User Experiences: Evolving IE9 Tabs in Windows 7

October 14th, 2010

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.

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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!

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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