Death of a Feature

Pinned tabs in Google ChromeUPDATE: I just discovered that double-middle-clicking a pinned tab (i.e. closing a “deactivated” pinned tab) will close it in the familiar manner. I hereby retract some percentage of Contention 2 and some amount of frustration expressed in Contention 5.

I’ve decided that I care a lot about the “pin tabs” feature in Google Chrome. When Chrome 5 went live last week, I didn’t really notice most of the changes. I did, however, notice that tab-pinning, a feature I learned about only a week or two prior, had been completely destroyed for the way I use it.

It was jarring enough that I felt Google should know about it. Evidently, it’s jarring enough that I feel like you should know about it, too. In its entirety (although edited for a couple of typos, in brackets), here’s the feedback posting I sent them:

I happened upon the “pin tab” feature at the tail-end of Chrome 4’s run. I loved it. I could finally take Gmail, Google Reader, Twitter, and ESPN FantasyCast — tabs that I knew I wanted running all the time — and reduce their screen real-estate footprint. It was easy to drag tabs over to the “pin” section and then take them out again. If I decided I didn’t want a pinned tab to be open anymore, I could close it in one middle-click. When I restarted my browser, I started fresh again with nothing auto-loading and destroying my memory usage.

What on Earth happened in Chrome 5?

Contention 1: I now have to pin a tab by using a context menu. Okay, it’s not the end of the world but, man, it was really nice to be able to just drag the tabs from one side to the other.

Contention 2: It’s not nearly as simple as “closing” a pinned tab anymore. Now, when I middle-click (to close) a pinned [tab], the tab stays there in a “dimmed” state. I guess, as far as the browser is concerned, the page has been destroyed but whenever I go back to that tab, it will reload it. Okay, I guess that’s fine, if sort of annoying that I explicitly have to un-pin a tab (through the context menu — see Contention 1) to remove it altogether.

Contention 3: Pinned tabs stick around between browser sessions and load themselves. If I close my browser and restart it, the pinned tabs will still be there. This is where pinned tab persistence needs to stop. The pinned tabs, however, will also load themselves whenever I restart my browser. Maybe I’m in the minority here but I cannot stand when things start loading automatically, especially five or six browser windows. It puts an amazing amount of load on my CPU and RAM and, really, it’d just be better if they tried to load one at a time. I digress a little bit but, at the least, I’d like to be able to say in the options “don’t bother loading my pinned tabs automatically”.

Contention 4: Google’s own applications kind of suck, given Contention 3. As I said, I use Gmail and Reader pretty much all the time and I sometimes even like to have Documents and Wave open (pinned). When I open the browser for the first time, I have several Google applications load. Fine. My login session hasn’t been initiated, though, so they all load with a login screen. Okay. So I log in to the Gmail tab and then go over to the Reader tab. I try to refresh so Reader can pick up my fresh new login cookie and I just get the login prompt again. Hm, alright. I go up to the address bar to type in “reader.google.com”, I press enter, and I get a new tab. Apparently, I can’t actually do anything in the address bar of a pinned tab. Let’s make that…

Contention 5: The address bar is pretty much meaningless in a pinned tab. When pinned tabs don’t load as you might expect and you can’t get back to the original URL (like, for instance, in the Reader — or any other Google application — example), the address bar just opens up new tabs. So, in my example, here’s how I get Reader back into my pinned tabs:

  1. I get frustrated that I’m having to do anything this out-of-the-way
  2. I open up a new tab with Reader in it
  3. CONTENTION 1 ALERT: I right-click my new tab and pin it
  4. CONTENTION 2 ALERT: I try to close the other useless one by middle-clicking out of habit
  5. I get frustrated that I can’t close pinned tabs easily anymore
  6. I right-click the old tab and un-pin it
  7. I finally am able to close the old tab
  8. I get really frustrated when I realize that I’m going to have to go through this rigmarole every time I restart my browser if I want more than one Google application to be pinned
  9. I stop using the pin tabs feature because it’s been destroyed beyond all recognition
  10. I fire off a lengthy and sarcastic feedback email to try to save this previously excellent feature

Contention 6: The “pinned tab” section doesn’t even work properly depending on how you close the browser. I’m still a little shaky on how to reproduce this but let’s give it a shot. First, pin a few tabs to your browser and then close it by using the ‘X’ button in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen. Open the browser back up and the pinned tabs should be there, reloading themselves. Now un-pin all of your tabs and close them each one-by-one using either CTRL+W or a middle-click. (The idea here is that you’re closing your browser by closing each of its tabs individually, rather than just clicking the ‘X’.) When you open your browser back up, the pinned tabs should still be there, even though you pretty much specifically said “I don’t want you to be pinned anymore”. Note that if you un-pin them and use the ‘X’, the expected behavior (no pinned tabs) occurs.

So that’s my gripe list. I really like the idea of pinning tabs but I think the Chrome 5 iteration of the feature was a solution looking for a problem. I still use Chrome because I like it but, reluctantly, I have stopped pinning tabs because, for me, they no longer act at all how I like them to.

Please let me know if you need any more information on how to replicate the bug I present in Contention 6.

Thanks for listening,
Patrick Nance

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