TWiG Tip: Icon-only, Perma-Tabs for Gmail and Google Reader

August 22, 2009

On each new episode of This Week in Google (details) I’ll highlight a tip for using cloud/Google apps smarter, faster, and better. I’ll document those tips here.

Icon-only Perma-Tabs

You use Firefox, you keep Gmail and Google Reader open at all times, and you wish they didn't take up so much space in the tab bar. (Maybe you're on a netbook, or maybe you've always got a dozen tabs open at once, so real estate is scarce.) You can permanently affix the Gmail and Reader tabs in your tab bar, reduce them to show the tab favicon only, and display the number of unread items in each using a collection of Firefox add-ons. See what it looks like in the image above: the Gmail and Reader tabs are on the far left, icon-only, with unread item counts--19 unread messages and 1k+ unread items (yikes!)--on the icons themselves.

To reproduce this setup in your own copy of Firefox, you'll need four Firefox add-ons which I've put all together in a single collection. Install all the add-ons in the Icon-Only Perma-Tabs for Gmail and Google Reader collection. Restart Firefox.

Then, in Better Gmail 2, make sure "Unread Message Count in Favicon" is checked. In Better GReader, make sure "Show Unread Count in Favicon" is checked. Open Gmail and Google Reader in new tabs. Right-click on those tabs, and choose "Faviconize tab." Then, to make them permanent (i.e., open automatically every time you launch Firefox), right-click again and choose "Permatabs->Permanent Tab." Once you're done, whenever you launch Firefox or even hit "Close All Tabs," your icon-only perma-tabs containing Gmail and GReader will persist. (Hat tip to the Lifehacker reader who reminded me of this cool trick!)

Great tip!
I want to add that if you’re worried that with faviconized tabs you will have to make longer (or more precise) mouse movements to reach those tabs (because they are all crammed on the left of the screen, and they are tiny), you should become familiar with firefox’s keyboard shortcuts.
In particular, Ctrl+1, Ctrl+2, and so on, are shorcuts to quickly access your first, second, etc. tabs. (Ctrl+9 is the last one).
As always, Keyboard shortcuts make everything faster.
My permanent tabs are: Gmail, Google Reader, and Google calendar. (Ctrl+1, Ctrl+2, and Ctrl+3).

Ernesto Miquel [+4]
Aug 22 09 at 12:47 pm

I’d love to try it, but FF is telling me that Better GReader isn’t compatible with 3.5.2.

Aug 22 09 at 12:56 pm

This, Gina, has made me ditch for Gmail exclusively. Thank you for this. Now I have to read up on how to be a Gmail Ninja.

I really like the add-ons, but it doesn’t seem to be cooperating with the Google Voice and Facebook greasemonkey scripts I’m using. It used to be, if I clicked on a link in the greasemonkey add-on (for example, if I clicked on Contacts in the Google Voice add-on), it would go to the link right inside the gmail add-on. Now, it is opening a new tab. Anybody have any ideas why or how I can fix it?

Aug 22 09 at 1:47 pm

Now if there were only a way to keep other tabs from opening in between the permatabs–I’d love to have them all stay permanently in the left-hand corner

Aug 22 09 at 2:22 pm

Teh Faviconize Tab ( has similar functionality and works with all tabs.

Richard Frisch [+3]
Aug 23 09 at 1:30 am

In firefox, all new tabs are opened at the end of the tabs row by default. What you are describing is the google chrome-like behavior of opening links next to the active tab (which I find really annoying, btw).
If you are on firefox, you must have installed some add-on or tweak something to have tabs opened between other tabs.
My permatabs are always in the left.

Ernesto Miquel [+4]
Aug 23 09 at 8:04 am

Wondering if anyone out there is creating a Google Voice unread count (for the favicon). Also, has anyone (yes I’ve googled) created a desktop notifier for Google Voice for when you get text? It would be nice to not have to have the browser up all the time.

got80s [+1]
Aug 24 09 at 11:56 am

Wow – I wish I new how to do the favicon voodoo for Shaun Inman’s Fever feed reader. Still, pretty cool!

Jemaleddin Cole [+6]
Aug 25 09 at 5:29 am

Oh, and got80s, check here for your Google Voice unread count:

Requires Greasemonkey, but if you’re reading smarterware and don’t have GM installed… :-)

Jemaleddin Cole [+6]
Aug 25 09 at 5:30 am

I really like this, but I am getting some strange behavior on both machines I have installed this on. I have my first 3 tabs Favicon’d and PermaTabed, but when I restart FF the first tab reverts to a normal tab and tabs 2-4 are now Favicon’d and PermaTabed. Any idea why this is happening?

Aug 27 09 at 7:52 am

Great tip! This is perfect for the small screen real estate of my Dell Mini 9.

One problem, though. The Perma-Tabs add-on significantly impacted performance under Mac OS X (Firefox 3.5.2) and Windows 7 x64 (also Firefox 3.5.2). It was most noticeable when visiting Netvibes. Widgets loaded painfully slowly after installation.

I was able to isolate it to Perma-Tabs through a few minutes of trial and error (selectively disabling all other add-ons).

Even without Perma-Tab (just Favicons) this is a great tip. Thanks!

Derron Simon
Aug 28 09 at 6:55 am

I have found a bug.

I have a Conduit toolbar installed in my Firefox 3.5.3 browser. When I look at my rss feeds, and I choose an article to look at, it will replace the page in the perma-tab that I am looking at. All other links open a new tab no matter where they are selected from.

Thought I’d pass it on.


Matthew Murphy
Sep 27 09 at 3:10 pm

Any ideas how to edit a favicon for my browser? I’d like to create one for my law school email which uses Microsoft Outlook Web Access and has a vanilla favicon.

Oct 9 09 at 8:09 am

Comments are closed. Thanks for reading!