User Experiences: Evolving IE9 Tabs in Windows 7


With IE9, we wanted to make tabs more useful than ever before.  We know that tabs are a great way to experience multiple sites within a window, and we showed how you can increase the number of tabs possible in IE9’s site-centric frame design.  In IE8, we introduced Tab Groups as a way to help you remember which tabs are related to each other.  In IE9, you can drag a tab out of and between windows, use Windows 7 Aero Snap to compare tabs, continue watching a video while moving a tab, and pin a site by dragging a tab to the taskbar.

Moving tabs between windows

As we listened to the feedback we received from usability studies, site visits, and IE feedback channels like Microsoft Connect, having more control over tabs is something we consistently heard as a request.  This is for a variety of different scenarios, from comparing products on multiple sites to managing groups of tabs while organizing search results.  In IE9, you can drag a tab out of a window to create a new window and move tabs between windows if you want to group tabs of a specific task together.   When you drop a tab into an existing Tab Group, the new tab joins the group and matches its color appropriately.  For keyboard lovers, you can also “cut & paste” tabs to different windows through Ctrl+M and Ctrl+Shift+M!

Aero Snap

Comparing tabs is now easier using Windows Aero Snap.  We know from our usage data that 40% of people using Windows 7 have used Aero Snap, and 17% of people look at windows side by side.  Instead of having to learn another way to compare windows, in IE9 you can use Aero Snap just by dragging a tab.  If you are comparing a product on two websites in two tabs and decide you want to look at them side by side, all you have to do is drag that tab to the side of the screen and it will snap to fill that half of the screen.  Just as with Aero Snap, once you pull the tab off of the side of the screen, it returns back to its original window size.

Real time content

IE9 lets you fully focus on your websites as you drag a tab.  Through hardware accelerated graphics and separate sessions for each tab, your tabs are fully and continually rendered, even while you drag a tab.  If you are watching a video and want to move the tab or snap it to the side of the screen, in IE9, the video keeps playing as you move the window, making sure you don’t miss a beat!

Pin to the taskbar

Finally, you can pin sites by dragging a tab to the Taskbar.  Pinned Sites let you put your favorite sites at your fingertips on the Taskbar.  As we were developing this feature, we saw during usability studies that dragging a tab was one of the main ways people expected to be able to pin a site.  This made sense as the tab is a representation for the site in the browser, so it is natural to have this be a way to pin sites.

By integrating the tab experience with Windows 7, IE 9 becomes a natural extension of what you want to do with your PC.  We hope that these additions make your use of tabs even better than before.  Please send your feedback in the comments and on Connect.

Eugene Chang
User Experience Researcher

Comments (43)

  1. richard says:

    On http://www.winsupersite.com/…/ie9_ff_onebox.asp (assuming a later build) we can see a few screenshots that show the refresh and stop button on the left of the OneBox.

    I ask for the Home button to be moved there, too.

  2. Esveegee says:

    How can I tell IE9 to use the Adobe SVG Viewer for svg-content?

  3. Prior Semblance says:

    When I first started using IE9 I kept accidently pulling the tabs out into a new window and it was annoying because I didn't know you could put them back in =p  Still gets annoying though, I'd almost like an option to disable the dragging and just use a right click option to seperate them.

    Anyway, an unrelated annoying thing is that silverlight doesn't work in 64bit  versions of browsers.  I switched to 64bit when flash finally got around to releasing a 64bit beta, but silverlight isn't really worth switching back to 32bit since I only really see it on microsoft sites.  So yeah, I'm sure the videos in this blog are great but I can't see them =p

  4. garyk says:

    Pin to the taskbar

    i think you should also have a context menu, so right clicking a tab has an option to pin the site to the taskbar. shouldn't have to drag the tab from the top of the screen to the bottom to pin it. after all, this option exists within windows 7.

  5. Blake says:

    The Ctrl+M, Ctrl+Shift+M trick is a nice touch – though it, and probably dragging, would be more effective if there was a way to multi-select tabs.   IE9 is a great improvement, but it has made dealing with a large number of tabs harder.

