Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Tabs - a solution or workaround?

This is the time when everybody are crazy about the tabs. Though they have appeared in programs a long time ago, Firefox really brought them to fame, and when IE7 included them, they became de facto standard feature.

Comparing the tab browsing and tabless browsing (or to be pricize taskbar browsing, as you then use taskbar to manage several windows), it is pretty straightforward that tab bar brings several advantages:
  1. Site icon on every tab - it is much easier to spot the site if it has its own icon

  2. Easy switching of documents - as there is no redrawing of whole window

  3. Leaving the space on the taskbar - as it can get very crowded if you also open several applications

  4. Easier closing of tabs

  5. Ability to rearange tab order - at least in Firefox

So tabs seem like very good solution. Unless you ask yourself - could the same thing be achieved with taskbar? And the answer is yes:
  1. Icon in taskbar could show documents. The fact that it shows program icon is a reflection of application-centric approach, and the lack of Document centric approach. So, this doesn't have to do anything with websites - it would be much easier if every single document on the taskbar had its own icon. Of course, it would require some innovative solutions - external sources would probably have its own icons (like web sites) - your images and other visual documents could have scaled down image as icon, and your other documents could have icon that is shared by the documents in the same folder.

  2. Quick switching of documents in the same application is not a problem, neither. If it can be done by user input within application window, it can be done from the taskbar, too. Application should just get inquiry from taskbar to switch, and do exactly the same thing it does when switching tab.

  3. And keeping the taskbar clean? In today's environment it is necessity, but it comes at great price. First of all you are losing vertical screen estate, as now you have two bars instead of just taskbar. In the era of wide screen, it is not good at all (Though I certainly suggest using of pivot LCD screen oriented vertically). And if you want to switch from one document within one application to another document in another application, it is likely that you will need two clicks, one on taskbar and another on tab bar. So, what taskbar really lacks is overflow solution, and not the patch with tab bar.

  4. Ah, yeah, it is nice to close tabs with just single click on close button (or middle clicking it anywhere), to have ability to close easy all tabs but active in context menu... But hey, this can be all done on taskbar, just no one implemented it yet!

  5. And rearranging of tabs is also a nice thing, but again, no limits to applying the same thing to the taskbar.

To conclude - tabs are good, but just to the extent that taskbar is bad.

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