Tabbed browsing again
2002-07-26 01:00:00 UTC
I promised people a proper reply some time ago. This is probably a day late and a dollar short.
Thinking about the issue of integrating tabbed UIs into the window manager properly (so that not only would the WM implement tabbing itself, but it would also allow the applications the ability to manipulate the tabs), there are some problems with this. The biggest problem is that it actually does very little to reduce the complexity of the application. All the additions to Mozilla's UI that mpt points to (open in new tab, bookmarking a set of tabs, etc.) are still necessary in Mozilla, even if the WM handles the actual rendering. Yes, these are now no longer specific to Mozilla -- all our applications can (and probably must) become similarly cluttered -- but they are still present in Mozilla.
Some of the defenses of tabbed UIs in Mozilla come from people who believe that they improve on the interface provided by the WM. The WM fails to provide an adequate method for dealing with lots of windows, so adding features to the application to reduce the number of windows is an improvement. While this may be true, I'm a bit more of an idealist. If the WM is broken, fix the WM.
Fixing the WM is not necessarily an easy proposition. In Windows and MacOS, the WM is welded to the OS. In Unix systems, unless you're using something like Berlin, the WM pretty much has to play by X's rules. So making any significant changes to the WM means breaking a lot of legacy systems or having the power to push changes through unilaterally. But in the long run it's a better solution. The alternative is hundreds of slightly differing implementations of tabbed UIs, and that's certainly going to be a bad thing. But all this is pre-supposing that the WM needs to be fixed with something like tabbing, which I don't actually believe to be the case.
I will admit that I have seen one good argument for the use of tabbed browsing in Mozilla: it gives you an indication of when pages have still loading without requiring that the entire window be on screen. However, I think this may also be a case of the WM being broken. Here's a suggestion, which may or may not be the right thing to do, but it's something to think about: it would be possible for the taskbar to display, like Mozilla's tabs do, a status indicator to show that the page was still loading or that the application was doing some processing or whatever. This is not specific to web browsers. It could be used by FTP programs, audio programs doing heavy processing, and so on.