No Tab Left Behind

With the new Safari 4 beta, Apple is taking a page from the book of Opera and Google Chrome and moving their browser tabs all the way to the top:

Safari_4_tabs

While not an incredibly original idea, it is a good idea and there are a number of reasons why. First of all, it optimizes the amount of vertical real-estate, whichโ€”with the upcoming surge in lo-res Netbooksโ€”will matter more than you think. Secondly, it moves an important multi-tasking feature right up to the literal application top, where discoverability is great. Finally, it helps users understand what exactly tabs are: individual content windows with their own unique address-bar and history.

This is clearly a usability improvement, and I’m sure that now Apple has canonized what is (probably) an Opera invention, it’ll make both Mozilla and Internet Explorer scramble to get with the program. So much the better: thanks Apple.

There’s one aspect Mac users will miss out on, though. On Windows systems, when a browser is maximized, tabs that are topmost will fondle the very edges of the screen, an area of extremely valuable realestate. The little secret that makes this top screen edge price go through the roof is the fact that, to reach it, you have only to push your mouse upwards; soon enough your cursor will bump into the edge. When a browser window places its tabs there, that means you only have to worry about left or right to pick your tabs. Not even a shopping cart is left behind in such a system.

Alas, Apple has permanently reserved this top area of the screen for the ubiquitous file menu, which I’m sure a number of people appreciate. Not those who want to get the full flavor of topmost tabs though, they’ll be left out in the cold. Perhaps Apple should place tabs at the bottom of the screen instead? (Oh wait, that’s where The Dock lurks, spring-loaded to pop out when innocent cursors are nearby).

36 thoughts on “No Tab Left Behind”

  1. On Windows systems, when a browser is maximized, tabs that are topmost will fondle the very edges of the screen, an area of extremely valuable realestate.

    Except of course people, like me, who have moved the Star Bar to the top of the screen, where it belongs ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Joen says:

      The “Star Bar”?

    2. Work with me here. StarT Bar ๐Ÿ™‚

    3. Joen says:

      Ouch, why would you do such a thing? You rid yourself of half the Fitts law benefits of using Windows:

      • Close at upper right
      • Double click titlebar to “restore”
      • Minimize button

      Plus you still get the start orb in the bottom left and tasks at the bottom.

      Sigh, I can understand why you don’t like Windows (honestly), but don’t make it harder on yourself than it already is ๐Ÿ™‚

    4. Well, I know I lose Fitts law when doing it like this, but there is something fundamentally flawed in placing the most important area of interaction in what is essentially the least used area of the screen. Because, if you think about it, all interaction with applications usually happens at the top of the application window. So I simply decided, and I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember, to move everything up there, for ease of access.

    5. Joen says:

      I know you’re an intelligent man and have good reasons for what you do, that’s why it’s interesting to see why you’ve moved the bar up.

      I accept your premise that most application interaction happens up there.

      But the taskbar is mainly for starting and switching apps. Kinda like the dock, which is also bottommost. But you can’t move that topmost, can you?

      (And yes, I know that just because you criticise the Windows system, it doesn’t mean you inherently like the Mac system, but it does help my argument that people will be used to switching and starting apps in the bottom of the screen.)

    6. I’m going to try having it at the bottom for a while, to see how it works out for me.

      Either way, with regards to the dock; no one uses it. Since you can start apps with spotlight and quit them using CMD-TAB and then CMD-Q, what would you use the dock for? Sure, it’s a handy shortcut to folders and such, but that’s about it.

      PS: Can you copy the ‘reply’ link to the bottom of the thread?

    7. Joen says:

      Michael Heilemann: I’m going to try having it at the bottom for a while, to see how it works out for me.

      Woo!

      Michael Heilemann: Either way, with regards to the dock; no one uses it.

      Could it be re-designed to work, do you think?

      Michael Heilemann: PS: Can you copy the ‘reply’ link to the bottom of the thread?

      No I can’t and it bugs the hell out of me! Have you managed to do it (if so, how)!?

    8. Could it be re-designed to work, do you think?

      Well, that depends. What’s wrong with it?

      No I can’t and it bugs the hell out of me! Have you managed to do it (if so, how)!?

