What ever happened to the sidebar?

Back in the olden days, before Firefox when the mozilla suite was still the latest and greatest thing (and when the AOL controlled Netscape people still had considerable influence over our product features) there was a lot of excitement over all the useful and interesting things we were doing with the sidebar. These days the sidebar still exists, but its only uses seem to be the bookmarks viewer (that as far as I can tell nobody really uses) and the history view (which isn’t much of an improvement over the old history window, and may be worse depending on whom you ask).

What happened to make the sidebar go out of fashion or be neglected as it now seems to have been?

One of the things is that in Firefox you can no longer open the sidebar directly, because there’s no little grippy on the right side of the window like there used to be. Also, once you open it you can’t easily switch from one view to another like you could before. Now, I’m not saying that all the things that used to be in the sidebar were actually good or appropriate, but I think we’re missing out on some potentially awesome things by ignoring it like we seem to be doing currently.

For example, I can think of the following things that could or should be available in the Firefox sidebar right now, if it was still an important part of the product:

  • The Javascript Console. Think how much easier it would be to get at your javascript errors there than in the separate javascript console window we have now.
  • RSS Feeds. Imagine having all your blogs and other feeds right in the sidebar where you could quickly check them without leaving the webpage you were currently browsing.
  • The View Page Info Dialog. Wouldn’t it too be much more useful there than in its current popup window form?
  • Web Search. Who remembers the search sidebar, where you could do a web search from within the sidebar and see all your results listed there, where they would stay even if you started following the links? I admit it had some problems, but I really liked that feature.
  • Tab Preview. The only interesting feature that I can see in IE7 that we don’t already have in Firefox is their tab preview window, where you can see all your tabs at once. There is an extension that makes a Firefox tab preview in the sidebar, which I think is worth serious consideration for inclusion in Firefox 2.0
  • The Download Manager. The download manager is a great feature, but I absolutely hate trying to keep track of the little window it pops up in. Why not make it also a sidebar pane, easily opened when desired and hidden when not?

Now, I know that not everyone’s going to agree with me on all of the above (and I’d probably have a much different list if I had spent more than two minutes coming up with it), and that there may very well be extensions that make many of those (and scores of other things) happen, but I think that my point has been made. Not that anyone who has any real influence over anything actually reads this blog, but I think that when we go to make whatever UI changes are going to go in to FF 2.0, especially as part of the bookmark/history improvements that we’re hearing so much about, considering what role the sidebar might play in all of this would be a good idea.