10/11/2009

Tabs, Rethinking the Web Browser: Mastering Firefox like a Ninja 4

I can remember long ago when I didn’t use tabs. I can also remember that it seemed like a stupid idea to use tabs. I doubt I will convert anyone over to using tabs, but I will lay out a very detailed set of reasons on why tabs are very necessary. There are a lot of standard things that can be done using tabs. I will also suggest a few radical ideas on how to use tabs that may help in some tight spots. There is no way that one can become a ninja of using a browser without fully mastering the use of tabs. It may seem like a very banal subject, but when actually looking at our habits when using tabs, we can save little bits of time in a variety of ways.

Please skip to Intermediate if you actively use tabs when you browse.

Tabs simply allow your browser to browse multiple websites at the same time. A New tab can be used to quickly look up a word/term that is not understood, then return to the page. Listening to pandora is difficult when not using tabs. Some tabs can be used for quick reference material. It is almost impossible to use google products, research a stock, lookup sports statistics, make date plans, or find an answer to a difficult question, without using multiple tabs.

Novice: Rarely uses tabs while browsing

It may not be clear to the internet browsing novice what tabs are:

Tabs are the “tabs” on the bottom of the top menu. They signify different pages that are loaded. If you didn’t know what they were before then becoming a ninja will be a long hard road.

It may also not be clear to experienced internet browsing novices when to use tabs. Tabs are supposed to be used to browse multiple websites/pages at the same time. This sounds easy, but figuring out when it is needed is a very subtle trick for a novice. Some see fit to open to much into new tabs, and ruin any organization that would help them save time. Others stick to the old way and incessantly switch back and forth between websites opening as few tabs as possible. It is difficult to say how to use the tool, but it would be more of a subjective area than an objective decision. One of the most basic ways for a novice to experience tabs, would be to sign up for Pandora and try to play music on one tab, while browsing on another. A good rule of thumb would be: 1 purpose to one tab, and 15 tabs max.

A good example of a website that is not up with the tabs concept is TheDrudgeReport . All articles open in the same tab as the website, thereby directing traffic away from the website. This lends itself more to the users who do not use tabs, typically Novice, Internet Explorer, passive, users. As this may be bad for some websites, it works very well for Drudge. More advanced users might choose to right-click>Open in new Tab for several selections from the main drudge site, and then read each of them on separate tabs. This manner of browsing would save the user much angst in navigating back to the main site and into another link, but it is not immediately apparent to a novice.

Intermediate: Uses tabs significantly for a variety of browsing tasks

One might conceive of a scale that would grade the skill required in the use of tabs. At the bottom end would be making piecemeal of Drudge, in the middle would be tasks that require a significant amount of tab judgment, and at the top would be only the most esoteric uses for tabs. Tasks that would require significant amounts of tab usage experience:

-Using google products becomes very cumbersome without setting tabs to each task you are going to use (home, mail, docs, calendar).

-I almost never make a stock/derivative trade without extensive amounts of research on that stock

-Looking up sports statistics

-Finding out all the information on a babe (cyber stalking)

-Making plans for a date is sometimes a very difficult task. I usually find that winging it is better, but sometimes it’s special.

-Sometimes you’re only one of a few people ever to have asked the question and you need to use tabs to search in different ways.
“how do i turn off the seatbelt alarm in a 2006 prius?”
“is there a nokia n95 compatible program that would allow me to remotely turn on my phone without a sound and listen?”

Planning a daytrip can also be much more pleasant when knowing how to use tabs:

Ninja: Using tabs in combination with other tools

It’s so great to make use of tabs while browsing doing every day things, but there are other more involved tasks that require more skill to ply. There are three scenarios here: setting up a reference guide, quick loading a workspace, and watching something.

Setting up a reference guide:

Here’s the scenario in short. I worked on a project where all that it required was for me to reference the same 5 documents incessantly. All but one were pdf’s (the odd one was a word file). I would incessantly have to load one, find something and close it. What I found was that I could set up a reference guide that loaded each document in a different tab. This saved me the discomfort of searching for and loading the documents one at a time. All the documents were right at my fingertips, and I could answer any question I had almost instantly.

HOW: Make a profile -> Set a Hotkey or a Shortcut to that Profile -> Right Click on the PDF files and load into the browser-> make sure that you save the session when closing->Word documents required me to use google docs.

Quick-loading a Workspace:

This one is very basic, there’s a cool thing about Delicious, all of the bookmarks under a tag can be loaded at once. While I don’t recommend loading a google finance tabs of all the stocks on the Dow Jones Industrial (DJI), or the S&P 500, it may be nice to load half a dozen of your usual suspects when browsing the web. Also, I have to load a different set of tabs for when I’m blogging versus when I’m just surfing.

Watching Something:

When you’re on the edge, it sometimes is hard to watch simple things like the weather, a stock price, or the number of new emails you have. It is very nice to be able to simply look at the title to a tab, and see what’s going on. This requires nothing but observing what the title menu’s do, and when they change. Most websites and pages are not going to do this but the occasional page that does is awesome. I love gmail for this.

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