One of the areas where the new version of Firefox seeks to improve and evolve is the user experience. As previously showcased on the blog of Stephen Horlander, a long time contributor to Firefox interface design, one of the projects aims to introduce animations to tab interactions. The latest beta of the upcoming Firefox 4 already added these changes: when you create a tab, it “grows” out of the URL bar until it reaches the standard size; the same effect is applied to closing tabs in reverse, they shrink back into the neighboring tabs.
The idea behind these animations is to “make browsing feel faster, adding visual affordances that makes tasks more understandable and to make the browser more visually appealing”. I’m not going to get into the debate whether you should be focusing on looking faster versus actually being faster; I simply noticed the new behavior after the browser updated and it has the exact opposite effect, for me at least. Tab opening and closing feels slower, because the browser is emphasizing the action every time, instead of just showing the end-result. It could be helpful for new users discovering the browser features for the first time, but I think the novelty will wear off quickly.
Fortunately the feature comes with an off-switch: the preference called browser.tabs.animate. Open the Firefox advanced preferences through about:config, search for this option with the filter box and double-click it to toggle the value to false. It doesn’t even require a browser restart, the change is instant. Now tabs will open and close without delay or unnecessary ‘eye-candy’; it might be a personal preference – after all, I have disabled most of the animations and effects in Windows as well – but I rather like it this way.