Little things you may not have noticed in IE8: Part 5 – Tab duplication

Clone your current place


One of the nice things about the “New Window” (Ctrl-N) feature dating back to early releases of IE, is that it always duplicates the current open window, as well as all of its state – in particular, the window’s history.

When the “New Tab” feature was created back in IE7, I remember discussing with Aaron how IE could recreate the New Window behavior for Tabs. Unfortunately, it didn’t make the cut for 7, but I’m thrilled to see it make it into 8 (along with a ton of other tab-related new features).

The valuable thing about Duplicate tab (Ctrl-K) is that it allows IE8 to support both of the two most common search-and-discovery patterns on the web. The two patterns are as follows:

Let’s say you’re searching for information on IE8. You head up to your address bar and type in “ie8” (which, we’ve learned, will take you to your search engine). Looking at the results, you see a four or five likely sites, so, using Ctrl-click (or middle-click), you open several of them in background tabs. Then, once you have several candidates open, you switch over to them one-by-one to explore them.

This model of search-and-discovery is fully supported by the tab features in IE7 (and other browsers) today. But, there’s another model.

Interestingly, prior to tabbed browsing, this was the predominant model for finding information (using New page). Let’s say that you are searching for dinner menus at cuban restaurants. So you do a quick search for “cuban restaurant menus”. You then click on the first likely result, and navigate through the site until you find the menu. Now you’ve found it, you want to go back to the hub and find another, without losing the page you’re on.

This model is supported by the new Duplicate tab feature. With this feature, you hit Ctrl-K to duplicate your current tab, then hit back to get back to your search result page, and click on the next link to explore. The page you were on is left alone on its own tab until you are done with it. 

The depth-first model is used when you are looking for specific pages deep within a site that may not be easily categorized at the top level. Prior to IE8, it wasn’t possible to do search-and-discovery using tabs.


This small feature reflects a theme of IE8 that should become clear over time: There are a lot of great major features which you’ll read about blogs and the news, but deep down, you’ll find that what the team did during planning and development was to research and hone in on common patterns of using the web and build in features – large and small – to make those patterns easier or more refined.

Comments (4)

  1. Yaron says:

    Going on about how it was impossible before IE8, or using <em>this</em> feature as an example of how the team did research to find common usage patterns is… somewhat overexcited.

    Opera has this feature for a long time now. FF has the, very popular, "duplicate tab" extension, for a very long time as well.

    Sure, I completely agree that this is a good and useful feature. I have used it a lot. But it’s not a good example when trying to show innovative research and thought for a program which is now coming out. Taking existing features from competing products, features which are useful for users, is a good thing, should be done, and there is nothing wrong with doing it. But it’s not new, and it doesn’t require any study beyond seeing what features people are already using. Don’t confuse good ideas with new ideas.

    (P.S. same for some of the other features in this series, of things which are good, useful, should be there, but aren’t really breaking any new ground)

  2. justsean says:

    Yes, perhaps this isn’t the feature to get excited about :), but regardless of what you might think about IE, very little is implemented because some other vrowser happens to have it.

    Certainly, if that was the case, you’d have a wealth of things to list as the sources for every feature in the product (especially if you’re willing to look at every Fx extension and include features that look kinda similar).

    But instead of implementing every feature or blindly copying features from other browsers, the process followed was to design features around common patterns. In the process, a certain set of features from other browsers are likely to show up, and there isn’t much to do about that.

    That said, this isn’t intended to be the list of amazing new features – the IE blog serves that purpose. It’s *a* list of small tweaks that I liked that I thought may not get noticed in the crowd of other things.

  3. Yaron says:

    I’m not saying that this, or any other feature, was added simply because it’s in Opera or in some FF extension. I <em>am</em> saying that if the IE development team reached the idea for this feature independently, by observing usage patterns, then they’re doing something very wrong.

    Blindly copying features is bad. So, no, I don’t believe they just implement features because the competition have it, without checking if it’s a good idea to add the feature.

    But observing what are the main/popular/successful features of the competition, and deciding/testing whether they make sense, is good. A must, even. Surely they do that.

    I find it hard (nearly impossible, actually) to believe the IE developers were not aware of this feature in Opera, and were not aware of this feature as a popular FF extension.

    Assuming they were aware, then this is not a case of "we observed how people use their browsers, and came up with something new that will help there" but rather a case of "We noticed something done in other browsers, and observed whether users will use something like that and if it servers an actual need/pattern".

    Important, good, but very different.

    Beyond that, yes, it’s a good feature. And yes, I agree it may not be noticed by most people who aren’t looking for it. This comment/discussion is just on the small part of how it came about, since I doubt it was invented completely independently with no other hint that there’s something to consider there.

  4. justsean says:

    Fair enough. I didn’t mean to imply or claim that the IE team was/is unaware that the feature existed elsewhere. I assume that they were aware to some degree.