  6. Madhu says:

    I would love to have the ability to close tabs without having to first click on the tab, and then clicking on the "x" sign.  Chrome has this feature, and I find that very useful.

  7. DT says:

    Is there a way to drag around an entire tab group at once?

  8. DT says:

    Madhu, you can close tabs by middle-clicking on them (personally I would think that one would expect this to duplicate the tab rather than closing it in order to match how you middle-click to open them in the first place, but there you go).

  9. LucasVN says:

    @Madhu

    Middle or wheel click on the tab you want to close. That will close it.

  10. I cant believe this! says:

    This is all great but why in the lords name does IE9 not support TEXT-SHADOW?! A feature every other browser supports!? Come on IE Team, you can do it too!

  11. DT says:

    Personally I would hardly call supporting text-shadow a 'feature'.

  12. alvatrus says:

    Text shadow will become the blink tag of today's browser

  13. grauenwolf says:

    I am really, really happy we still have the option to turn off tabs. I think tabs are really stupid, as I already have a "tab" for each window in the taskbar.

  14. richard says:

    On http://www.winsupersite.com/…/ie9_ff_onebox.asp (assuming this is a later build) we can see a few screenshots that show the refresh and stop button on the left of the OneBox.

    I ask for the Home button to be moved there, too.

  15. Leith says:

    This is one of the more useful new feature of IE9

    I have got so used to the easy drag and drop tab sorting and Aero snap that is possible with Google Chrome, that I sorely missed it in IE8 and Firefox.

    I hope they tweak it still from the beta as there were a few small issues I found in the beta that stopped tab dragging from being 'seamless'.

  16. Quppa says:

    Nice work – IE9's implementation of this is easily the best going around at the moment. Opera has had similar functionality for a very long time, but it isn't nearly as usable.

    @richard:

    The 'Stop' and 'Refresh' buttons can be moved to the left of the 'One Box' in the current public IE9 beta build (and indeed in IE7 and IE8): right click along the tab bar and click 'Move Stop and Refresh'. There is no option for moving the 'Home' button, however.

    Incidentally, the display of the 'View' right-click menu is somewhat inconsistent – it appears when right clicking on the right of the tab bar, but not when right-clicking the 'Stop' and 'Refresh' buttons (the window's context menu appears, instead).

  17. Bertil Wennergren says:

    "In IE9, you can drag a tab out of a window to create a new window and move tabs between windows"

    I just tested this in Firefox, and it worked. I had no idea you could do this in Firefox. Thanks for the tip! (The snapping and side-by-side comparison also works – in my KDE environment.)

  18. Greg says:

    Great, features other browsers have had for a while. How exciting.

    Please focus on HTML5 and CSS3 support so we can all move forward!

  19. Greg B. says:

    I've been missing a rather trivial feature: an option to ungroup all tabs in a tab group. Right now I can only do that one-by-one.

  20. Kevin B. says:

    * Dragging from the *address bar* to the desktop/folder/whatever should not create a pinned link.  It should just create a good ol' classic link, like it always has.

    * Why is there no option to allow me to have IE9 always open the tabs that were open the last time I closed it.  Silly as it may be, this is the reason Chrome is my default browser.  I want to set my default back to IE, so please add this "feature".

  21. fr says:

    @Kevin B, Lots of people (including me) have been requesting the always reopen last tabs feature since the IE8 betas but so far no improvement in this area, in fact IE9 so far makes reopen last session slightly harder to find.

  22. <blink> for teh win says:

    @alvatrus – blink is cool!  It's been a really good friend to me, I use it on a lot of my sites.  <marquee> too.  Please keep supporting these tags under IE9!  MS ROCKS!!!1!!

  23. anon says:

    The ctrl+m and ctrl+shft+m shortcuts are non-intuitive. Who is going to learn about them and from where? Unless they are reading this blog or the IE help system, which nobody does. Please use ctrl+x and ctrl+v instead, which are the default cut/paste shortcut keys.

