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Tab Usability

Asa posts about tabs in IE7, and Gerv replies:

Actually, this isn't such a bad idea. Our tab implementation actually isn't a model of good UI design. I might say: "At the moment, in the Firefox tab implementation, you change a tab and then some UI above the tab (the URL bar) changes. WTF?"

Good UI design says that tabs should be above all the content which changes when they change. So the links toolbar (if installed) should be inside the tabs, and the URL bar should be inside the tabs. The bookmarks bar should be outside the tabs. The navigation buttons could probably be either but, given that they are in the same toolbar as the URL bar, inside seems better.

I think that browser tabs are one case where ease of use beats good UI design. The single thing I do most often in my browser is tab switching, and having the tabs directly above the content means I don't have to move the mouse as far, and I'm less likely to slip and hit the refresh button or something. I remember when I tried Opera's default layout I just couldn't get used to it.

ChatZilla tabs (screenshot) are another good example. 90% of the time, my mouse cursor is over the input box, the tabs, or the bottom of the the output window using my scroll wheel. Having the tabs below nearly all their content sounds stupid in theory, but in practice, it works.

On a Mac, the menu bar is always at the top of the screen, but it changes when the user switches windows. Although I think I'd find that hard to get used to, it makes some sense because it's predictable. In fact, that makes me wonder - could I put browser tabs at the very top of the screen and benefit from "infinite height"?

Maybe after my exams...

⇐19 Jun 2005 - Other Mozilla Stuff / 16 Jun 2005 - 1.1⇒


Opera doesn't follow that completely though; the adverts change and they're above the tab bar. =P / Comment from Michael Tunnicliffe on 27 Jun 2005 at 16:33.

I think there's something wrong with the concept of "ease of use" beating "good UI design". Perhaps you mean "ease of use" beats "strict information architecture". / Comment from Rich on 04 Nov 2005 at 15:46.

You're right. I probably meant to say "so-called good UI design", or "UI theory". / Comment from Robert Marshall / [Admin] on 04 Nov 2005 at 23:05.

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