      Haven’t tried actually.

    9. Joen says:

      Michael Heilemann: Well, that depends. What’s wrong with it?

      What’s wrong with the dock?

      Well to keep this somewhat brief, the dock is the launcher and switcher in OSX, especially for the layman who doesn’t use expose, alt tab or quicksilver/spotlight. So the first thing that’s wrong with it is that you, who use expose, quicksilver and spotlight can’t turn it off without resorting to third party apps.

      A launcher/switcher is necessary. Windows has the startbar which, even if it’s far from perfect, works better than the dock in my opinion due to these dock shortcomings:

      • In its default configuration, it takes up about half the horisontal space of the bottom, and is quite high. The space on the left and right of it is practically useless, since windows are rectangular.
      • If the dock is made smaller, the hit areas of the apps decrease proportionally. It’s fitts law all over again.
      • If the dock is made to auto hide, or if magnification is enabled, the dock will be extremely disruptive when resizing and switching between several windows, jumping out and asking “Me?” whenever I don’t want to be dealing with it.
      • I was going to mention that the dock doesn’t indicate how many instances of an app is open, but now that tabbed apps are the norm, this problem will cease to exist.
      • Since the dock is the laymans app launcher (my gut tells me the layman won’t use spotlight), there’s a good chance that every app the user plans to use will have permanent residence in the dock, further scaling down the size and adding clutter.

      So how could it be improved? Well Expose does a fabulous effort of improving app switching. But while spotlight is good for launching apps, I miss the OS 9 Clasic Apple Menu that showed all apps on the system, in a start-menu-like fashion.

      Perhaps the metaphor needs to be re-thought. Perhaps instead of having The Dock, we need The Lot, like the iPhone has. Scrap the desktop with files metaphor and replace the entire desktop with your app buttons.

      Yeah, I dunno. It’s a difficult task. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s perfect as it is.

      Michael Heilemann: Haven’t tried actually.

      I’ll try right now!

  2. khaled says:

    While I have it on the side. You’re definitely right about the menu bar. Wonder if you can put the tabs on the bottom, might make more sense on OSX but then where would the status bar go (which is hidden by default)….oh I’m sure they’ve thought about this and really couldn’t do anything about it…

    1. Joen says:

      khaled: oh I’m sure they’ve thought about this and really couldn’t do anything about it…

      I think that’s exactly what happened.

      And in all fairness, this doesn’t make the sky fall. We’re talking tiny speed improvements in daily browsing. Apple made a call long ago and decided file menus were so important they deserved the top spot, if you’ll excuse my pun.

      It’d be interesting to re-evaluate that today, especially now that file menus are on the way out.

  3. Brendan says:

    Noting that Vista/ Windows 7 users will find the new tabs painful to the extreme. This is what I see when viewing Safari 4 under Windows 7 (Aero).

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lab-notes/3306055071/

    It’s not pretty. Or even usable. Also, most of the keyboard short-cuts have mysteriously vanished.

    The engine is brilliant, mind and I do actually like the ideas presented in the new version quite strongly, but the UI just plain sucks under Aero enabled Vista, it needs a lot more work.

    Version 4 clearly illustrates that Windows support is, at best, an after-thought.

    1. Joen says:

      It does look a lot like Google Chrome, though… not that I mind, Chrome looks great.

      I’m sure they’ll work out the kinks.

      As for them having native support at all, however, I find that hilarious. The way I’m reading it is: no-one takes Safari on Windows seriously as long as it’s ultra-skinned and with its own font and UI widgets; it sticks out like a sore thumb, so to speak. At best it’s a way to test how your website looks on the Mac.

      So now that Apple has acknowledged that with Safari, do you think they will with iTunes? Could we possibly see a “Windows native looking” iTunes? Perhaps one that isn’t slower than the perception of evolution unbelievers?

    2. Well it is a beta, so let’s give them until the final before calling it. But at least it’s a big step forward for Safari on Windows; hell, I might even use it above Chrome, since Chrome isn’t out for X anyway.

      But yeah, the similarity of the buttons, the two right-most buttons especially, is conspicuous. Or should i say identical?