  24. Michael Ens [MSFT] says:

    @anon

    We considered those as possible shortcuts.  There were a few problems with Ctrl+X and Ctrl+V, including:

    1.  You'd expect Ctrl+C to also work the same way without removing the original tab.  But there's no real equivalent to that.  We could open a new tab and navigate it to the same URL, but that's not an equivalent operation to Ctrl+X and Ctrl+V because you would lose state such as your video playback position.

    2.  Those shortcuts already means something in many of the places where your keyboard focus could land.  That makes performing the action more difficult and unpredictable.  For instance, if you were at http://www.bing.com, keyboard focus would probably be in the text field, and Ctrl+X would try to cut text rather than hold the tab.  Realistically, you'd probably have to put keyboard focus on the tab itself first, which is a bit clunky.

  25. Spindel says:

    Please, I need tabs on top! :(

  26. MS_nerd says:

    You can also right-click on a tab and close it from the context-menu without switching to it. I'd rather not have the close-tab button replicated on every single tab when the tab area is already somewhat smaller with IE9 (I use a 12-inch screen on high-DPI because I have a HP touchsmart tx2 tablet). For touch control, you can press and hold on a tab or do a one-two tap (tap with one finger, then quickly with another without releasing the first tap) to get the same context-menu for closing tabs.

    However, I do agree that links dragged to the desktop should just create old-school shortcuts and not site-mode IE as well, whereas those dragged to the taskbar OR start menu should create pinned sites.

    Five more things I want from IE:

    1. Once Silverlight is available in 64-bit, please allow me to choose 64-bit IE as my default and stick to it. e.g. Pinned sites only open in 32-bit IE. Also, pinned sites should allow me to use plugins/addons other than Flash/Silverlight as well. Currently, my finger-print login system (DigitalPersona + Authentec) works on regular IE9 (both versions) for site logins but not in pinned sites / site-mode which is really annoying. I understand the performance concerns behind this design, but atleast allow me to choose to turn that on.

    2. IE now finally allows me to drag links to a new tab directly. However, it is not smart enough to recognize non-hyperlinked site addresses and allow me to drag or right-click them to open new tabs (Firefox 4 does this). IE has Accelerators for a while now, so why do they not work in this case. At least let me drag text to the address bar.

    3. The title of the active tab should be shown in the IE9 window title bar. At least make this an option. As it is the tab bar does not have enough room to show it and hovering over tabs to see the tool-tip for the title is both clunky and not possible using Touch.

    4. The chrome (glass) part of the IE9 frame around the address + title bar can be shrunk ever so slightly. There is a tiny bit of glass between the windows close/restore/min buttons and the address bar that is unnecessary. They should not be on the same row of course (no room for tabs) but just reduce that little gap.

    5. The little white strip separating the tab/address bar from the page is really annoying and distracting, especially on dark-themed sites. For a browser that wants the frame to recede and the sites to shine, this strip is really annoying. There are other ways to differentiate the active tab in a tab group (not distinct enough right now anyway), e.g. similar to how Office 2010 highlights active tabs in the ribbon, by extending a little color bleed upward into the frame above the tab.

  27. SiSL says:

    Another idea would be what I use most on Maxthon the IE shell for tabs…

    Add, "Close All on the Right of this tab" or "Close All on the Left of this tab" on right click over tab 😉 Amazingly useful…

  28. jabcreations says:

    Change the blog title to "ruining the user experience". The only changes in the GUI was merging the tab bar with the address bar and then forcing users to not be able to undo that massive mistake…or was it not a mistake…

    With Hollywood enforcing it's greed with the H.264 codec it wouldn't surprise me to find out that they also helped destroy Windows by destroying Windows Explorer and that Windows 8 will end up uploading all files to the "cloud". It's a total nightmare to work with Vista and 7 is even worse and the only people who criticize my comments suspiciously can't be looked up online.

    Nothing GUI related has in any way improved and I think it's still vibrantly political. It totally ruins all the awesome standards work that IE9 has. On the upside for any other XP users who feel the same way I recommend trying Kubuntu, you can actually CUSTOMIZE right down to every single menu item. If Microsoft doesn't want to keep their customers then keep doing what you're doing!

