Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 18th May 2009 22:42 UTC
Mozilla & Gecko clones Tabbed browsing is pretty much the norm by now, with even someone like me (who disliked it vehemently for a long time) finally giving in and start using tabbed browsing (thanks to Chrome, by the way). Well, apparently, Mozilla thinks its time to move on. They believe tabbed browsing has become obsolete, and are asking users to come up with a better alternative.
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RE[3]: Opera's Windows Panel
by cb_osn on Wed 20th May 2009 03:41 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Opera's Windows Panel"
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Hi Dave. First of all, thank you for the thoughtful response. Looking back, my post came off a bit more aggressive than I intended.

Opera's user interface is highly configurable. If you don't like the layout and aesthetics in that screenshot then it can be completely different for you.

I do appreciate that Opera offers many opportunities for customization, but ironically, it always seems like the software that provides the most configurable interfaces is the least usable in its default form. It's as if designers decide that they can completely disregard the idea of sane defaults because they've given users the option to reconfigure it however they like.

Personally, I prefer a single, simple, well designed interface to one that is infinitely customizable.

Why? I'm open to new ideas, but I don't think it's necessary to add a completely new feature when the combination of bookmarks and tabs can work perfectly well.

Bookmarks for sites I'll want to visit again in the future, organised so that I can find them quickly. Tabs for the temporary pages I'm reading through in the short term, like the day's news stories and forum posts.

With the ability to easily sort tabs between windows, a way of quickly searching/filtering open tabs, and an efficient way of listing them, tabs work just fine even when 100+ are open.

Personally I can't think of anything that would fit between the two without adding needless complexity.

I quoted up to the part about "needless complexity" because I think that is my reason for jumping into this topic: I don't want to see needless complexity added to the tab system.

I think tabs are a nice, simple way to manage web pages that are in our current periphery. For those of us that usually keep 5-10 tabs open per browser window, they work perfectly. The suggestions I've seen so far seem to want to add needless complexity to the tab system to better serve the niche group (this includes me too, sometimes) that has 100+ tabs open.

But as I mentioned, these 100+ tabs usually do not represent content that is actively being viewed, but content that is being kept open for later viewing. Since the vast majority of web pages are stateless, these tabs are really just some sort of transient bookmark.

So I agree that adding another feature between tabs and bookmarks may be unnecessary, but following my line of thought about the usage of 100+ tabs, perhaps we should be looking at updating the bookmark system instead. I realized that I don't even use it anymore. Sure, I've put some stuff in there, but it has long since grown large, messy, and unmanageable.

We should take some cues from actual bookmarking-- it's relatively simple and painless to stick a piece of paper at a specific location in a book, or even, as most of us probably do nowadays, dog-ear a page so that we can find it later. It's also very easy to undo those actions. Conversely, bookmarking in a web browser takes more effort and feels more permanent.

Again, I'm unsure of how to solve this. Personally, I'd prefer something that allowed me to drag a tab into some sort of persistent "scratch area." The tab would be saved there and removed from the browser. To reopen the tab, you would drag it out of the scratch area and back into the browser. This would reload the tab, preferably with the original scroll offset and zoom level, and simultaneously remove it from the scratch area. Alternatively, you could double click the tab instead of dragging it to open it up without removing it from the scratch area. Ideally, the scratch area itself would be a translucent overlay covering the client area of the browser window. It could be accessed by a button on the toolbar, by dragging a tab, or by a hot key. Bonus points if the scratch area acts like a zoomable canvas (no scroll bars, just drag and zoom) and can maintain the spatial location where you dragged the tab, since human memory tends to be more spatial and associative than hierarchical or linear.

I'm sure there are some usability problems with this that I haven't considered, but it's just a suggestion for something that would suit my personal browsing style.

In that screenshot the tab bar is misleadingly included along with the Windows Panel. In reality the Windows Panel is a complete replacement for the tab bar, saving that valuable screen real estate. In addition, Opera's sidebar can quickly be hidden and only shown when necessary, allowing for a very minimalist browser.

Yet it still doesn't compare to Chrome, which, in its default configuration, takes up just enough space in the client area to fit the address bar, and still lets me see the names of all the tabs that are open in the current window.

As for it using a "hierarchical tree view", all it does is sort the tabs by the window that contains them. There are only two levels of "hierarchy", allowing you to hide the tab listings for specific windows to save space in the panel.

I apologize for this. You are, of course, correct that it really doesn't represent a deep hierarchy. My snipe at the tree view was really intended for those who suggested the tab tree plugin, and didn't belong in my response to your post.

I'm curious how you would improve on this?

I don't think that I could. It seems like it would work well for an overall multi-window tab manager, and I wouldn't mind having something like that in every browser that I use. Still, I don't see it replacing actual tabs for my usage.

I'd suggest that you actually try this feature for a while, rather than judging it based on your first impressions from a screenshot.

It was possibly unfair of me to judge that one specific feature based on a single screenshot, but honestly, that screenshot is truly representative of the criticism that Opera receives for it's interface: poor color choices, mismatched icons, thick borders around the tabs, nested panels, and widgets that don't match the operating system. The noise coming from the interface completely smothers the content.

Nevertheless, I will download the latest version of Opera, at your request, and play with the window panel feature for the next few days.

Edited 2009-05-20 03:44 UTC

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