Why Firefox won’t have a ‘Noisy Tabs’ feature

Earlier in January, a Google Chrome update include a new feature called Noisy Tabs which will put an indicator (speaker icon) on a tab that is playing audio. This helpful for when you do a session restore or you’re clicking links to open new tabs in the background then suddenly you have audio playing and have no idea which tab it is coming from. Instead of having to go through each tab you can quickly see which tab is “singing” by looking for the icon on the tab.

So, I wondered if there was an add-on that added this functionality to Firefox. A quick search on AOM turned up nothing. So then I went to Google, where I came across an article on ghacks.net that explains why we won’t be seeing this feature in Firefox anytime soon (though it has been purposed as far back as March 2009).

It ultimately comes down to Google’s relationship with the folks at Adobe who make the Flash plugin. Google Chrome, unlike Mozilla Firefox had (paid) Adobe create a custom built version of the Flash plugin to be integrated into the Chrome browser. So it is rather easy for Chrome to detect which tab is using the Flash plugin and display the indicator on that tab.

However, Mozilla is working on such a feature to detect audio being played via HTML5 (though not Flash). Other options include working with Adobe to come up with some type of indicators. Of course that is if Adobe would even support the idea and even if they did, it is doubtful they would do it for free as Mozilla likely is not going to pay Adobe for such a feature. Another possibility is to move away from Adobe Flash altogether and use Shumway, the Flash-alternative instead. Since Mozilla would have full control over Shumway they would be able to easily add an indicator feature.

So, don’t expect to see such a feature with Firefox at least not for Flash. Further, while there is the push to move to the more secure and stable HTML5 for playing video and audio, it is still going to be a long time before Flash is totally gone (sort like Windows XP).