Strong opinions, weakly held

Apple needs to handle tabs more elegantly

Back in April I talked about how I like the convention of using Command/Alt-n to navigate between tabs in an application. What I’ve learned is that Apple is not with me on this.

Safari maps Command-n to the bookmarks in the bookmark toolbar. Yuck. In Leopard, the Terminal application supports tabs, but unlike iTerm, the Terminal application maps Command-n to terminal windows, rather than tabs in the active window. Everybody who’s used to tabs in a terminal has been using iTerm, so why go against that existing convention? Spite? (Generally speaking, the Leopard terminal privileges new windows over new tabs in a lot of ways. That’s kind of a shame.)

iChat in Leopard also provides support for tabbed chat windows, and again does not support the Command-n convention. (Once again ignoring the conventions established by Adium and Chax, the IM applications used by people who cared about tabbed windows in the first place.)

I notice that Apple’s Human Interface Guide does not provide any guidance for navigating among tabs in an application. Somewhat surprisingly, the guide doesn’t seem to discuss tabbed interfaces at all. You’d think Apple would want to take a position on this given the popularity of tabs among application developers and their increased usage in Apple’s own applications as well.


  1. As a recent Switcher, I’ve often been surprised at how un-keyboard-friendly OSX is. My biggest peeve is getting confirmation dialogs that don’t seem to have /any/ keyboard shortcut for /any/ of the options.

  2. Talking of tabs and elegance though, I just noticed that Safari appears to be analysing the text in tabs to display the most relevant excerpt. I’d noticed that it wasn’t just showing the start or the end but it was only yesterday I noticed it changing as I opened a second tab with similar contents. Neat. (A quick Google seems to suggest this feature has been there since mid ’05, my excuse is I rarely use tabs on Mac OS X, but do on Ubuntu and Windows.)

    As for Owen’s comment, Mac OS X has some real gems in this area but it’s sometimes hard to find them out. For example Emacs style commands (for delete a word, beginning/end of line, etc.) work in most text situations. In dialogues, escape and enter should work for cancel and default option. You can tab through the options (currently selected is surrounded by a halo, select it with the spacebar) and if you hold down Command you (might) also get a hotkey option (e.g. D for Don’t Save).

    Note that for complete keyboard access (e.g. tabbing through all form fields) you may need to turn on an accesibility option “full Keyboard access”, though this does have a keyboard shortcut too (Ctrl F7)

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