Tabbed browsing considered harmful
2002-07-02 01:00:00 UTC
mpt believes that Mozilla's tabbed browsing is a misfeature. I'm inclined to agree. I've used a number of tabbed interfaces and, once upon a time, I thought they were a good idea, but these days I avoid them like the plague.
The main problem I have with them is this: they only make sense when the task I'm performing requires only one application and that application is being used for only one task. This is a very rare occurence.
Browsers are a particularly good example of this. I use my browser for all sorts of different tasks. A fairly typical situation for me is to have a few windows open for leisurely browsing of a few blogs, a window or two of documentation for some API or other that I'm using in a program, and then maybe a few more for other miscellaneous tasks. Depending on what I'm doing, after a following a few links, the purpose of a window might've changed.
Using a tabbed interface in this way is just about bearable... until you start using virtual desktops. If I were using tabbed browsing with virtual desktops I'd find myself needing to split tabs out of one window and then reparent them in another. That would not be particularly efficient.
My other complaint is that tabbed UIs solve a non-existent problem... badly. We already have taskbars to solve the problem of switching between windows. Adding tabs to that means that we have to click on the application window in the taskbar and then bring the mouse up to the top of the screen (but not to the very top, so we can't take advantage of Fitts' law) to click on the tab.
The only argument for tabs is that they reduce the clutter in the taskbar. But there are far better ways of doing this. My favourite is to use virtual desktops (it's not perfect, but it's the best I know of). An alternative is to group entries in the taskbar by application, so that there is one button in the taskbar for each application and holding the mouse down on that button brings up a menu of all its windows.
In short, tabs are just a bad idea.
mpt also demonstrates very effectively that every feature has an associated cost, in terms of both development and usability, and that the cost of tabbed browsing is surprisingly high.