  29. James says:

    The new tab management mechanisms in IE9 are wonderful, and I find myself using them all the time.  When I am forced to use a previous version of IE, I find myself getting frustrated!  (The same hold true for using versions of Windows before Win7, without Aero Snap!)

    I do have one minor complaint/suggestions: when I have a lot of tabs open, it's a lot harder to tell which tab is active.  In previous versions of IE, I believe the active tab was a couple pixels taller than the other tabs.  In IE9, the only visual cues are the "x" to close, and the lack of a border on the bottom.  I find myself having to look a second or third time to determine which tab corresponds to the page I am currently viewing.  I realize one design goal was to minimize vertical space the browser took up, but I'm wondering if the height of non-active tabs could not be reduced by a couple pixels, allowing for greater differentiation without taking any more room.

  30. Mike Smith says:

    Please move the file menu back above the address bar where it belongs, the tabs below the address bar and the home/favorites/settings icons to the left underneath the back button. Or better yet just let me drag them there. Why do you people insist on abitrarily moving/renaming functions when a new version comes out? What is the point?

  31. KS says:

    I notice that you made the videos with only a few tabs open. I wonder if you didn't show those features with ten or more tabs open because that would reveal that the new address+tabs bar has become unusable if you use more than a few tabs? Can you please stop degrading the UI? Do you really think people do not want to be able to see the title of the page they look at? Do you really think it doesn't matter that you cannot read the titles of tabs if you have more than a few tabs open? Did you leave that out from your "usability studies"?

  32. KS says:

    And while I'm on this, hasn't it ever occurred to the IE team people might not always use IE with a maximized window? As a test just load your four or five tabs that you think people will never exceed (no doubts about that?) and then reduce the size of the window to about half of the screen (horizontally). Many websites will still be easily usable and readable, but your famous address+tabs bar grows unusable. The address+tabs bar on one row forces people to always use IE in maximized mode.

  33. Mike Smith says:

    For everyone who has problems with the layout, get Maxthon; It solves all the problems and uses IE9. It also has a button to split the tabs into two halves of the screen without having to enable that irritating 'snap to' feature.

    I had to go back to 8 because for some reason on my system everything required two clicks. Auto-scroll took two middle clicks, moving over a link would not initially change the cursor to a hand, instead a click was required, then a hand, then click the link. Getting a menu to drop was the same; it seemed that the first click was moving the focus to the menu, then the second would drop it. Whether that is a "feature" or an issue with my hardware I don't know, but I'm going to wait for the next version and try again.

  34. AntiLuddite says:

    IE9's UI is by far the best among all browsers. I love the combined Address-bar and tab bar. For those who are complaining about the issue when 6+ tabs are open, should realize that it's never a good idea to have 20 tabs open in the same browser window. Instead I use the "Pin to taskbar" feature to pin individual websites like Facebook, Neowin, Twitter and Hotmail and keep 4-5 related tabs open in each window. That's so much more productive.

    And I love the empty space over the navigation bar. It allows me to drag a maximized window to take advantage of the incredibly useful Aero Snap feature of Windows 7, something which simply can't be done with Google Chrome as there's no empty space to drag a maximized window. I also love the way the tab-tearing feature integrates with Aero Snap.

    All in all, keep up the good work. IE9 has been and will continue to be my default browser because of its speed and superior UI.

  35. Marauderz says:

    Bring back the Quick Tabs button on the main UI, I can't shift through tabs easily on my tablet pc anymore because I cant hit small tabs with my fingers accurately.

  36. zzz says:

    Most of the tabs I open (most are opened information gather and comparison purposes) aren't regularly visited sites. To pin them into task bar for "one off" purpose is making what used to be simple more complicated and require several actions over just having more room in the tab bar. eg. During typical Ebay visit there's a ton of tabs open because their UI blows (the site is subtly different in each country and they don't all list same items available to you despite adjusting their paramaters, so to actually find the best deal use of several ebay sites + the actual items open for compare easily makes for dozens of open tabs in a very casual search).

  37. Ven says:

    There's not enough screen area for tabs and the address bar on the same line. Please, let me move the address bar back to its own area.

