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[2]: Opera's Windows Panel
by Dave_K on Tue 19th May 2009 22:29 UTC in reply to "RE: Opera's Windows Panel"
Dave_K
Member since:
2005-11-16

That's exactly what I want my web browser to not look like. If Firefox starts heading in that direction, Chrome will become my default browser.


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.

We don't need better tab management. We need something that fits between tabs and bookmarks.


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 don't know what the answer is, but anything that involves more widgets and panels and less screen real estate for content is a failure. And if it has the bonus of including a hierarchical tree view, it's a double failure.


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.

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'm curious how you would improve on this?

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

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[3]: Opera's Windows Panel
by cb_osn on Wed 20th May 2009 03:41 in reply to "RE[2]: Opera's Windows Panel"
cb_osn Member since:
2006-02-26

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

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[4]: Opera's Windows Panel
by Dave_K on Wed 20th May 2009 11:50 in reply to "RE[3]: Opera's Windows Panel"
Dave_K Member since:
2005-11-16

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.


To me Opera's default user interface is perfectly fine. I don't see how its defaults are any less sane or usable than those provided by Firefox and Chrome, they aren't even that different in my opinion. Can you explain why you dislike it and how you would change it?

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.


Users who don't need the extra features don't even need to encounter them. In Opera you can keep the tab bar and maximised tabs (its default settings), giving you simple tabbed browsing like other browsers. MDI and features like the Windows Panel and Session Management are there for people who find standard tabbed browsing overly limited; for them any extra complexity in those features isn't needless.

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.


It's an interesting idea that might work well if it was implemented in an elegant way.

I use multiple windows and occasionally saved sessions to fulfil a similar function. If I want to put some pages to one side, without having to bookmark them, then I can open a new browser window and drag all those tabs into it. Opera's ability to filter the list of tabs and drag groups of tabs together speeds this up.

If I'm not going to be looking at them for a while then sometimes I'll save that window as a session and close it to free up resources. With sessions all the tabs in the window are restored with their previous state, although management of saved sessions could be greatly improved.

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.


Opera's default UI doesn't take up that much more space than Chrome's. Opera's standard windows titlebar and toolbars are slightly thicker, and unlike Chrome it displays a menubar, but apart from that Opera just has a tab bar and address bar.

Maybe Opera could replace the full menubar with a couple of menu buttons on the address bar to make the default UI as minimalist as Chrome (an available option if you're happy to tweak Opera), but then that brings some usability issues when implemented by default. Hide too many features, too deeply in the UI, and new users might miss out on some of the best things about Opera.

As for Chrome letting you see the names of all the tabs in the window, that's only true if you open a very limited number of tabs. Browsing on my laptop's 11" screen, or without the browser window maximised on my desktop (I don't like pages stretched across a 24" screen), and even with a dozen pages open page titles get cut to a few letters. That's when multiple rows of tabs start to become necessary if you don't want to spread your tabs between a bunch of browser windows.

With a widescreen display, a sidebar seems like a better use of space to me, especially as it's also useful for managing file transfers and bookmarks, and in Opera provides a notepad (great if you're using the web for research) and other useful features.

Even on my laptop's small screen I prefer a sidebar; vertical space is particularly precious, and the sidebar can quickly be hidden and shown when needed. The Opera installation on my laptop generally just has the address bar visible, no menubar, tab bar, or anything else taking up space.

For quickly switching between tabs there's right-mouse-button+scroll-wheel (or ctrl+tab) to cycle through the tabs within the active window, with the Windows Panel available for tab management, the tab bar at the top becomes an obsolete feature to me.

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.


That screenshot doesn't show a default Opera installation, both because this has changed since Opera 8, and because that showed a customised installation. Current versions of Opera do not have thick borders around tabs, the tabs fill the tab bar, and compared with a lot of other applications, Chrome for example, it fits in very well with the operating system's look and feel. To me things like skins and colour schemes just aren't a big issue when they can be changed in seconds with a few mouse clicks.

Of course issues of aesthetics are highly subjective, but I really hated the look of Chrome when I tried it. I like all my applications to have a fairly consistent look and feel; one of the first things I do when I install Opera is change it's skin to Windows Native, so that it fits in nicely with the rest of the UI. Part of the reason why I play video in VLC and play music with Foobar2000 is that they don't have non-standard skins that add annoying "noise" to the UI. In contrast the bright blue Chrome skin, with it's non-standard titlebar and controls, sticks out like a sore thumb on my desktop, and unlike Opera it doesn't work with my favourite Windows UI tweaks.

Reply Parent Score: 2