User Experience Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for user experience researchers and experts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Has anyone come across any online content that jumps outside the box and re-thinks how we can organize multi-windowed content more effectively than using the classic tab bar along the top of the window?

I'm building a Cocoa application that could potentially have a lot of "tabs" open at any given time and I've always found tab bar to get a bit cluttered in these cases.

An example of an alternative would be a multi-column format, where the "tabs" are actually stacked vertically in a column alongside the main window. The only issue I'd have with using this is that I already display a directory tree at the left of said window, so it might look confusing.

Another alternative I can think of would perhaps not be very accessible, but basically each "tab" would be a sort of bubble that goes into a panel which resizes both vertically and horizontally, and the layout optimize the positions of the "tabs" for space (like a jigsaw).

I dunno, I'm just really open minded to some fresh ideas on this since I know why I've found tab bars in similar apps to be a nuisance.

I'm trying to gain the benefits of quick browsing/navigation between open documents, and space-optimization at the same time.

(This app is a text editor/IDE)

share|improve this question
See this mini paper on ACM Ubiquity I wrote: – warren May 1 '15 at 20:25
up vote 10 down vote accepted

There is Tab Candy

share|improve this answer
Exactly the sort of thing I was looking for, thank you :) – d11wtq Nov 15 '10 at 9:55
great now vote me up :) – ThomPete Nov 15 '10 at 10:13
I can't. It says I need to have at least 15 points :- – d11wtq Nov 15 '10 at 12:12
Goddammit, didn't mean to hit enter :) I'm an active member on and know the system, but don't recall having to have points to vote answers up. – d11wtq Nov 15 '10 at 12:13
tabcandy site has an impressive video that shows off the many features, plus bonus footage on just how far it can go. Definitely worth a view. – ericslaw Nov 15 '10 at 21:29

Weasel Answer: Depends on the content.

If you need to compare the content of some of the windows side-by-side, tabs are one of the worst solutions.

For source code, there's an interesting prototype (Code Bubbles) That breaks with the convention of using source files as organization unit.

In a similar fashion, TreeStyleTab - as posted by Patrick - exploits the hierarchy of opening tabs (at least if I understand it correctly).

So can you say anything about the data in your tabs, and how it relates?

share|improve this answer
Wow, that's interesting, but terrifying :) Pretty much the only useful points of reference for the source files in my app will be the filename, and the file extension... maybe bookmarks. I don't believe source code in two files looks much different side-by-side once you zoom out. It all just looks like a bunch of lines of text. I think I'm heading towards a small workspace panel idea, with each filename put in there (grid format). The user will be able to move files in the workspace and/or merge them on top of each each (like the iPhone) to create groups that pop out when clicked. – d11wtq Nov 15 '10 at 22:55
DOn't be scared - it's jsut a prototype ;) They are right IMO that the future of code navigation != source file navigation. – peterchen Nov 17 '10 at 1:09

Checkout fisheye tabs for firefox.... the user likely cannot keep a mental note on where all that stuff is anyway, so giving them a non-click hover-based view into the tabs would work quite well. I find myself often with 30+ tabs open... expanding the tabs near the mouse cursor is both pleasing and easy to scan tabs with.

fisheye tabs (no viewable demo, you'd have to install it)

fisheye examples: (but imagine that your tabs only magnify in the x dimension.

share|improve this answer
wow, way odd - clicking that 2nd link instantly crashes my Firefox :-( – scunliffe Nov 16 '10 at 2:47
This is basically the same as the Mac OS X dock :) – d11wtq Nov 16 '10 at 7:44
@scunliffe, that page contains java applets, still the bane of our existence on the web. While they usually work in modern browsers, it's still easy enough crash the browser. – ericslaw Nov 23 '10 at 22:01
@d11wtq - yes just like the dock, but the idea pre-dates it by quite some time. – ericslaw Nov 23 '10 at 22:02

The Tree Style Tab plugin for Firefox is a clever implementation of multi-column, vertical tabs you described.

share|improve this answer
Awesome, that's also interesting. I think I'll have to borrow aspects of different ideas to make something appropriate for a text editor. The hierarchy in this example stems from the fact one web page can open another, which isn't generally something that can occur between text files. All inspirational though :) – d11wtq Nov 15 '10 at 13:54

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.