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May 27, 2005

Microsoft Says IE 7's Tabs Just 'Catch-up'

Courtesy of TechWeb News

Microsoft on Thursday divulged a few more details about its upcoming Internet Explorer 7, and admitted that its implementation of tabs -- one of the most-requested new features -- will be just "catch-up" to rivals such as Firefox and Opera.

Tony Schreiner, a Microsoft developer with the IE team, posted a lengthiest-yet description to the Redmond, Wash.-based company's blog of how tabs will be implemented in the upcoming IE 7. The browser is expected to roll into beta sometime this summer.

"Our philosophy for tabbed browsing is to keep the user in control of the experience," claimed Schreiner at the start of the blog. He then went into detail on some of the tab features IE 7 will sport

Tabs will be turned on by default, Schreiner confirmed. In some situations, windows will continue to open in new, separate frames rather than in a new tab, but ordinary pop-ups will open in a new foreground tab.

"This seems to correlate with scenarios where showing a window on top of the current window is desirable, such as replying to posts on message boards and getting a close-up view of items on shopping sites," said Schreiner.

Users will be able to open links in a new tab by middle-clicking on a three-button mouse, or Ctrl-clicking links. Keyboard shortcuts will be available for switching between tabs -- Firefox, for instance, uses Ctrl-Tab -- and users will be allowed to open tabs in the background or foreground, or open them in a new window.

At the moment, the plan is for each tab to operate on its own thread (as will each frame). Each tab is on a separate thread, and the frame is also on its own thread. Schreiner admitted that this would boost the memory footprint of IE, but argued that it would the browser to "feel faster and provide an overall better user experience."

One of the more surprisingly lines in the blog, however, is an admission that IE is behind the times, something many users -- and all Firefox proponents -- have been saying for months.

"This core functionality is largely catch-up to other browsers which support tabs," said Schreiner. "[But it's] a necessary foundation for future work."

Schreiner wouldn't spill the beans on every aspect of tabs in IE 7. When blog readers posted queries about such features as moving tabs (to better arrange the tab lineup) and asked how tabs would look, Schreiner deflected the questions. "The UI and configurability are something we can't really talk about right now," he said. "[But] there will probably be another blog post about this closer to or shortly after Beta 1 release."

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