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[4]: Opera's Windows Panel
by Dave_K on Wed 20th May 2009 11:50 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: Opera's Windows Panel"
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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.

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