Hierarchical tabs

Over at the Chromium blog they have a nice article about their thoughts on tabs in Google Chrome. Clearly they've given this quite some thought and also studied how users use the tab functionality to organize their surfing. One particular thing that I learned was that in Chrome they loosely group together some tabs that come from the same origin. But that's not the point of this post.

For quite some time now I've had another idea on grouping tabs together. I think it would be interesting for a browser to have hierarchical tabs. Hierarchical tabs would allow certain tabs to contain a whole new set of tabs, much like directories are a kind of file which can contain files.

Most people already have a first approximation of hierarchical tabs. The bottom layer is that which is provided by the window manager, showing which programs are currently running. For instance, right now I have a file browser, Open Office, Evince (a pdf reader) and Firefox running. The next level is in the browser itself which of course contains the web pages.

Allowing hierarchies of tabs would allow grouping together sets of tags quite nicely, and would help solve the problem which tab overflow when the number of tabs grow large.

I realize though that it would require some thought and experimentation to see if this can work out. One problem is that deep hierarchies will take up screen real estate. But introducing an arbitrary limit on the depth doesn't feel like a good measure either. Another problem is how to easily create a new "directory" tab and send tabs into it. The risk is that the user interface becomes unwieldy.

I know that there are some experiments out there but the one I've seen, Tabgroups is rather underwhelming. It doesn't really deserve to be called hierarchical tabs.

All in all I'm not sure whether hierarchical tabs can be made into a useful feature. But I can't stop thinking about it. I would be totally excited to see some serious experiments with the idea.

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