Microsoft’s Edge browser just got a whole lot more appealing. After entering preview four months ago, Microsoft will roll out vertical tabs to all users this month.
Web browser designers have coalesced around the idea that tabs belong in a horizontal bar along the top, reducing the amount of space for a site to appear in, and increasing the need for scrolling. With ultra-wide monitors becoming increasingly popular, Microsoft believes there’s a better way.
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As demonstrated in the animation below, the new Edge feature lets you keep tabs in a vertical pane on the left side. To prevent obscuring too much of a website, the UI change lets you reduce the text to a simple logo at the click of a button.
Chrome can mimic this functionality to a degree with extensions like this, but as far as we can tell developers aren’t able to hide the original tabs, meaning you end up with even less space for the actual website.
Interestingly, vertical tabs was a feature in Chrome a decade ago, but the company killed it due to a lack of uptake. “As an experiment, side tabs weren't a success - a small number of people really passionately loved them, but they ended up not being compelling enough to make the cut,” a developer wrote back in 2011.
Expressing regret that the company “let the experiment linger too long” given the attachment to the feature that so many users subsequently developed, the developer explained that such tough decisions were vital in the goal of keeping the browser as simple as possible.
“We torture ourselves over stuff like this - it comes down to painful decisions about keeping Chrome lightweight,” the developer continued. “We know that a feature like this is really important to some number of users (and Chrome developers!), but at the same time we have to continually cut and trim things, knowing that those cuts will annoy people, so that Chrome doesn't turn into bloatware that satisfies no-one.”
But a decade is a long time in tech, and ultra-wide monitor adoption is higher in 2021 than it was in 2011. Microsoft clearly believes that the time is right to revive vertical tabs – and if the company’s instinct is correct, it would be hugely surprising if the likes of Chrome, Firefox and Safari didn’t follow suit for fear of losing wide screened users to a rival.
Vertical tabs isn’t the only upgrade Edge is getting this month. Microsoft is also bringing along “startup boost”, which launches the browser in the background when users turn on their device. The company reckons this will reduce Edge’s startup time by 29% to 41% – though of course this is something of an illusion if it’s using system resources by running silently in the background.
Browser history is also getting reworked. Rather than taking up a whole page, it’ll now appear as a drop-down menu on the toolbar, and it can be pinned to the side for convenience’s sake.