Archive for December 4th, 2012

Max Tabs

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

Here’s the second of several Chrome and Chromium browser extensions I’ve recently written. Earlier, I posted some of the background motivation in Alternate browsing realities.

After installing Max Tabs, your browser will not allow you to have more than 15 tabs open at once. Any time you try to open more tabs, it will automatically close existing tabs to keep you at the limit. If you later close some tabs and go below the limit, tabs will be reopened to show URLs that were previously automatically closed. I.e., the URLs in tabs that are closed are not forgotten, they’re stored until you’re down to a reasonable number of tabs. (The URLs are not stored across browser sessions, though they easily could be.)

The main idea here is to limit the amount of memory Chrome consumes in keeping tabs open for you. I regularly have about 50 tabs open, sometimes for weeks or even months, on pages I’m planning to read. My laptop gets bogged down as Chrome consumes more and more memory. I’ve long wanted something to limit my tab habit. I didn’t really like any of the options I found in the Chrome Store, so I wrote my own. In case you’re wondering, the extension closes your rightmost open tabs.

Max Tabs installs a context menu item that shows you the number of URLs it has closed. If you click the context menu item, you can disable the extension, at which point it will immediately open tabs for all URLs it automatically closed.

Note that the extension starts out disabled. I set it up that way so it would be less alarming on installation (if you have over 15 tabs open when you install it, it will immediately close as many tabs as needed). Enable it via the context menu.

The extension is not in the Chrome Web Store yet. It’s still very easy to install: just click here to download the extension, then follow these instructions.

If you’re a programmer, or just curious about how to build Chrome extensions, the source code is available on Github. For info on what URLs the extension has closed tabs for, you can look in the console of its background page, accessible from chrome://extensions.

Open It Later

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

Here’s the first of several Chrome and Chromium browser extensions I’ve recently written. Earlier, I posted some of the background motivation in Alternate browsing realities.

After installing Open It Later, your browser will randomly delay following links you click on. That is, instead of following the link in your existing tab, it immediately closes the tab! :-) If you open a new tab and try to go to a URL, that tab will immediately close too. The URL you were trying to reach will be opened in a new tab at a random future time, between 15 seconds and 5 minutes later.

This is pretty silly, of course. It deliberately goes directly against the idea that there should be an immediate (useful) reaction from your browser when you click a link. Think of it as something that slows you down, that makes your browsing more considered, that gives you a pause during which you might forget about something that you didn’t really need to read anyway.

Open It Later installs a context menu item that shows you the number of URLs that are pending opening. Click the context menu item to disable the extension. Not only will it ungrudgingly disable itself without pause, it will also immediately open all URLs that were scheduled to be opened in the future.

The extension is not in the Chrome Web Store yet. It’s still very easy to install: just click here to download the extension, then follow these instructions.

If you’re a programmer, or just curious about how to build Chrome extensions, the source code is available on Github. For info on when the extension plans to open your URLs, you can look in the console of its background page, accessible from chrome://extensions.

Special thanks to Hugh McLeod, who (unknowingly) provided Open It Later‘s Snake Oil icon:

Image: Hugh McLeod

Alternate browsing realities

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

I find it interesting to look for things we take for granted, and to ask what the world would look like if the basic assumptions were outlandishly violated.

Recently I’ve been thinking about browsing. What do we all take for granted when browsing? A biggie is that when we click on a link (or open a new tab) the browser should take us to what we asked for, and do it immediately.

Below are some fanciful ways in which that could be different. You can probably think of others. Imagine if:

  • When you click a link, the new page is shown as usual, but only at some random point in the future. Clicking a link or opening a new tab on a URL, causes your current tab to immediately close!
  • Your browser restricts you to having (say) at most 10 tabs open. If you try to open more, the browser automatically picks another open tab and closes it. When you drop back under 10 tabs, a tab that was automatically closed pops into existence again.
  • When you click to follow a link or you open a new tab, the page appears in someone else’s browser, not in yours.
  • You and a group of friends are limited in the number of total tabs you can collectively have open. If you open a tab that takes you over the limit, a random tab is closed in the browser of a random group member. When the group drops under the limit, the tab is re-opened in the browser of a random group member.
  • You and a group of friends are limited so that only one of you can be looking at any given URL. I.e., if you go to a URL that one of your group already has open, their browser automatically closes their tab.
  • When you click on a link, your browser shows you the page and the page also appears in the browsers of a group of friends. If a friend then clicks on a link on that page, your tab follows along.
  • When reading an interesting page, with one click you can send the URL to a group of friends, whose browsers all load the page.

The nice thing about this kind of blue-sky thinking is that it starts out as frivolous or even ridiculous, but can quickly lead to interesting new approaches. For example, the idea of opening tabs in the future comes directly from questioning the immediacy of link following. Hot on the heels of the ridiculous idea of never following links at all, we land right next to the idea of a Read-Later button that millions of people already find very useful.

Anyway….. I decided to have some fun and implement several of the above for the Chrome and Chromium. I’ll write them up separately very soon.