[openbox] Tabs in openbox.

Scott Moynes smoynes at nexus.carleton.ca
Wed Apr 16 15:14:15 EDT 2003

* twinky (twinky at boplats.net) wrote:
> I started using openbox today and i felt very comfortable with it,
> but one thing that I think is missing is tabs. Tabs instantly
> heightens the windowmanagers quality (imho, that is), look at the
> pekwm (http://pekwm.org) tabs, they are wonderful, not clumsy like
> the fluxbox tabs, these tabs are nice.. Integrated with the
> title-bar, imho you should take a serious look at the tab thing. So
> a already good windowmanager could be even better!  greetz.

There are no plans to add any form of tabs to openbox for two
important, but related reasons:
1) No one has written the code to do so; and
2) The developers find that any sort of tabs are a complete hack.

Now, in attempt to end this FAQ once and for all, here is why I hate
tabbed window managers and why I won't add this "feature" to
openbox. The other developers may agree with me; I don't know.

Tabs in a window manager are a pathetic attempt to make up for
deficencies in other applications. Take the example of a web
browser. Many people like to use tabs with multiple browsing windows,
or at least they did until tabbed browsing became nearly standard. A
tabbed window manager cannot possibly provide all the extra features
that an in browser tabbed interface can provide. It can't descern the
context of a new window being created so it can't decide whether to
add a tab or a new window. It can't really have options about where to
place tabs. It can't provide features like "bookmark tabbing." No
matter how the tabs are implemented, either like fluxbox, pekwm, or
any other tabbed window manager, these problems are either impossible
to solve at the window manager level, or a complete nightmare from a
usability standpoint.

The second type of application that people typically tab are terminal
emulators. Most terminal emulators do not provie tabs, although
several do. The context issue is not as large with a terminal emulator
as with something like a web browser, but there are other issues. A
terminal emulator also provide a more advanced interface than a
windowmanager can reasonably do. A terminal could provide more complex
positioning of tabs, more contectual features like notification, and
things like tab duplication.

There are also other, more simple solutions that are available for
terminals such as using multiple desktops, iconification, and using a
"pseudo-tab" application like screen.

The final type of application that people like to tab with their
window manager is one that spawns a whole bunch of small windows
related to one task, like The GIMP. In the Windows world, usually such
applications use an MDI interface, something I also loathe, but it is
always better than a pure tabbed interface. Again, multiple desktops
(or workspaces in the appropriate *boxen lingo) solve much of this
problem from the window managers' turf, and the window manager still
suffers from lossy context problems. If an application needs to spawn
a dozen windows, I think they should be responsible for the user
interface problems that arise and offer their own solution for
grouping windows. (The GIMP does have some form of this, but I think
it could be better)

So, in summary, it shouldn't be the window managers' problem to deal
with applications with poor usuability. This isn't simple finger
pointing as applications have much more information available to them
to create a grouped task interface that provides more functionality
than a tabbed window manager.

I hope this silences the "pls add tabs liek fluxbox k tnx" arguments
for a few weeks.

Scott Moynes http://www.icculus.org/openbox/
"Computer science is as much about computers
as astronomy is about telescopes." -- Dijkstra

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