A Chat with the Man Who Makes Your Tabs Colorful


Not often do the people behind the absolutely awesome Firefox add-ons, tools and the browser itself get much time in the spotlight.  I recently had the chance to talk with the ColorfulTabs extension author, Shivanand Sharma, to get his views on his creation and a number of other development related questions.

What first inspired you to create the ColorfulTabs add-on for Firefox?

Before I begin I’d like to congratulate you and commend you for the great and popular blog and content you have created. A ‘hello’ to all your visitors and fans of Firefox.

Back in the old days when Firefox caught my attention, there was a page with a walk-through on how to use userchrome.css to style your toolbars and buttons. The article was created by Flexer and I was so fascinated that I spent hours coloring and styling every aspect of the browser. One day the idea just struck – what if every tab was a different color? At least the tab boundaries will be more distinguishable. It was a small idea that gave birth to ColorfulTabs. Initially ColorfulTabs just used 32 fixed colors to color each tab in a cycle (after the 32nd tab color cycle just restarted).

A friend of mine used to say – “an idea always starts small but eventually it matures and manifests into something big.” Users reported using 56 tabs and said that the colors were not unique. I had never imagined someone opening 56 tabs all at once. I then implemented random generation of colors. Later users requested more and we now have coloring at domain level and user selectable colors for up to 5 domains.

Will we ever see mono-chrome tabs? :)

I’ve been requested this feature for quite some time now. And I’ve been toying around with this idea. In my opinion such a feature is more of a theming work than that of a functionality enhancement. When Vista came out people wanted metallic tabs. So the idea is there and the day I’m convinced about it, it will be there :)

How difficult was it to convert Colorful Tabs over from Firefox 2 to Firefox 3?

Generally whenever the Firefox user-interface gets modified it breaks some extensions. We saw some UI changes for the Firefox 3 tabs and that’s what required some fixing. Generally if you are good at debugging, you know what is breaking things and what needs to be modified. It took me two days to fix the JavaScript part and another few hours to style the new tabs with CSS. As always it wasn’t merely a compatibility fix. I wanted to introduce more features, more functionality to live up to the expectations of the Firefox 3 users. When it’s the launch of Firefox 3 you sure want your extension to have some new features and impress the fans. And that takes some time and trying. I was not a seasoned extension developer when I started so I’ve learnt with time. I just was good at C and logic. That goes a long way. ColorfulTabs was one of the top 50 most downloaded addons on the day of Firefox release.

Outside of Colorful Tabs, what else do you work on professionally or for a hobby?

Technology amuses me. I find it hard to resist computers. So of all the things I do, most are technical. I’m a jack of many trades. I’m a professionally blogger and I have my main blog at http://binaryturf.com. It is about blogging and doing the best at that to go full-time. Once in a while I also post about the technology that catches my fascination. I sing and pursue immense interest in music and have another blog about it at http://music.binaryturf.com (which I only post to when I’m really in ‘the mood’). I also function as an Editor at Firefox Addons (AMO). I’ve designed a WordPress theme called Femme Flora and plan to design a premium theme soon. Photography is another favorite activity of mine. So it’s pretty much anything I can get my hands on.

While these activities keep my interest and I plan to pursue them full-time in the future. I work with an IT company as a Systems Engineer to make a living. However most of my earning comes from Google Adsense on my blog. May be in the future I’ll just work as a part of the open source community full-time and pursue my interests. I think that is what life is all about – doing what you want, contributing to a community and changing the world in whatever small way I can, having the money to afford this luxury and having a ball of a time :).

If somebody asked you, what is the best way to get started with creating add-ons for Firefox, what would you tell them?

I receive a lot of those requests on a regular basis. There are many tutorials online that will walk you through the process. They all stand good as long as you experiment and learn. However if I were to start learning extension development from scratch I’d head on to:

The community at Mozilla has been doing some fantastic work documenting everything to make development easy for individuals of any level and knowledge of development. I’d like to thank them for their continued efforts in making Firefox such a popular project.

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