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More Apps Should Embrace Vertical Tabs Like Microsoft Edge 2021

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Key Takeaways

The Microsoft Edge browser uses vertical tabs.Vertical tabs are easier to see and manipulate.Vertical tabs can be added to other browsers via extensions. Maksym Kaharlytskyi / Unsplash

Microsoft's Edge browser has added vertical tabs, which arranges open tabs down the side of the browser window instead of cramming them across the top. The feature is so good, it should be in all browsers, and maybe all tabbed windows, too.

Safari and Chrome add tabs across the top of the browser window, like tabs in a filing cabinet. These shrink as more tabs are opened, and eventually, you have to search for nothing but a website's favicon. Vertical tabs move these labels to the side. You may still run out of space and have to scroll through the list, but each tab keeps its full width, which you can even increase to see the entire title of the page.

"The vertical tab layout suggests the feeling of an ‘inbox' or to-do list, which might boost the productivity of users who have multiple tabs open at any given time," Anthony Pham, UI/UX designer and founder of the Speeko AI speech coach app, told Ach5 via email.

Verticality and Usability

One look at vertical tabs is enough to see how useful they are. They never change size, they're easier to read, and they can be resized horizontally without affecting the other tabs. Vertical tabs also don't waste space—modern displays are usually in a widescreen format, which leaves a lot of spare space off to both sides.

Moving the tabs to the left or the right uses this space, instead of crowding the less-abundant vertical space. And if you are running out of room, you can collapse the tabs into favicons, so they're as small as the tabs in Safari or Chrome.

"The vertical tab layout suggests the feeling of an ‘inbox' or to-do list."

Not Only Edge

Microsoft announced this feature for its Edge browser almost a year ago, calling it the "only browser that allows you to manage your tabs on the side with a single click." Since then, other browsers have added this feature. Safari, predictably, has not. Apple only added favicon support in 2018, so vertical tabs are probably at least another decade off, but Firefox and Chrome both caught up, before Edge actually launched the pre-announced feature.

Firefox users can install the Tree Style Tab add-on, which adds vertical tabs, and goes one better. Any links that are opened as "children" of the current tab are indented, almost like using a bulleted to-do list. You can fold these "child" tabs to keep the entire tab bar nice and tidy.

Chrome users can install the Vertical Tabs extension, which puts tabs in a row along the left or right edge of the window. There's even a version of this Chrome extension for Safari, but it can be a little glitchy, and it requires full access to your web browsing to function. Even worse, it uses Times New Roman to display labels. 

All Apps Should Be Made This Way

Tabs are used in all kinds of apps these days, from word processors to notes apps, and even something like the Mac's Finder. And all these tabs suffer from the same problems as browser tabs. Imagine if the tab paradigm was (literally) turned on its side. Tabs would be instantly easier to use. They might not be good for phones, but side tabs on tablets like the iPad not only would be easier to read, but easier to tap.

"The feature is so good, it should be in all browsers, and maybe all tabbed windows, too."

If you do decide to switch to Edge to get the native, designed-in vertical tab experience, give it a while to get used to the change.

"Just like with any rearrangement of UI, it may take several days or even longer to adjust your habits of where to move your cursor, so don't write it off too soon," says Pham.