    I think your research that shows "only X people use Y tabs" collected from telemetry ignores everyone (40%, was it?) that switched away from IE and uses billions of tabs all the time.

  38. bob says:

    widescreen ^

  39. pmbAustin says:

    Tab handling is improved much over previous IE browsers.

    But it all goes for naught if I can't get tabs all on their own row, so I can see ALL the tabs I have open.

    And while I'm at it, I want my separate search bar back.  No matter how hard I try to get used to it, the One Bar just SUCKS for searching.  I have to constantly re-type search terms, because they don't persist.  It's harder to do the same search in multiple search providers.  It destroys the way I used the drop-down address list… polluting it with search URLs that are meaningless and difficult to read.  It's ugly, annoying, and a HUGE HUGE step backwards in functionality and convenience.  Please, please, please give me the OPTION of putting the address bar and a separate search box on the same line, and a full row of tabs on their own line.  Do that, and the UI will be by far the best of any browser out there.

    Currently, I'm too tempted to stay with IE8 because of these issues.

  40. Cosmin Tataru says:

    Actually, with Opera 11 coming with add-ons (including many ported from Firefox and Chrome) I'll be able to say goodbye to IE once and for all. For me, if this IE9 product team attitude continues, it's a shame, but I have to say it, all the good work done under the hood will be ruined by the stubborness concerning the UI aspects. Currently this UI looks like an amateurishly thrown tab bar over some platform preview build, with a small address bar which is insecure by not letting the user see the entire URL.

    You guys on the IE product team decided to stop listening to the users again. You won't give the UI flexiblity (options to have a separate tab row, not necessarily by default, but still), disabling by design add-ons in pinned sites, and so much more, making sites dragged on desktop or any folder pinned sites instead of simple url files.

    Oh, about those URL files. Not even now you didn't solve the .url file properties meta tab, which won't allow us to tag and rate our favorites, which would make them indexable and searchable in Vista and Windows 7.

    I think IE team is terribly wrong and won't listen to the users, which is a terrible damage to the good image Microsoft achieved while building Windows 7. Leave the UI defaulted to your own way but give us the opportunity to tweak it to our own taste. It isn't so hard, really, guys, come on ! Just add some options and you'll make users happy. And one more thing, a question actually : when will you release the next beta version ?

    The way IE looks and the way IE team and Microsoft treats geek requests is an involution and not an evolution in user experience, IMHO.

  41. Cosmin Tataru says:

    Actually, with Opera 11 coming with add-ons (including many ported from Firefox and Chrome) I'll be able to say goodbye to IE once and for all. For me, if this IE9 product team attitude continues, it's a shame, but I have to say it, all the good work done under the hood will be ruined by the stubborness concerning the UI aspects. Currently this UI looks like an amateurishly thrown tab bar over some platform preview build, with a small address bar which is insecure by not letting the user see the entire URL.

    You guys on the IE product team decided to stop listening to the users again. You won't give the UI flexiblity (options to have a separate tab row, not necessarily by default, but still), disabling by design add-ons in pinned sites, and so much more, making sites dragged on desktop or any folder pinned sites instead of simple url files.

    Oh, about those URL files. Not even now you didn't solve the .url file properties meta tab, which won't allow us to tag and rate our favorites, which would make them indexable and searchable in Vista and Windows 7.

    I think IE team is terribly wrong and won't listen to the users, which is a terrible damage to the good image Microsoft achieved while building Windows 7. Leave the UI defaulted to your own way but give us the opportunity to tweak it to our own taste. It isn't so hard, really, guys, come on ! Just add some options and you'll make users happy. And one more thing, a question actually : when will you release the next beta version ?

    The way IE looks and the way IE team and Microsoft treats geek requests is an involution and not an evolution in user experience, IMHO.

  42. Cosmin Tataru says:

    http://www.askvg.com/download-mozilla-firefox-latest-beta-version – this is a very good example of how Mozilla is listening to user feedback, leaving telemetry science away. Maybe this will ring a bell in IE9 headquarters. Really, folks, it's embarrasing.