What is Tabbed Browsing?

R. Kayne

Tabbed browsing is the ability to quickly switch between several open webpages within a single Web browser window by clicking on tabs. Tabs appear in the browser window when more than one webpage is opened. Each open webpage has its own tab, with the active tab displaying its page “up front,” the inactive tabs hidden behind. By clicking on a tab the user switches that page up front for quick viewing.

The ability to switch between a variety of open web pages is referred to as tabbed browsing.
The ability to switch between a variety of open web pages is referred to as tabbed browsing.

Tabbed browsing is extremely useful in a variety of situations. If you are reading a webpage and would like to click a link without losing your place, you can open the link in a tabbed window. After reading the link you can close the tab or just click on the original tab to switch back to the previous page, keeping both pages available. Tabbed browsing eliminates the need to repeatedly reload pages or use the “back” button.

Tabs appear in a browser window when more than one web page has been opened by a user.
Tabs appear in a browser window when more than one web page has been opened by a user.

Comparison shopping is also much easier using tabbed browsing. By opening several bargain-finder websites one can easily refer back and forth between them to see who has the best deal. Prospective buys can be left open in tabs while new tabs can be used to continue shopping. When finished, the bargain website(s) will still be there, a click away. You can forget about being forced to navigate away from pages of interest, only to have to navigate back!

Researchers really appreciate tabbed browsing. Easily and quickly compare specifications between competing products, drill through various FAQs, get customer and expert reviews, and keep all valuable information a click away. Google for more information without losing pages, and follow up tangential leads when needed without worry of navigating too far away from choice sources of information.

Mozilla's™ open-source, free Firefox™ has offered tabbed browsing since September 2002 (when it was called Phoenix, then Firebird and finally Firefox), accounting in part for its extreme popularity among computer techies. Firefox add-ons make tabbed browsing even easier. With the click of a button, one can save tabbed sessions and finish shopping or researching when it’s convenient. The user can also assign a custom name to each saved session for easy reference. When ready, just click the session name and Firefox will recreate the saved session for you, all tabs complete.

Arguably, Booklink Inc. developed and released the first tabbed browser in 1994, called InternetWorks. This was followed in 1998 by Adam Stiles' Simulbrowse which became NetCaptor, widely recognized as the "DNA" of modern tabbed browsing. Opera®, a pay-for browser at the time, began offering tabbed browsing in 2000, switching from a shareware model to optional adware, then dropping the adware model in 2005.

Most browsers today offer native tabbed browsing, while Microsoft® Internet Explorer™ 7.x requires a specially installed toolbar to implement it. The feature became standard in version 8.0 of that browser, released by Microsoft in 2009.

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Discussion Comments


Tabbed browsing is one of those great developments we take for granted. Remember the old days of opening up an entirely new Window when you wanted to keep the page you were on open so you could refer back to it later?

That meant you had a task bar full of, essentially, new instances of your browser and had to flip among them to go back and forth between pages. It was hard to keep track of and was a headache.

Tabbed browsing is one of those things that made me switch over to Firefox years ago.

You know how to tell if something like tabbed browsing is revolutionary? When it becomes so common we couldn't imagine being without it. That's how.

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