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I develop a complex LOB windows desktop application. Right now it has only one feature say A. All menu and toolbar is for A. You can open multiple document related to feature A, each within a Tab control. When I say document I mean logically. Each tab page has a tree view on the left pane and screens on the right pane that changes when different nodes on the tree view is selected. Right side pane can have list view, buttons, drop downs, radio boxes etc.

There is a desire to enhance this application to have feature B, C etc. The goal is to make this Application the single app for all of the enterprise. Different features are mainly used by different departments but there is some cross over. The idea proposed is to create a Tab control for each feature and then documents in another set of tab controls. i.e. two layer of tab controls. I think there are better way of doing it.

One option is to use multiple horizontal/vertical tabs like in Microsoft OneNote 2010. Another option is to use the Outlook 2010 with tabs on the left column. There is a possibility that doing something on a doc under feature B would create a doc under feature A and switch to it.

I want some alternate ideas to nested tab control as shown below. nested tab control

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Are documents under feature B and feature A linked then? Are we looking at a network structure or just a tree structure? I'm not a big fan of automatically warping the user to different place just because that's where something has been created - it can be extremely disorientating/disorienting (delete as applicable!). –  Roger Attrill Aug 8 '11 at 18:02
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3 Answers

I was going to say "use a treeview", but since you already are using one I believe that this would be messy...

An easy solution would be to style the first tab level (the features tabs) differently - with a larger font and an icon.

Eg (this is vertical, but you get the "horizontal picture"):
enter image description here

You should also consider to extract the first level into a dashborad or "feature screen" where you select the feature you're going to work on.

enter image description here

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I'm quite off from windows era for 2 years now. The first answer looks more logical, but you have to find an icon representation for features (just typographic differentiation won't be enough). The second one makes an extra round for user if she/he wants to change the Feature (I don't know exactly what kind of features are these - maybe not typical dashboard elements). That's subjective of course, and more experienced Windows users are more familiar with the possibilities. –  Csongor Fabian Aug 8 '11 at 13:40
I agree with @Csongor. The first is better. It combines well with a tabbed interface for the documents in each feature. And I disagree with Csongor that you need icons for each tab/page. While that demands more vertical space and thus makes the tabs more "distinct", there are plenty of examples of left side text only (or small icon) "outlook" type navigation solutions (just lists wihtout the graphics to connect it to the space on the right). Just make sure the height of each row is big enough that it is easily clickable and the color of the selected row stands out from the others. –  Marjan Venema Aug 9 '11 at 6:31
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If feature tabs are more department dependent it's not necessary to handle them as tabs. It's important to know that you are in A, B or C feature, but if you don't often switch between features use a select control instead of tabs.

  1. Select control could be placed to the left side of Doc tabs (Advantage: people will immediately recognize the correlation).

  2. If (1) is too complicated or hinders the easy Doc tab selection, you could place the select on the right side (same line) - Adobe handles views almost like this (top right, next to search in OS X).

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What about tabs with nested accordians. Because the tabs extends accross and the accordian extends downwards your data is groupe very nicely through the actions, and the chances of the user being confused in which group the neste data belongs to, decreases immediately.

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