Session

Before Firefox 2.0, the session-saving features of Tab Mix Plus were one of its strongest selling points. Now that Firefox includes a built-in session manager, the appeal of these features aren't nearly as strong.

You might find that you prefer Tab Mix Plus session-saving features to the default options in Firefox 2.0+. Either way, it's nice to have the choice.

Use Firefox's built-in Session Restore feature

Selecting this option simply disables Tab Mix Plus' session-saving features and lets Firefox take care of the rest. Luckily, you can also manage the Firefox session saver from this menu. A drop-down menu specifies how you want Firefox to start: home page, blank page, or windows and tabs from the last session. Another check box lets you enable Firefox's built-in crash-recovery features, which will bring back all of your open tabs and windows in the case of a crash.

Enable Session Manager

If you have not selected "Use Firefox's built-in Session Restore feature," above, this Tab Mix Plus option becomes available. Selecting it enables all of the basic session-saving features in Tab Mix Plus.

Enable Crash Recovery

This functionality works very similarly to the Firefox default feature. If this option is selected, in the case of a browser crash, Tab Mix Plus will ask you upon restart whether or not you want to restore your crashed session.

The Session Manager and Crash Recovery features work independently of each other. You can use either, both, or neither as you'd like.

Start/Exit

This Session Manager tab specifies what session-management actions Firefox will take upon start-up and shutdown. There are three options for start-up. Firefox can either: restore a previous session automatically, ask you before restoring a previous session, or not restore any previous sessions. There are likewise three options for shutdown. Firefox can either: save your session automatically, ask you before saving your session, or not save any session information.

A "Start-up Session" pull-down menu at the bottom of the Start/Exit tab lets you select which session Firefox should use upon start-up: your last session, or your previous-to-last session. There is a dependent check box titled "Choose another if empty" that will let you select a different session if your default session to restore upon start-up is empty.

I can't fathom why anyone would want to automatically restore their previous-to-last session. It's one of those mind-boggling features that makes me go "huh." If anyone can't explain the rationale behind this feature, tell me about it in the comments.

Restore

The Restore tab of the Session Manager determines how your session will be restored if you decide to do so while already running Firefox. There are three main options. The first check box specifies whether your current open windows should be overwritten by your old session. If you select that check box, you also have the option of also overwriting all tabs, and then saving all overwritten tabs in your closed tabs list.

The two other options under the Restore tab are check boxes to "Join multiple windows into one" and "Reload all tabs."

Preserve

These settings select which attributes of tabs and windows will be restored along with your earlier session. The "Preserve Tabs" selections are: History, Protect Status, Scroll & Text Size, Permissions, and Lock Status. The "Preserve Windows" selections are: Selected Tab and Closed Tabs List. If you decide to use the Tab Mix Plus session saver, all of these check boxes are selected by default, with the exception of Closed Tabs List under the windows options.

One final item: the Settings button that resides at the bottom of the Tab Mix Plus options. The Settings are a great tool for multiple people who use the same Firefox profile, or for two different browsing environments, e.g., home and work. The Settings buttons lets you export your Tab Mix Plus settings (to a text file), import existing settings, or restore the default selections.

Whew! I told you Tab Mix Plus was powerful. Just look at all the possibilities for geeking out with your Firefox tabs. I hope that this guide provides a valuable resource for using Tab Mix Plus effectively, and if there's anything I forgot, please don't hesitate to bring me up to speed in the comments.

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