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)


4 Answers 4


There is Tab Candy


  • Exactly the sort of thing I was looking for, thank you :)
    – d11wtq
    Nov 15, 2010 at 9:55
  • 1
    great now vote me up :)
    – ThomPete
    Nov 15, 2010 at 10:13
  • I can't. It says I need to have at least 15 points :-
    – d11wtq
    Nov 15, 2010 at 12:12
  • Goddammit, didn't mean to hit enter :) I'm an active member on stackoverflow.com and know the system, but don't recall having to have points to vote answers up.
    – d11wtq
    Nov 15, 2010 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, 2010 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?

  • 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, 2010 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, 2010 at 1:09

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

  • 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, 2010 at 13:54

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) https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/4845/

fisheye examples: http://profs.etsmtl.ca/mmcguffin/research/expandingTargets/ (but imagine that your tabs only magnify in the x dimension.

  • wow, way odd - clicking that 2nd link instantly crashes my Firefox :-(
    – scunliffe
    Nov 16, 2010 at 2:47
  • This is basically the same as the Mac OS X dock :)
    – d11wtq
    Nov 16, 2010 at 7:44
  • 1
    @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, 2010 at 22:01
  • @d11wtq - yes just like the dock, but the idea pre-dates it by quite some time.
    – ericslaw
    Nov 23, 2010 at 22:02

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