Glad we don’t have to deal with that anymore.
If, by some chance, you are still using Internet Explorer 6, I highly suggest visiting this browser ballot screen. From there, you can install the latest versions of many popular browsers, including Internet Explorer 8.
Long ago, Opera used to be my browser of choice. I eventually migrated to Firefox, and now Google Chrome. It was always obvious to me that some of Chrome’s features were highly influenced by Opera. Since Opera 11 was recently released with an intriguing new feature called “tab stacking”, I thought I’d go over how it works.
Consider this scenario:
I have five tabs open. Let’s assume I was working on a research project that somehow involved Beluga whales, sharks, and trout. At the same time, the two remaining tabs have both my webpage, and my blog loaded. The underwater project has nothing to do with my personal website or blog, so I will use tab stacking to merge those three related tabs into one. To do this, all I need to do is drag the tabs onto each other. To better illustrate what I mean, see the following video:
So, once I’ve stacked those three tabs into one, here’s what I have:
The Shark tab is now surrounded by a gray border, and an arrow button can be seen on the right of it. If I want to see the tabs contained within the tab stack, I can either click on the arrow button, or double-click the Shark tab. When I do this, the tab stack expands, revealing its contents:
Once expanded, the tabs function exactly as one would expect. They are just logically grouped together, and can be collapsed again to gain space for other tabs. To collapse, simply either click on the arrow button, or double-click any tab within that stack.
When a stack is collapsed, it isn’t necessary to expand it to take a look at the contents. Even before tab stacking was created, Opera allowed users view a thumbnail of the tab contents just by hovering the mouse cursor over any tab. With tab stacking, they extended this feature, allowing users to hover over a stack, and see thumbnails of all tabs within.
Once those thumbnails are visible, you can click on any one of them to bring it into focus. It reminds of me of how the Windows 7 taskbar works, though it isn’t exactly the same.
If you’re wondering how CTRL+TAB will work in conjunction with this, don’t worry. Opera has a different approach when it comes to CTRL+TAB; it will actually bring up a list of tabs, and allow you to step through them. You will see a thumbnail as you’re doing this, facilitating the task. Let’s say the tab stack was collapsed, and the tab you were currently viewing was the Shark tab. When you CTRL+TAB to the Beluga tab, it will actually make Beluga the active tab, but will maintain the collapsed state of the tab stack.
So, all-in-all, I think this is a great step for a browser. If I were working on a desk with multiple sheets of paper, I’d certainly aim to organize them into stacks. The feature is therefore fairly intuitive, at least in concept. Still, I’m left wondering how much better the feature would be with intelligence, rather than relying on manual user actions. Is there a way it could automatically create stacks whenever it made sense? Internet Explorer 8 actually does something like that: If you launch tab B from clicking on a link found within tab A, it assumes tab A and tab B are related, and gives them the same color. What if that intelligence were combined with tab stacking?
When I use a browser, I typically focus on using keyboard shortcuts, rather than the user interface. Since I’ve been using Google Chrome so often, I thought I would reveal the shortcuts that I’ve been using. Most of these shortcuts should work in other browsers as well, whether natively, or through the use of extensions.
CTRL + T
Opens a new tab in the current window.
CTRL + SHIFT + T
Opens the most recently closed tab. Chrome will actually remember the last ten tabs you closed, and work its way back in time with repeated keypresses.
CTRL + W or CTRL + F4
Closes a tab in the current window. If you close the last remaining tab, the window will close as well.
CTRL + 1, CTRL + 2, CTRL + 3, etc
Allows you to switch to a specific tab within a given window. To better illustrate this, see the following image:
Pressing CTRL+1 will do nothing, because in the image I’m already on tab 1. Pressing CTRL+2 will switch to Wikipedia, and CTRL+3 will switch to Microsoft.
CTRL+9 is a special shortcut that will actually move you to the last tab, regardless of the number of tabs. In the example above, pressing CTRL+9 would bring me to tab 3.
CTRL + TAB
Switches to the next tab.
CTRL + SHIFT + TAB
Switches to the previous tab.
CTRL + N
Opens a new window.
CTRL + SHIFT + N
Opens a new incognito window. I use this shortcut whenever I access my e-mail from a shared computer, to help protect my account.
ALT + F4
Close the current window, regardless of how many tabs are open.
ALT + HOME
Loads your homepage in the current tab.
For a full list of shortcuts in Windows, see the Google Chrome Keyboard and mouse shortcuts page.
Today, I discovered a feature in Google Chrome that had somehow eluded me to this date. If you right-click any tab, several contextual options will be listed. Most of these are fairly standard; however, one stands out from the rest. The “pin tab” option, once selected, will transform the current tab so that only the favicon is visible, not the text. This reduces the size of the tab, but also results in it being moved to the left-most side of the bar, as seen below:
When you close Chrome, and re-open it, tabs who have been pinned will load automatically. While you could achieve a similar result by adding numerous websites to your home page list, the tab pinning approach seems better, to me. I feel it truly reflects the minimalistic nature of Google Chrome, a trait that has been a big influence in its adoption. By simply showing a favicon, they are helping support the idea that an icon should be enough to represent an application a person uses often. Windows 7, for example, took a huge step in that direction with the task bar re-design. I’m happy to see that Google is doing similar, as it optimizes how the space is used within a window, and helps organize information.
If you find that your pinned tabs are becoming too numerous, consider moving some of them to the bookmark bar. It is possible to have the bookmarks appear with only a favicons as well. To do this, simply edit an existing bookmark, and delete the name. Chrome will still allow you to use the bookmark without a name, as it still has an icon to represent it.
There’s a particular feature I’ve always liked in Opera. I’ve seen it implemented in slightly different ways within other browsers. Let’s say I wanted to download my blog’s sitemap.xml file, and I wanted to do this strictly from within the browser. When I visit the link:
My browser doesn’t download the file, it merely displays it. This happens because browsers know how to display XML, and they figure it makes more sense to show you the content – rather than initiate a download. The behavior is different with “.zip” files, for example. Browsers usually initiate a download when they are pointed to a URL that ends in “.zip”. Downloading the physical XML is therefore slightly trickier. In Opera, I can just paste that exact URL into to the Quick Download box at the top of the Downloads page. When I press ENTER, it automatically downloads the physical XML file – rather than trying to display it.
I’ve used this countless times over the years. The same is possible in other browsers, but it usually isn’t as quick as Opera’s implementation. For example, in Google Chrome, I’d first have to view the page, click “Control The Current Page” button, and then “Save Page As”. I would then get a” File Save” dialog, which allows me to change the name, or simply press OK to save the file.
Certainly not as quick as Opera… and what if the XML file was massive? I’d have to wait for the browser to first display it, then I’d be able to download the physical file.
One more reason to keep Opera installed on my computer.