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?