Oh all right already, I'll post on tabbed interfaces. I seriously thought this was a dead (or at least dormant) issue because the most meaningful conversation on it was over two years old. But shortly after my quick little swipe on it, it is again Jeff Atwood who is questioning the movement. I actually did have a fairly length post on this typed out a few weeks ago but deleted it during a "what was I thinking" clean-up of my computer.

Firstly, there are some pretty spurious arguments in the comments on his post. One of my favorites, which sums up a few others, is this one:

I seriously can't understand why you would want to have several browsers open at the same time even if you have 3 monitors. It's the whole point of tabbed interfaces. Just one browser for all the web-sites you have open. I normally have about 35 sites open and all is in one browser-window. I never have any trouble in finding one specific tab.

The crux of this argument seems to be: You should use tabs because they're there. I.E. Why open several browsers when you don't have to (even though I'm not going to tell you why you don't have to)?

Yes, the point of tabbed interfaces is so that you don't have to have several browsers open at the same time. But just because this solves that problem, doesn't mean it's a better interface than the original. My counter-argument is that it's easier *for me* to navigate 'twixt multiple browsers than it is tabs within a single browser.

The key there is that this is *for me* which was another reason I didn't originally plan to post on this. By and large, the context for browsing is task- and user-specific. If you are booting up your computer specifically to look through your RSS feeds and nothing else, I can see how tabbed browsing could be beneficial. I still don't totally agree with it even in that edge case but yes, it saves space (and I'd argue it isn't necessarily "valuable" space) and helps you keep everything in one logical place.

For me personally, though, I can only dream of a world where I'm doing only one thing at any given moment and that the one thing involves only browsing. As I type this, I have three browsers, two console windows, Outlook, two Visual Studio instances, and five Windows explorer windows open. The browser is the only application that can be tabbed (Visual Studio is within the context of a single solution but 'twixt solutions). And it is a *major* annoyance to have to switch 'twixt using Alt+Tab and Ctrl+Tab to get where I want to be.

Even more annoying: When I'm done with an app, I don't want to have to think about whether to type Alt+F4 or Ctrl+F4 to close it. My colleagues started to complain about me screaming "Mother Pusbucket!" too many times when I would close down the browser by mistake when what I really wanted to do was close the current tab.

Another reason for the sake of completeness because Jeff touches on it already: For the times when I do use the mouse, it's easier to select what I want by scanning the title bars along the task bar. I.E. I don't want to click on the task bar, then click on a tab. If I wanted to be overly statistical, that's a 100% increase in the number of clicks but frankly, clicking isn't exactly a time consuming application.

The only reason this mini holy war is going on is because of browsers. You could almost hear the groans from the northwestern US when reports started coming in about how much people loved tabbed browsing in Firefox. (I picture Ray Ozzie watching CNN going: "Ya gotta be kidding me. Aren't these the same people that complained that Word was an MDI?") Very few other applications are tabbed. Notepad++ and Console2 are the only two that come to mind (and thankfully, the latter isn't tabbed by default). So I don't understand why the big kerfuffle over browsers.

Ultimately, I simply don't understand the problem that tabs are meant to solve. Is it lack of taskbar space? If so, I'd probably use the taskbar grouping feature before I turned on tabbing. At least that applies uniformly to all applications, not just browsers. Plus you don't have the issue with accidentally closing an app or having to Alt+Tab, then Ctrl+Tab to what you want. But I don't particularly care how much space is taken up on the taskbar. I don't usually use the mouse to switch between apps anyway. Plus I use two monitors so space isn't an issue.

I like Jeff's idea of using search to find what you want. There are all manner of utilities to find programs/emails/documents/websites on your machine. Maybe we just need to extend this to include running (or recently run) applications. Kind of like the ReSharper Ctrl+E shortcut.

But the main reason I deleted the original post: Who am I to tell you whether or not to use tabs? Personally, I don't and these are my reasons. Whether or not they apply to you matters not to me nor, I'm sure, does it to you. If you like 'em, use 'em. Far be it for me to preach to you about user interaction practices.

But you should still turn them off.

Kyle the Single-Documented