One reason why I prefer browser windows to browser tabs
I recently read about a study of tabbed browsing, and it inspired some reflective thoughts. I am well out on the 'many things open at once' curve of browser users, but unlike almost everyone in the study, I do almost all of it in separate windows instead of in tabs. I've touched on this before, but I feel like taking another shot at one specific aspect of it, which is how one deals with inactive browser sessions.
(By 'browser session' here I mean one window-or-tab object. This is more than just a single web page; I often care about things like the history of how I got to the page.)
At any given time, most of my browser sessions are inactive (I'm not paying any attention to them). In my current window manager environment, I deal with inactive sessions by iconifying the browser window and spatially organizing the icons to keep track of them. I have a good enough spatial memory that I'm pretty good at remembering both where a particular iconified browser window is and what the iconified browser window in a particular place is.
(And unsurprisingly, I've developed habits around all of this; there are certain browser windows that I always iconify to the same places and so on.)
As far as I know, there is no similar method of shelving inactive tabs; they will clutter up the tab bar even if I'm not interested in them right now. Space on the tab bar is a much more limited resource than usable free space on my desktop for icons, so putting any decent amount of inactive sessions into tabs creates mess quite fast. Also, you rapidly get into a situation where it is hard to actually find things in your tabs short of manually searching through them all.
(There seem to be some Firefox extensions that try to deal with this.)
This advantage of browser windows is clearly an artifact of my rather odd window manager environment. Iconification is vastly out of style; common window managers these days put all windows (iconified or not) into a taskbar area, which gets cluttered even faster than the tab bar and is probably harder to manage. At least with Firefox's tab bar, things stay in order and you can shuffle that order around.
(Thinking about all of this makes me want a hopelessly geeky extension to session saving such that you could save and restore groups of windows separately from each other. Or just a good 'park this somewhere so I can come back and read it later' feature of some sort; I have a lot of browser windows that are for things I am going to read someday, honest.)
Comments on this page:Written on 17 June 2010.