April 12, 2005
Cyrus bemoans the user interface catastrophe known as tabbed browsing:
As far as I can tell, tabs just exist to violate the existing window managment systems I have in the OSs i use. So all the built-in ways I know to use my system fly out the window (no pun intended).
Well, Cyrus, I could go either way on tabbed UIs. My needs are much simpler: how about some window management consistency in Microsoft's own office suite?
On one hand, you've got Word and Excel, which appear to be straight SDI. Or are they? As Josh points out, not quite:
Well, I don't know what you'd call it, but I wouldn't call it consistent.
- Open 2 documents in Word. Now open 2 documents in Excel.
- Both applications show 2 taskbar icons (seems SDI).
- Each app Windows menu lists the 2 open documents (seems MDI-ish).
- Now, click the top right X (close button) on a Word document. The current document closes.
- Now, click the top right X (close button) on an Excel document. BOTH Excel documents close.
Then you've got Microsoft Access, which has this bizarro hybrid MDI mode where every MDI window shows up in your windows taskbar, like so:
As for Microsoft Powerpoint, I saved the weirdest for last. Unlike every other Office app, Powerpoint does not allow multiple instances. There can be only one Powerpoint, ever. And it gets weirder! Try opening two presentations and then clicking the "close application" button in the upper right corner of the PowerPoint window, as illustrated in this movie:
When does "close application" not mean "close application"? Evidently whenever you have more than one document open in Powerpoint.
So here's my question to Cyrus: how could tabbed interfaces be any worse than the complete and utter lack of window management consistency in Microsoft's own office suite?
Posted by Jeff Atwood
I believe those comments are from Cyrus not Korby Parnell.
When did my name become Korby? :)
And why is a discussion about tabs in web browsers morphing into a discussion about MSOffice? Just because one system does things inconcsistantly and poorly doesn't provide an excuse for others to do the same.
"So here's my question to Korby: how could tabbed interfaces be any worse than the complete and utter lack of window management consistency in Microsoft's own office suite? "
Clearly, you didn't read my responses to this already on my blog :)
This is a non-sequitor. Or, you could say that it's a strawman argument.
You are presenting a *different* position than the one i put forward and using it to discredit the point i was making.
I would be happy to write a post about access and the weirdo model it has: Except... I don't run access and i know nothing about it!
But i do know web browsers. And i do understand window management systems. And i do know that tabs violate the systems that are set up in place to help the user with window managment.
My points stand *regardless* of what office does, and by bringing this into the argument you are attempting ot deflect from my actual position.
If i had written: "Tabs suck! Office has the right model" your argument would be fine. But as it stands now it is illogical and serves little purpose.
I know, major gaffe. Fixed, and my apologies Cyrus-- I really like your blog and it kills me that I made such a boner.
You guys are too speedy for me!
Just because one system does things inconcsistantly and poorly doesn't provide an excuse for others to do the same.
Actually, I would argue that it does. What "consistency" is tabbed browsing violating? Because there isn't any, from where I'm sitting.
The consistency that is being broken, is years of user's investment in getting used to the fact that there were 8 little app "markers" for each window of a browswer that one had open, and the other years of user investment into the XP model of stacked "markers". Now, people like Firefox seem happy to go against all that, and MS is hot on their heels, like rats after the pied piper.
I've gotten pleasantly used to scanning my task bar for what I've got open, and I've certainly hated some of the ideas that MSOffice had, and I don't think they are a good example of any kind of quality "Windows" coding. Obviously throwbacks to the days of each app team working quite independently, and then being grouped as a suite.
The sad truth (for you anyway) is that most people like the tabs. Most people still think in terms of programs and not data no matter what crazy metaphor has gripped the gods of UI. "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 - 1882)
I'll admit there is a certain amount of discontinuity between ALT+TAB and CTRL+TAB.
But I am totally unconvinced that typical users (eg, not developers) even know what these keys do!
I like tabs, I think they give a great deal of affordance to the UI.
The argument that the windows taskbar obliviates the need for tabs is bogus. People don't like windows appearing, disappearing, and overlapping, which is what happens if you use the OS window manager. If you are working in the domain of one application, then it is usually desirable for that app to manage its own windows.
Like most rational people, I love Firefox's tabbed browsing. Don't forget that on Win XP multiple windows from the same app stack on one another, so you can't choose which tab to see next.
On the commerical program I work on the app is an MFC SDI, but the gui exposes all the main fuctionality via three tabs, each of which groups three logical areas of program operation. Users love it. Nothing is hidden from them.
