Tabbed browsing is the feature for people tired of playing Whack-a-Mole on the Web. You know how it goes: You're halfway through a 5-hour surfing extravaganza and fast approaching 2 × 106 open Web sites, each in its own window. Suddenly, the buttons in your Windows taskbar are approaching atomic size. The Wally's Fish World button now reads "Wa …"; Sports Illustrated becomes "Spo …"; and CNN is just "…". Switching back to the Web site you want becomes a guessing game. The taskbar itself is scrolling, which you didn't even know was possible!
Firefox has made that a thing of the past. This chapter shows how to take advantage of a revolutionary new way to browse the Web. It's called tabbed browsing, and it eliminates desktop clutter by allowing you to group all of your Web sites into a single window. Each Web site displays as a tab in a strip along the top of the browser's viewing area. Now you never have to close a Web site just to make room for more. Choosing between Wally's Fish World and CNN is a decision nobody should have to make.
When you open multiple documents on your computer, you're probably accustomed to working with each document in a separate window. To switch between two windows, you click the button that represents the appropriate document on the Windows taskbar at the bottom of your screen. This method is similar to how things work in real life: You can lay multiple pieces of paper across your desk and focus your attention on any of them.
Most Web browsers follow this model, and Firefox can, too. But Firefox takes the perspective that Web sites are different from documents. When you open a document, you generally intend to spend a fair amount of time working on it. When you open a Web site, you might spend as little as 30 seconds reading it. And because Web sites take time to load, many people prefer to open multiple pages at once so they have more to read while other pages are loading.
Firefox offers tabbed browsing for users who maintain this kind of frantic and frenzied pace on the Web. Instead of being contained within a separate window as documents are, Web sites can be opened in tabs that appear along a tab strip along the top of the window, as shown in Figure 7-1.
Figure 7-1: You can open multiple Web sites in a single window. To access a site, click its tab in the bar directly above the Content area.
Thus, instead of behaving like separate papers on your desk, each window (group of tabs) is essentially a folder containing multiple items. You can view all your Web sites in the same window or you can maintain multiple "folders" for keeping track of different types of Web sites. For example, a journalist might choose to have one window that houses all her research Web sites and another window that houses all her entertainment Web sites.
Some of the benefits of the tabbed approach are obvious. Your Windows taskbar is no longer cluttered with dozens of Web pages, each in its own window. Tabs open much more quickly than new windows. And unlike windows, they also open in the background, which means the tab you're currently looking at remains at the forefront. As you come across interesting links on the Web page you're reading, you can open them in new tabs for later viewing without getting distracted and losing your place.
Other benefits are more subtle and start to emerge only after you get immersed in the new rhythm of tabbed surfing. So, it's time to begin!
When you enter an address into the Location Bar at the top of the window and press Enter, the new Web page loads in place of the one you were previously looking at. If you want to keep the current Web page open and load a new Web page simultaneously, you can load the new Web page in a tab that appears next to the old Web page in the tab strip at the top of the window. Choose File New Tab, and then enter the address of the page you want to visit into the Location Bar. It's that easy.
You can use the Ctrl+T shortcut in Windows (+T on a Mac) to open a new, blank tab quickly. You can also open a site in a new tab by typing its address into the Location Bar and pressing Alt+Enter (Windows) or Option+Return (Mac). Or, if the tab strip is visible, you can double-click on any of its empty space (in other words, not on a tab) to open a new, blank tab. After the tab is open and selected, enter an address into the Location Bar to load a Web page in the tab.
One of the biggest advantages of tabbed browsing is that it allows you to open linked Web pages in new tabs for later viewing without losing your spot on the Web page you're reading. For example, say you're reading a news article about allergy season that cross-references (with a link) a story about a major new medication. To read this story without tabbed browsing, you have two choices: You can click the link when you encounter it, read the new story, and then return to the original story. Or you can open the link in a new window, wait for the new window to load, and then switch back to the original window. Neither option is ideal because each steals your focus away from the original story. With tabbed browsing, you can choose to open the linked story in a background tab that never obscures the original story.