      Strangely, it seems that the Safari window is still refreshed slower than other windows. At least, when I drag it around on my screen, it seems to skip a lot more than for instance Chrome.

      Oh, and this by the way, once again relegates IE to its usual position as ugliest browser anywhere ๐Ÿ˜€

    3. Joen says:

      Michael Heilemann: But yeah, the similarity of the buttons, the two right-most buttons especially, is conspicuous. Or should i say identical?

      My thoughts exactly. I know Chrome is open source, but I wonder if the design is open source as well.

      Again, I don’t mind. It’s a good idea and good ideas should be free, in these cases.

      Michael Heilemann: Oh, and this by the way, once again relegates IE to its usual position as ugliest browser anywhere ๐Ÿ˜€

      IE certainly has extremely fierce competition. Which is great.

  4. Dave Child says:

    Whatever next – mouse gestures?

    1. Joen says:

      Mouse gestures should be system-wide, in my opinion, like they are with Strokeit

    2. Someone, please, create a screencast that explains to me why I should care about mouse gestures.

    3. Joen says:

      Michael Heilemann: Someone, please, create a screencast that explains to me why I should care about mouse gestures.

      I will. As soon as I get back to my beloved PC, which means tomorrow (tho I won’t have time to screencast tomorrow).

    4. Tristan says:

      Mouse gestures never made much sense to me – it’s a pointer, not an extension of your hand movement. It’s too counter-intuitive to me. Plus, every time I’ve turned on any kind of mouse gesturing, I’ve always found myself accidentally activating them and becoming so annoyed that I turned them off fairly quickly. (Though note this was a very long time ago, and I’m sure advancements have been made)

      There are two kinds of gestures that make sense to me:

      1. Trackpad. Your actual fingers are doing the gesturing, and it works so well. The new MacBook[Pro]s being the prime example, with the large, multi-touch interface. Swipes for expose are gloriously useful.

      2. Pen tablets. Feels more natural to write a gesture than it does to “draw” one with a mouse that was never meant for drawing.

      Just my US$0.02.

    5. Joen says:

      Tristan: Mouse gestures never made much sense to me

      Okay, I am now officially gathering materials for a lavish post explaining why Mouse Gestures are the new black. Oh wait

      But seriously, I will put something together. This aspect of usabiltiy and interface design clearly needs its righteous spotlight shone on it.

      Tristan: Plus, every time I’ve turned on any kind of mouse gesturing, I’ve always found myself accidentally activating them and becoming so annoyed that I turned them off fairly quickly.

      Well, I do recognize that problem. But that problem is with the mouse gesture extension or app you’ve tried, not with the concept of gesturing itself.

      See, strokeit comes with A BUNDLE of mouse gestures. As in 100, including ones that make you spell a capital E for “Explorer” to launch it. In addition to that, it has “learning” enabled by default, which means whenever you draw an unrecognizable gesture, strokeit will popup and say “Howdy!”, asking you to connect that mistaken gesture with an event.

      So yes, you need to tweak your gestures. Disable most of them, and so on. And you turn “learning” off.

      Tristan: 1. Trackpad. Your actual fingers are doing the gesturing, and it works so well. The new MacBook[Pro]s being the prime example, with the large, multi-touch interface. Swipes for expose are gloriously useful.

      I honestly don’t care about the physical metaphors. Yes, it looks cool that when you pinch a photograph on the iPhone, it looks like you make it smaller. But try pinching a real photo. You’ll soon find that you’ll only wrinkle it.

      Mouse gestures are about making common, every day tasks faster and require less effort. Think about it, Apple could have release the iPhone with “one-touch” instead of multi touch. They could have built an interface where, when you would zoom an image, you’d click a “plus” instead of pinching. Why are there gestures in the iPhone? Sure it looks cool, but I’ll bet you that’s not the main reason. The main reason is it’s faster.

      I posit that mouse gestures is about more than simply drawing OCR recognizable shapes on the screen. Gestures are also about shaking, throwing and positioning.

      Gestures is moving your cursor to the top right corner of the screen to activate Expose.

