· question what I'm trying

Do you have too many Browser Tabs open?

I do too!

At current count, I have about 35 browser tabs open on my personal laptop. And that’s nothing compared to how many I have open on my work computer.

Why so many?

I don’t yet have a great explanation for this, but my usual internal metaphor is that I’m not great at tab garbage collection. I generate a lot of tabs when I’m searching about something in particular, but won’t clean them up later when I’m done searching, because I’ll open more tabs beyond them, and forget they exist.

As a specific example, I currently have a group of tabs open relating to making a firefox extension, because I was thinking about making one (and I still am, for what it’s worth). Right next to those tabs are links about writing a compiler … because I’m thinking about writing one (I’m sensing a pattern here).

Both sets of tabs still exist, because after researching them, but before archiving them in some way, I had to look up an excellent blog post for a discussion I was having.

For reference, the post is called “Small Functions considered Harmful”, and while I’m not a big fan of the title, I’m a huge fan of the content.

So it seems the pattern goes like this:

  1. Look up something interesting.
  2. Don’t get to some kind of conclusion right then.
  3. Repeat from 1.

So how do we fix this?

There’s the incredibly simple solution of: “Just be better about closing tabs once you’re done with them.”

And the suggestion only has one minor flaw: It’ll literally never work.

There are a number of reasons it won’t work, starting with using the word “just”, which implies that either the sayer doesn’t fully understand the problem, or that they do, you “just” need the sum total of their life experiences to implement it. In this specific case, I’m the one saying it and it’s mostly for the effect of trying to trivialize something that might actually be trivial for some folks, but very difficult for others, like me!

Another reason is that, I rarely feel like I’m “done” with those tabs. Sure, I may never look at them again, but I doubt I’m going to stop wanting to write a compiler. Until maybe after I have, but even then I might just want to write another. So I’d need to come up with some system of archiving. While doable, and probably necessary for a complete browser tab solution, that’s also probably somewhat difficult to get right. Tools like OneTab are a great start, but they only solve the archival aspect of the tabs. They don’t actually solve the problem of getting rid of tabs once you’re done with them.

What’s your actual solution, then?

Well, about that. I don’t know that I have a solution, so much as an idea that’ll help a little bit with the number of tabs I have open. Particularly in the work context. And that idea is:

Whenever you start browsing for a new topic, create a new window for it.

Yeah, that’s essentially it. The only other caveat is that I have a “miscellaneous” window that has things like email and my calendar open. But it maps really well to work, where we use Jira. (Now I’m definitely not implying that Jira works well, just that this works well in a Jira context.) And it maps sort of okay for my regular browsing habits, where I tend to focus on one thing for a bit, and then move off on to other subjects.

So far at work it’s been pretty good. I have a number of firefox windows open, and when I move between tasks, I also move between windows. Also, when a task gets done, I get to delete all of those windows. I also find it works best on a larger monitor where you can actually spread out your windows, so the tasks almost have their own window location. It works slightly less well on my personal laptop, where windows I’m done with tend to hide behind other windows. But hopefully it’ll get better as I get used to cycling through windows to find whatever topic I’m looking for.

Anything else?

Yeah, I wanted to add this caveat somewhere, but didn’t really find a place in my words above, so I’m adding it here at the end.

I use Firefox, which I think can make the having-many-tabs-open problem a little worse. That’s because firefox’s default strategy when you open a new tab that won’t “fit” with your current tabs, is to create a scroll bar for them. This can easily hide how many tabs you actually have open. It’s also really fast to open new tabs, which is a “problem” only in comparison with Chrome.

Chrome, on the other hand, makes each individual tab smaller. Eventually, the tabs get so small that the favicon is removed. So it’s very obvious that you’ve opened too many tabs and should do something about it.

Additionally, chrome starts to get pretty slow to open a new tab after you’ve opened a decent number of tabs (I’d estimate at the 100+ level), regardless of which window they may be in. This also makes it obvious when you have too many tabs open, as it becomes more painful to continue opening more tabs. In this sense, it’s actually something of a benefit that Chrome doesn’t have great performance when having many things open.


Now that I’ve written all that, I think I need to go close some tabs. Or maybe write a compiler. Or both.

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