To open a linked Web page in a new tab, follow these steps:
Right-click the link you want to open in a new tab.
Choose Open Link in New Tab from the menu that appears.
The linked page appears in a new tab at the end of the tab strip. A small image animates to the left of the page title until the page finishes loading, as shown in Figure 7-2. The current page remains the visible page, so you can continue reading without interruption.
Figure 7-2: When you open a Web site in a new tab, an animation appears until the page has finished loading.
When you're ready to view the new Web site, simply click the tab.
Opening links in new tabs can be a one-step process. If you have a middle mouse button, just middle-click the link you want to open. You can also middle-click a tab itself to close the Web site. Although most mice don't have traditional middle buttons, they typically offer a scroll wheel between the left and right buttons that doubles as a middle button when you press it. If your mouse doesn't have a middle button, you can hold Ctrl (or on the Mac) while left-clicking a link to open it in a new tab.
The ability to open linked Web pages in new tabs is perhaps most handy when you need to open a large number of links, such as when you're comparison shopping online or when you're navigating search results. For example, suppose you search Google for an analysis of Hamlet. In the prehistoric days before tabbed browsing, you'd probably click the first result and, if the resulting page wasn't what you wanted, go back and click the second result. Then you'd rinse and repeat until you found what you were looking for.
With tabbed browsing, you can open all the pages you find intriguing, each in its own tab, and keep the source page open in its original tab. Even if you open multiple pages in rapid succession, Firefox immediately gets to work on loading them simultaneously while you keep reading. By the time you're ready to look at the new tabs, they should be ready and waiting for you.
One important difference between windows and tabs is that each window gets its own toolbars, whereas tabs must share the same set. For example, the address in the Location Bar reflects the address of the current tab.
Navigation can be a little confusing at first. Firefox remembers the history of where you've been on the Web and allows you to go back and forth by using the Back and Forward buttons in the toolbar. The important thing here to remember is that Firefox remembers your history for each tab that you're using.
Consider the case where you have two tabs open, both displaying Google. If you switch to the second tab and load Yahoo!, you can click Back to return to Google. However, if you were to switch to the first tab, you would notice that you can't click Back, even though it's the same button you could click a moment ago. Firefox remembers your tracks in each tab but still allows the tabs to share the same button.
When you open a new tab, Firefox positions the new tab to the right of all your existing tabs. However, you might often find that you want to group related tabs together to switch between them quickly. Changing a tab's position in Firefox is as simple as dragging the tab to a new location on the tab bar. As you drag the tab along the bar, a purple arrow indicates the new position of the tab should you decide to drop it there. (Figure 7-3, which appears later in this chapter, shows you the arrow.)
Figure 7-3: If you have multiple home pages, each page opens in a separate tab.
What, closing tabs already? Has the magical journey ended? ‘Fraid so. But this is why millions of people have fallen in love with tabbed browsing: It's so simple to understand, and yet it makes surfing the Web much more enjoyable.
Closing tabs is as easy as opening them, which is actually more important than it sounds — after all, tabbed browsing is about reducing clutter, and nothing leads to more clutter than your own unwillingness to do something about it. Isn't that why your garage is so messy?
Fortunately, cleaning up tabs is easier than cleaning your garage. First, click the tab that contains the Web site you want to close and then click the X button at the far-right end of the tab strip. You can also right-click the tab and choose Close Tab from the menu that appears.
If your mouse has a middle mouse button (or a scroll wheel that acts as a button), you can middle-click a tab to close it quickly.
When you close the currently selected tab, Firefox automatically selects the tab to its immediate left. If you don't like this behavior, you can install an extension called LastTab that instead selects the tab you used most recently. (See Chapter 20 for more information about installing and using extensions.)