Someone on the PLUG mailing list said to an email I sent out:

Now, why on earth does someone have multiple tabs? Too many tabs mean you ain't working! That was mentioned by one of my friends.

In my case, I really work with a lot of tabs and windows open. (It helps if you're using something like ion3, or if you're perfectly comfortable using a desktop environment and can rapidly switch between windows and apps). Primarily, I usually have the following in a browser session:

  • One window for mail (gmail)
  • One window for blogs and feeds
  • One or two windows for app development
  • Several windows for reference lookups

Under my windows for reference lookups, I usually have several tabs open, usually with a Google search being the first tab. I'd open each potentially useful link open in a tab. Plus, I group tabs with windows, with each window dealing with research on a particular scope (API docs, libraries, administration references, etc.)

This allows me to move to cross-check references from each source. Say, I have a tab open for the Javadocs to the Spring API for Hibernate integration. I'd want another tab showing the page from the online Spring reference showing how a particular task is done in Spring+Hibernate, with another tab showing possible code samples, with yet another tab showing source code for related classes in Google Code search (because I might be working on something that might need me understanding how the implementation works, possibly because I might need a hack or two to get what I need working).

I might also be reading news posts and blog posts related to that feature, so I'd have another window open. Or I might go off to a tangent and check whether or not there's an existing solution or library out there for what I need (which means I don't write code, yay!).

Multiply that by the fact that I don't necessarily close my windows or tabs -- what I keep open represents my "persistent state" (of mind), and when I context-switch to another aspect of what I'm doing -- say I take a breather, because I'm stuck -- I can get back to what I'm doing, and just glance at the open pages and what tabs are open and what-not and see from there how to proceed.

That's also the reason why I have several buffers open in Emacs -- I use Emacs as my primary work mail interface too (outside of GMail that is), and I also use it for planning. I also use it as my IDE; flymake + the Eclipse compiler + BeanShell means I get syntax highlighting *and* I get background compilation inside of my Emacs session. But if I simply closed off all my files, I couldn't easily switch easily between those buffers, see files side-by-side, etc.

Then again, I work this way because I can easily juggle state between those related tasks, and I don't necessarily have to pay a penalty for context-switching between them. It works for me, but I don't mean that it'll work for you.

Sure, if you have multiple browser windows and tabs open you might not be focusing on what you're doing (hence, you're not working). But for me, having those windows and tabs open means I don't have to really remember a lot of information -- I use my computer to maintain that state for me, allowing me to easily switch between tasks.

YMMV. :)

Previously: Shanghai, May 2007