This happens in IE, Chrome and Firefox. When you close the last 'tab' when you're navigating, the application closes. I'm aware that Chrome (at least) has a really fast restart after that, but still, I'm baffled that this happens.

I always configure Firefox so it doesn't close after closing the last tab, but it's a hidden option.

Does anybody else think this is unexpected behavior (and should be forbidden by law)?

Edit I use [ctrl]+[w] to close tabs and that's not the same as [alt]+[f4].

  • I've always preferred Opera's behaviour (it doesn't close the browser after you close the last tab), but I think it's probably optimized for novice users who are used to old non-tabbed browser. Personally I see no practical reasons and plenty of frustration behind it, and so I hope this behaviour will change in the future when more people get used to tabbed software. Commented Aug 28, 2011 at 20:56
  • 1
    I think the expectation is simply that if you don't have any tabs open, why are you still in the browser? At this point in convention a "tabless" browser window is just "empty," it feels more natural in my mind to close it. After all, once no tabs are open, what happens when you open a URL in the address bar? The address bar is always tied to a tab. Should you magically open a new tab if none are open? Should the user be forced to ctrl-t? Both seem like odd behavior.
    – Ben Brocka
    Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 12:57
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    Agreed, I was surprised by this behavior. Often, I just want to close all my tabs and start researching something new. This means I have to keep that last pesky tab open till I've added a new tab. In its defense, it is a very learn-able behavior. Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 15:26

6 Answers 6


I think that the problem is that the tabing idiom has not been clearly defined for browsers. It was in the MDI environment, where you opened (potentially) various different forms and swapped between them, and closed them, and the main application window was then available to open other windows.

Within a browser, however, the model does not clearly work. Each tab is not independent form encapsulated within an outer browser. They are all displays of url links - not dissimilar to a set of frames. So when ther are no more tabs to display, there is nothing else to show - there is not a top level form to show and allow you to laod other tabs.

It therefore seems reasonable to close the browser - which is essentially just a set of tabs visually displayed together - when you close the last tab.

This does not mean that this is the right interface, just that it makes sense to me.

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    I agree with your analysis, but a 'blank' page is good enough for me so I can continue navigating without having to reopen the app.
    – GUI Junkie
    Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 17:18
  • Which is what I mean by it not necessarily being right. I think it isn't, but there are more issues around this where a new acceptable style of tabbed MDI is needed. Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 20:56
  • You can default your browser to open with a 'blank' page. To me, the MDI environment and the tabbed browsers are equal. Closing the last tab should show a 'blank' page (or the default Chrome multi-chooser).
    – GUI Junkie
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 14:45

Closing the application when the (final or only) window is closed is a WinOS convention. E.g. if I close my only open Word document then the program exits.

For Mac OS users this behavior is outside the norm - the application continues to run irregardless of whether you have an open window or not.

It is interesting that you posit the notion of this behavior being "unexpected" when it has always been (as far as I can tell) the normal operation of a WinOS application. As a Mac user I too see no practical reason for this behavior and I view any change to the convention on WinOS as a move towards / tacit adoption of the "Macintosh way."

I had no idea that some tabbed Windows applications were even adopting this "terminate and stay resident" style of computing. Thanks for the heads up.

  • 7
    No, not really. If you close the only open Word document, you get an empty window. Word exits if you close the last open Word window (up there in the big red button). Firefox will also exit if you close the last open window (the big red button) even with the option the OP mentioned. Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 14:05
  • @R. Martinho Fernandes: But to be fair, the only reason for Word to open an empty document when you close the last Word window is to prevent Word from quitting (not very elegant IMO).
    – Phil
    Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 15:49
  • @Phil: and that's exactly the issue at hand here, isn't it? Firefox (and stuff) quitting/not quitting when you close the last tab. Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 15:53
  • Exactly, I prefer the empty doc than nothing. OpenOffice also shows an empty workspace when all documents are closed.
    – GUI Junkie
    Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 17:15
  • Yes, it is the issue, but it's an ugly workaround for a questionable OS behavior IMO.
    – Phil
    Commented Aug 30, 2011 at 11:40

There is a difference in how people use browsers. I think the behavior you prefer, is aimed at expert or tab users. Most browsers try to make the user experience best for a large amount of users, not just the experienced tabbers.

The idea behind the feature you describe from Opera, is that you open a new tab for every new webpage you visit. Then it is also logical that when you close a tab, you just close the website, not the browser.

However, I see that most people re-use tabs for new webpages. When they want another website, they type in something in the url or search bar of the current tab, and go. Mostly, they also just have one tab - tab and browser are one thing for them. They don't open another tab for another website. For this behavior, it is quite natural that the browser quits once the (last) tab is closed.

By the way, almost all browser implement a good middle way. With only one tab open the close button on the tab is not visible, and right click > close this tab is disabled. You are encouraged to use the close button of the browser. Only using the 'close tab' shortcut (Ctrl + w) works to close the last open tab. This behavior is seen in Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari. Only Chrome does let you close the last open tab.

I think this is actually a quite nice middle way between non-tab users and experienced tab users.

  • "I see that" - would be nice to have some research/data/references here to back that up
    – Rahul
    Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 15:33

As DannyBoyNYC stated it's a Windows only problem and IMO applications should always respect standard OS behavior: On Windows the applications should quit when closing the last instance, on Mac OS it shouldn't (and it's pretty annoying when applications don't respect it, e.g. FileZilla on Mac)

Additional thoughts: I personally prefere Mac OS's convention but I think the Windows-way is easier to understand for non-tech-savvy users because it only has two instead of three states (applications is running, not running, running in background).

I also think that Apple is trying to move towards a system where users won't have to think about running and closed applications - the first step was done with Lion's resume feature. And with the rise of web applications the distinction will get fuzzier as well.

  • From a purely UX perspective mobile phones have the best abstraction: Users never have to worry about open/closed applications - the OS will transparently handle this state for them.
    – Falco
    Commented Aug 17, 2023 at 12:42
  • From a purely UX perspective mobile phones have the best abstraction: Users never have to worry about open/closed applications - the OS will transparently handle this state for them.
    – Falco
    Commented Aug 17, 2023 at 12:42

This is the reason why i still use Opera so much. Its behavior is very natural in my opinion. I know you can probably get these features in other browsers if you dig around, but like gui junkie mentioned they are not front and center.

Things like control+z to undo closing a tab, the "trash" can that keeps history of the recent tabs, saving all the open tabs when you close it and then reloading upon re-openning.

I still don't know why other browsers don't implement these "user" friendly features.

  • 1
    Hi @juanka, welcome here! I see you're mostly stating you have the same experience. The expectation here is that you try to explain in your answer why such a behavior is found in browsers.
    – Lode
    Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 6:21
  • Firefox and Chrome's history menu has a list of recently closed tabs and (Ctrl|Command)+Shift+Tab undoes closing tabs and have done for a while. Safari recently added Ctrl+Z to undo closing tabs.
    – ICR
    Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 17:51
  • Of course I meant (Ctrl|Command)+Shift+t
    – ICR
    Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 18:01

This feature, even if not a "standard user" one, is very useful. If only to avoid having to restart the browser, which usually is further away (from the mouse/keyboard point of view) than simply opening a new tab in the same window you were when you closed this fatal last tab!

In Firefox, this is configured by an option: browser.tabs.closeWindowWithLastTab available in the about:config magic file (I admit it's not available as a "standard" option; which is very convenient for a "not so basic" feature.

In IE this is configured by... eerhaaa by nothing, like very often on Microsoft products... You're a dumb user and they know better than you what is good for you...

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