Farewell, Panel Tabs

Two years ago I launched a Chrome extension for floating browser windows that I had been developing in my spare time. I was surprised to see it gain almost 20,000 weekly users in its lifetime with little promotion. But now, due to recent changes in Chrome, I’m announcing that its development has unfortunately come to an end.

Panel Tabs banner

Hello, my name is Leo, and I’m the person who wrote Panel Tabs.

You probably arrived here from the link I added to the extension in its latest update. Unfortunately that update was also its last.

Due to changes in Google Chrome and the Chrome ecosystem, I won’t be able to support Panel Tabs anymore. In this post I’ll try to explain what happened, why, and what happens now.

How Panel Tabs came to be

Originally I wrote Panel Tabs for myself. I was binge watching Doctor Who on Netflix and I wanted to watch it while writing code for some Android apps. Netflix would only work well within a browser, so I had to get creative.

The first version took me about two hours to write: one hour to write the basic functionality, another to design the icon. It still looked like garbage, though, but it worked well enough that I could publish it and open-source the code.

A couple of weeks later I started noticing some traction. People were actually downloading the extension! I was actually a bit ashamed of the UI since it clearly wasn’t good enough.

The most difficult problem was to guide people to enable the experimental panels support buried in Chrome’s settings. After some more work, I had a pretty good solution for the initial setup.

Panel Tabs setup sequence
According to the analytics I added later, the setup sequence performed surprisingly well.

A bigger surprise was that Panel Tabs got suddenly very popular in Japan due to just one favourable blog post. Shortly afterwards The Next Web featured the extension in one of their articles, and it brought hundreds of installations in just a single day.

With more and more users I was motivated to keep working away in my spare time. I added some options and keyboard shortcuts, improved the user interface, and put in a bunch of translations from contributors around the world. Unfortunately as time went on, I found myself with less and less time for Panel Tabs.

Changes in Chrome 54

In the upcoming version of Google Chrome, version 54, the support for panels has been removed on most platforms.

I first learned about the developers’ intentions to do this in 2014, shortly after I published Panel Tabs, but I thought I would have enough time to replace Chrome’s panels with something better before it.

I started working on an experimental replacement for panels that relied on a separate Chrome app (not an extension) to mimic the previous functionality but in a more flexible way and without any reliance on Chrome’s panel support.

New types of panels
This is what the new panels looked like. Controls to restore panels into tabs were the most requested feature, and now I could finally modify the decorations. Additionally user agent spoofing made it easy to show mobile versions of web pages for a better experience.

This would have been the way forward, but unfortunately Google announced recently that Chrome apps would also be phased out in favour of hosted web applications, and in November it will no longer be possible to publish any new apps for Windows or Mac. This, with my lack of spare time at the moment, has left me with no choice regarding the future of Panel Tabs.

What happens next

Later this week I’ll be unpublishing Panel Tabs from the Chrome Web Store. The extension and its source code will still remain on the GitHub page, but it won’t work with newer versions of Chrome.

I’ve received requests to publish the source code for the “new panels” app that relies on the chrome.app.windows API, and I’ll be doing that shortly as well.

Anyone is free to reuse the code or pick up development from where I left off under the permissive ISC licence. If you do, however, please don’t promote your work using my name or the Panel Tabs name and promotional materials.

Alternatives

If Panel Tabs has been useful to you, here are some possible alternatives, although I haven’t tried most of them:

Leave a comment below if you have experience with any of these.

I use mpv myself with a custom profile that keeps it on top and tucked away in a corner. It plays most web videos, but no Netflix.

Thank you!

I received a number of translations for the extension, and I’d like to give the translators a very special thanks for making it more accessible to the world:

  • Damian Garro (español)
  • Mehmet Akif Tütüncü (Türkçe)
  • @mi_wave (日本語)
  • Gideon van Melle (Nederlands)

Lastly I’d like you thank everyone who has used Panel Tabs within its fairly short lifespan. Hopefully you found it useful.

I hope you’ll keep tabs on what I’ll work on next on this blog!


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Leo Nikkilä
Hello, my name is Leo Nikkilä.

I’m a mobile and web developer freelancing worldwide from Helsinki, Finland.

Right now I’m working with Android and Kotlin, and exploring functional programming with Elixir and Elm.

Send me mail at [email protected] or a message on Twitter!

Interested in hiring me?

Do you need quality code for your next big thing? Some extra oomph to your team?

Currently I’m not immediately available for new work, but feel free to contact me anyway and I’ll see what I can do.