      Gestures is about grabbing the top of your window, shaking it to minimize other windows as is done in Windows 7: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JdV0sG6sFI

      Gestures is about grabbing Google Earth and “throwing it” in one general direction to gently fly in the other direction.

      Those are all mouse gestures, and I’m quite sure you use several of them.

      Add to that these following that are the only ones I have enabled in my trusty Windows with Strokeit system. Imagine yourself doing them in day to day work:

      • Hold down right mouse button and draw an L to send the “quit” signal to an application.
      • Hold down right mouse button and draw a diagonal line towards the bottom left to minimize a window
      • Hold down right mouse button and draw a diagonal line towards the top right to maximize a window
      • Hold down right mouse button and scroll to cycle through applications as you’d alt-tab
      • Hold down right mouse button and draw a line towards the left to go to the previous history item in your browser or explorer — draw right to go the other way

      The “Hold the right mouse button” thing, by the way, is timed. So if you need to actually send a rightclick, for instance to the desktop, you simply click as you used to be. “Holding” the right button requires that you click and drag. Works excellently.

      Edit: Oh, and I have disabled gestures in a number of applications such as Photoshop and games.

    6. Tristan says:

      Joen, I think you’ve written enough there for your post. Certainly is convincing by your enthusiasm. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I can see the use of them for sure, and physical metaphors definitely aren’t needed in order to make gestures useful. And with a limited number of gestures that make sense as the ones you’ve described, yeah, they sound great.

      I think the threshold comes when you start to get so many contexts and so many uses for gestures that they become confusing, and in that case having gestures that “mean” something logically make a lot of sense. Like the two-finger scroll on the mac, it always simply scrolls – or the pinch to zoom in and out, it makes sense in many contexts. That kind of generality is cool for any kind of gesture (mouse or whatever, I guess I have my gesture preferences too and they’re on this magical trackpad). The main gestures I love on the MacBook trackpad aren’t the pinch or rotate or zoom ones, they’re the 3- and 4-fingered ones that activate expose or do cool things in Firefox 3.1 (which they reverse-engineered support for) – three fingers swipes to the left/right goes back/forward in firefox, three fingers up/down goes to the top or bottom of the page (I find myself using that a ton). Rotating with two fingers shuffles through the tabs, also very useful.

      These are simply different kinds of gestures I suppose, they’re all about as useful. I guess my only problem with mouse gestures is that they’re limited by the mouse, and this magical multi-touch thing I’ve got used to over the last few months has opened my mind to a new gesture paradigm, and I like it. Definitely doesn’t mean mouse gestures are any less useful, just that I’ve got my alternative that’s really about the same, but on a different input device that adds new levels of gesturing. ๐Ÿ™‚

    7. Joen says:

      Tristan: I think the threshold comes when you start to get so many contexts and so many uses for gestures that they become confusing, and in that case having gestures that “mean” something logically make a lot of sense. Like the two-finger scroll on the mac, it always simply scrolls – or the pinch to zoom in and out, it makes sense in many contexts.

      That’s a good point. Gestures that make people go “Ah!” instead of “Oh?” are definately more likely to garner widespread usage, whereas the “Draw an L” close app gesture I mention are unlikely to be used outside power user circles.

      That said, you mention the two finger scroll, the pinch, the three finger swipe as logical gestures. I concur. However, if we are to ever create more advanced touch interfaces, we need to think outside the “what makes sense now” box and allow gestures that require learning. You simply can’t think of enough “Ah!” gestures to make an OS go around.

      Tristan: Definitely doesn’t mean mouse gestures are any less useful, just that I’ve got my alternative that’s really about the same, but on a different input device that adds new levels of gesturing. ๐Ÿ™‚

      We are in agreement then. Gestures rock, and we need more of them, everywhere ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Vindberg, A. says:

    My taskbar is also at the top – where it belongs:) Im using strokeit for most of the fittz law benefits you mention so I would argue it is the best solution to navigation.

    Im hoping that Firefox will implement the same tab structure you mention – it makes perfectly sense!

    Cheers for a great post.

    1. Joen says:

      Vindberg, A.: My taskbar is also at the top – where it belongs:) Im using strokeit for most of the fittz law benefits you mention so I would argue it is the best solution to navigation.

      Touche!

