The blog of Eric Sibly; focusing on mountain biking, .NET development for the Desktop, Smartphone and PocketPC.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Tabbed browsing; tabbed applications…

I am all for the inclusion of tabbed browsing within Internet Explorer, it is absolutely a must have feature. It is a fantastic feature, masterfully implemented, within Visual Studio since the inception of .NET – and with it I like the fact that multiple types of files are supported and the UI changes when the different tabs are selected; including the enabling / disabling / addition / removal of menus and toolbars.

So why should we just stop at Internet Explorer; I think this could be the next killer addition to the likes of Outlook and Office.

For Outlook, wouldn’t it be great it there were a series of configurable permanent tabs, for the likes of Mail, Calendar and Contacts, etc. that would then show their current forms. Then as an item of these is opened or created, an additional tab was created to house the new type - then I wouldn’t have half a dozen open emails, appointments and contacts strewn across my screen that I have to alt-tab or click to select. Also, add an option to drag/move a tab from Outlook to be hosted in its own window and back again when I need this type of stand-alone functionality.

For Office, why don’t we just have a single application that is document type independent? So when we go “File/New” we get the choice of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Project, Publisher, et al. Then each of these documents is just a tab within the main Office application, and the menus and toolbars would change accordingly depending on the selected tab. Again, add an option to drag/move a tab from Office to be hosted in its own window on request.

This would also simplify the editing of embedded objects as these could then be hosted as an additional tab within the parent application. Make the whole tab concept pluggable such that any third party developer can add their relevant applications into these parent applications to allow users to have a seamless experience.

I am not suggesting that we should create some type of über application that could house any and every document as that would render the concept of multiple windows redundant, and would be plain stupid. But, I think where a bunch of documents/files are contextually related such as the types of Office documents, Outlook documents and Visual Studio files then consolidation would make the general user experience simpler, reducing the number of open windows, making all of our lives more manageable.

This sounds a little like MDI applications of the past – and I know these have largely gone the way of the dinosaur, and rightly so as they mostly sucked (the whole minimizing, arranging and tiling was ugly and not particularly usable). I think the simple tab concept has proved itself in competing browsers and Visual Studio; including the current options to show a document/file as Tabbed, Docking or Floating (new window).

Finally, how good would it be to look down at your taskbar and only see Outlook, Office and Visual Studio open? No multiple task buttons, no application grouping – pure bliss :-)

What do you think Microsoft?

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