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I remember at some point tabbed browsing was introduced in IE 7 or 8, and at the same time all competing browsers like Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome had supported the feature. I have thought that it became so widespread because it was just "user friendly," but now I wonder what made it so successful that it's considered the most "basic" feature that a web browser should- definitely- have.

I don't understand because as far as I know, it was spreading when the RAM many people had was only 2 or 4 GB. Although multi-threading was common, browsing should have been fairly slow when multiple tabs were open. So it could be a disadvantage if you included tabs in your browser.

Despite of all that, what really killed it? What really made the user so satisfied? What was the background at the time it started spreading, and why is it still relevant today?

  • Tabbed browsing was introduced in Google Chrome and Firefox before IE. And in Opera much before any of these. – ShreevatsaR Jan 30 '17 at 4:07
  • Also browsers (including IE) had multiple windows even before tabs, so your question about slowness seems weird -- the UI difference between windows and tabs is unrelated to speed. – ShreevatsaR Jan 30 '17 at 4:43
  • When Firefox 1.0 came out in 2004 and made tabs more popular, average computer memory was closer to 512 MB. (I cannot find a source for this at the moment, but I do remember how much RAM my machine had at the time.) – David Regev Jan 30 '17 at 19:02
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Efficiency and Continuity

With tabbed browsing, there are a number of benefits that the previous windowed browsing method worked against. To name a few:

  • Users could easily switch between websites and keep things open (email, SO, etc.)
  • It was easy to see what you were doing in other places
  • Simple to switch between more tasks than windows allowed
  • You could be sidetracked easily, allowing a user to quickly switch tasks midway through something else without feeling boxed in to the website they were on.
  • Multitasking!

The windowed system of old didn't really allow a user to multitask in this way because one could only realistically have 4 windows open and in view at the same time. It was complicated. The taskbar was a similar solution to tabs, but it was also cluttered with other programs and window grouping often made switching tasks a two step process (hover, find & click). With tabs, it was one click to switch and nothing irrelevant was in the way.

So, in summary, tabs worked so well because they provide the user with an easier way to switch between tasks relevant to their internet browsing session.

  • 1
    All good. Would love to add: "speed increase". You can now open in new tab so you can keep reading what you're reading while the next page opens. – Dirk v B Jan 30 '17 at 1:20
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Slow connections, high demand, elite users, porn and Opera.

Opera, hard as this may be to now concede, was the leading browser for sophisticated users. Part of the reason was tabs. One of the best things about that tab functionality was the single key shortcut to switch between tabs. "1" is up/left, and "2" is down/right, through the tabs. This provided a rapid way to see what had completed loading... and porn pics take a while to load on a dial up.

Gaming was, at the time, something that had trained users to be very good at hitting the 1 and 2 keys with their hands in a constant shortcut hovering position. There was also a large crossover between those that loved gaming and those that loved Opera for its porn browsing prowess.

Porn being somewhat of a drug, in that users want ever more of it, tabbing's benefit to slow connections and high visual demands meant it was the ideal feature. All browser makers/coders being porn addicts (and Opera users) saw this, experienced its benefits, and copied it.


If you're squeamish, in denial regarding porn's influence on tech or otherwise shocked/dismayed by this, I suggest a perusal of some interesting aspects of porn's influence on technology adoption:

8 ways porn influenced technology

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