      That said, very few people use strokeit, unfortunately, which is why it’s also a good thing the default Windows configuration has the start bar at the bottom.

      Vindberg, A.: Im hoping that Firefox will implement the same tab structure you mention – it makes perfectly sense!

      Count on it ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Jenny-fa says:

    Somebody probably already addressed this, but the Dock can be configured. Magnification (“the popping-out thing”) can be turned off, the Dock can be hidden, and you can move it to the right or left of the screen, where it becomes narrower and much more manageable.

    Alas, Apple has permanently reserved this top area of the screen for the ubiquitous file menu, which I’m sure a number of people appreciate.

    And dude, why do you always sound so scornful in your assessments of the Mac OS? For your information, I appreciate the standardization of the file menu. You don’t have to go around looking for it, or deal with some Windows applications’ custom menu designs.

    1. Joen says:

      Jenny-fa: why do you always sound so scornful in your assessments of the Mac OS?

      I would like it to be known that I utilize this tone in naive hopes that it’ll make for more interesting reading. Also that I utilize the same tone adressing both Windows and Mac OS interface evaluations. Mac OS is just more interesting, because it’s almost there, whereas Microsoft apps are, in general, aesthetic trainwrecks.

      Jenny-fa: or your information, I appreciate the standardization of the file menu.

      I do appreciate standardization, it’s one of the load-bearing pillars of good interface design.

      That said, nothing is sacred in interface design, and when I bring up the file menu in this case, it’s because a new standard is emerging, a standard which is incompatible with a permanent top-most file menu.

      Tell you what, my gut feeling is that Apple is actually reconsidering both the ubiquitous file menu and the lack of fullscreen! I can sense it! Give it a 6-12 months.

    2. That said, nothing is sacred in interface design, and when I bring up the file menu in this case, it’s because a new standard is emerging, a standard which is incompatible with a permanent top-most file menu.

      You’re not going to bring up Office, are you?

    3. Joen says:

      Michael Heilemann: You’re not going to bring up Office, are you?

      Ahem, actually Office is a prime example of both the fact that most interface design Microsoft touches gets glossed over with uglyness. I mean ouch, there couldn’t possibly be more ugly gradients in that.

      But yeah, I do think “The Ribbon” helps discoverability of the plethora of features of Office.

  7. Jonas Rabbe says:

    One thing I just wanted to point out is that the cursor movement on a mac is much more precise than on Windows, and the close proximity of the tabs to the menu bar is not as problematic as it would be on Windows. Disclaimer, I learned to use a mouse of the mac before I used Windows, so I may be biased.

    Michael Heilemann:

    You’re not going to bring up Office, are you?

    One of my coworkers noted that he installed the new office suite at home, and only found out how to print since ctrl-p still worked…

    1. Joen says:

      Jonas Rabbe: One thing I just wanted to point out is that the cursor movement on a mac is much more precise than on Windows

      Due to acceleration or speed? Cos you can configure that in Windows as well.

      Jonas Rabbe: One of my coworkers noted that he installed the new office suite at home, and only found out how to print since ctrl-p still worked…

      Yes, Microsoft does ugly icons, but the printer icon is still there

      (top left)

    2. Hah! Took me a short while to find it; if indeed the printer with the lightning over it is the print icon… It might be ‘setup new printer wizard’ or some such.

    3. Joen says:

      Yeah. I concede that the Office interface has its problems.

      That said, I truly honestly think “The ribbon” in itself is a really good idea with a huge potential. Pity Microsoft can’t utilize that potential.

  8. Jonas Rabbe says:

    Joen:

    Due to acceleration or speed? Cos you can configure that in Windows as well.

    Default I’d say. I haven’t touched the configuration at all, in neither windows not mac os, and it just works. Will have to try tweaking the parameters on my work machines tomorrow.

    1. Joen says:

      Alright, defaults are indeed important, and cursor speed is quite important.

      I have noticed that on most Windows configurations, the cursor speed is quite alright, but also that cursor speed is hardware/driver dependant. For instance, if you install boot camp, the speed is ridiculously high. Once you halve the speed and sets the mouse wheel to scroll 1 line at the time, things are alright again.

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