I think you make an excellent point about the lack of Window consistency in Office. But don't be hatin on the office team alone - it applies to Windows in general. Look at Control Panel, for goodness sake. Some panels (Fonts, Printers, Scheduled Tasks, etc.) take over the control panel window, others pop up additional windows (Display, Mouse, Security Center, etc.) pop up modeless dialogs. Some of these dialogs use tabs, some use wizards. I could go on and on, and that's just the control panel.
Do I need to even mention MSN? :-)
The reason I like tabbed browsing is that there ends up being so much stuff in the task bar anymore (WMP, the system tray, quick launch bar etc.) that once you have more than 8-10 apps open the icons displayed in the task bar are almost useless because you can't read the titles of the windows anymore.
I kind of look at tabs as being the "new MDI".
Jeff: "Actually, I would argue that it does. What "consistency" is tabbed browsing violating? Because there isn't any, from where I'm sitting."
Then you need to get a mac :)
David says: The reason I like tabbed browsing is that there ends up being so much stuff in the task bar anymore (WMP, the system tray, quick launch bar etc.) that once you have more than 8-10 apps open the icons displayed in the task bar are almost useless because you can't read the titles of the windows anymore.
I kind of look at tabs as being the "new MDI".
I could not better say it myself. Why do not others understand this? :)
I like FireFox's tabs, but I frequently use both multiple tabs and multiple windows (logically grouping browsing sessions by topic). Consequently, I wish that each tab in each window were listed separately in the taskbar. Obviously, windows with a single tab would get only one taskbar entry.
In this paradigm, selecting a taskbar entry would focus on the appropriate window and switch to the designated tab.
I realize that this is reminiscent of the Office approach, but I believe it would be intuitive. Closing an entry from the taskbar would merely close the tab in the window (or the window if it were single-tabbed), and closing a window via the close button would potentially remove multiple entries (i.e. all tabs within the closing window) from the taskbar.
Is this heresy?
I loved your comments, it helped me to be aware of this problems. User interfaces are my everyday problem when i'm doing a new application, that is why i rather stay on the controller and model layers ( MVC ).
Gracias amigos! :)
I think tabs are great and it would be interesting to see IE7 or Firefox's tabs applied to documents in Office applications.
When it comes to consistency, I see my taskbar as tabs of applications I'm running and the tabs at the top as the documents I have open for that application.
Even Visual Studio has a mini-tab for code pages and designers you have open. Flesh that out a little and put the "New File" on the left hand corner and you have proper tabs. Again something that would be interesting to see in Word or Excel
What version of Excel are you using, Jon? Because they certainly close both on mine. (Office XP)
Given that this article was posted two and a half years ago, though, it's to be expected that there'll have been some changes since.
The task bar along the bottom in Windows is effectively a set of tabs; just a global set for all apps, which I think is an issue, as I can have 20-30 tabs open in Firefox alone when researching would not want them mixed up with other apps on the taskbar.
It is easy to choose between new tabs and new Windows in Firefox, so I tend to have one Firefox window open with tabs containing news/mails etc and another Firefire window with other tabs relating to work at hand. I do hate the way some Office apps create multiple items on the task bar (Excel).
One good suggestion which I saw raised here, was that Firefox could give more of a hint about what tabs were open in the task bar. Not sure if it is possible or not, but perhaps a suggestion to the FF team, would be to add something like a pop-up list of tabs open, associated with the FF icon on the taskbar? Alt-Tab through windows the FF icon could again be extended to show a list of tabs - a cross-bar style look.
Consistency is great when a process works, but just as XP broke the terribly consistent (and consistently terrible) “cram a button onto the task bar for each open browser window”, tabbed browsers are a move away from XP’s stacked taskbar button model.
Arguing that those stacked buttons in XP are somehow the new model that must be used just doesn’t ring true with me because
1. it isn’t a great model, so I don’t feel a need to stick to it Tabs are superior in my eyes. Vastly superior.
2. it isn’t universal across platforms, it is a Windows XP feature. Tabbed Firefox is consistent across linux, Mac, and XP. So I’m not buying the “consistency” argument.
3. it isn’t even universal across Windows! When I use Windows 2000, Firefox tabs work exactly the same as they do when I use Window XP. So I’m not buying the “consistency” argument.
Josh got this wrong:
"Now, click the top right X (close button) on an Excel document. BOTH Excel documents close."
Both Excel documents do not close.