A fond farewell to vertical tabs in Google Chrome

Tabbed browsing is nothing new, but I’ve always felt that something wasn’t quite right with how tabs were displayed. After an enthusiastic web browsing session, I’d often end up with a horizontal disaster of disorganized tabs. With computer displays getting wider and not taller, why were browsers cramming tabs into my precious vertical space?

Horizontal Tabs in Google Chrome

When I discovered an add-on for Firefox called Tree Style Tab in 2009, and I was so excited that I wrote an article about it that same day to spread the good news: Finally, tabs done right! Moving tabs to the side of the browser window made them easier to manage (and Tree Style Tab automatically organizes them into hierarchical groups), plus it made better use of my 1,920 horizontal pixels.

Like many people, Google Chrome had caught my eye as a blazing fast way to browse the internet. It took some time, but the development team behind Chrome eventually added a basic version of vertical tabs to their Beta channel. Vertical tabs weren’t “officially” a feature – in fact, I’m sure many of you didn’t know they even existed in Chrome – but the guide I wrote to enabling vertical tabs in Google Chrome is one of the all-time most popular articles on Techerator. By combining Chrome’s rudimentary vertical tabs with the New Tabs At End extension, I was able to enjoy Chrome almost as much as Firefox.

The Infinite Version giveth and the Infinite Version taketh away

Google Chrome has released 15 major versions since it was first released in 2008. To keep up with that extraordinary rate of deployment, the Chrome team built an industry-changing automatic updater into the browser to make sure users always had the newest version without even thinking about it.

One of my favorite articles about Chrome’s update system is Jeff Atwood’s “The Infinite Version,” where he states:

Chrome is so fluid that it has transcended software versioning altogether.

Like Pavlov’s dogs, I’ve been conditioned to associate software updates with new features and better performance. But there’s a reverse side to that coin: features can be taken away, too. With the release of Chrome Beta 16, vertical tabs have been officially removed from the browser. The Beta channel is a direct preview of what’s coming in future stable versions, so within a few weeks vertical tabs will no longer exist in Chrome.

The removal of vertical tabs came as a surprise when my browser automatically updated, but it wasn’t entirely unexpected. As with most Google “experiments”, there’s always a clear disclaimer that features can break or disappear at any time. That being said, vertical tabs had been around in Chrome long enough that it was a shock when they magically disappeared, especially since the auto-updater doesn’t notify you when things have changed.

Chrome is based on the open-source Chromium project, and one of the benefits of open-source projects is that they’re fairly transparent. Dozens of bug reports were filed after vertical tabs were removed, to which a Chromium developer tersely replied:

Sidetabs were an experiment that didn’t pan out. They’re in a half-working state and should be removed, says Glen.

We’ll try to come up with other approaches for this use case.

This caused a flurry of other bug reports to be filed (warning, this one has quite a bit of NSFW language). It’s clear that users aren’t happy about the change, especially since there currently is no clear plan to add a better version of vertical tabs back to the browser.

Now what?

Unfortunately, unless the developers on the Chrome and Chromium teams relent, you probably won’t be seeing the return of vertical tabs in the near future. You do have a few options, though.

  1. Let the Chromium team know how you feel. Add a post to the missing vertical tabs bug report and Star the issue so they know you’re interested.
  2. Use Firefox with Tree Style Tab. Firefox has taken some hits because of Chrome’s tremendous performance and minimalistic UI, but the Mozilla team has made leaps and bounds with their browser and it’s definitely worth using. Firefox version 8 was just released, too.
  3. Check out some of the vertical tab extensions for Chrome. These extensions have some major limitations because they can’t really modify Chrome’s user interface, but if you’re a die-hard Chrome user, it’s your only option.

As for me, I’ve switched back to good ol’ Firefox. My affair with Chrome was wonderful while it lasted (we’ll always have version 15…), but I’m going to stick with the browser that gives me vertical tabs.

  • Brent Larson

    I switched back as well. Firefox has finally started to get their act together in terms of performance and although it’s still not as fast as Chrome, side tabs and panorama make tab management less of a nightmare to deal with.

    • http://awesomewallpapers.wordpress.com/ Ben

      Just thought I’d add this.  The reason Chrome seems faster than Firefox is because it starts displaying a page before it’s completely downloaded.  You can have this same instant load feature by changing this entry in about:config nglayout.initialpaint.delay .  Right click it and click “Modify” and set the integer to 0.  This basically tells Firefox to start immediately displaying pages before the resources are loaded.  I’d also recommend the Fasterfox Lite addon, which changes this preference and a couple others that speed up performance.

      • Louise Steiner

        Thanks for those tips  Ben.  I will give them a try. 

        Like many others, I switched from FF to Chrome because Chrome was so much quicker, but no vertical tabs is a deal breaker for me and I am going back to Firefox with Tree Tabs.  Hopefully the performance issues at FF have been ironed out. 

  • http://www.techerator.com Dustin Patterson

    Opera has somewhat of a built-in vertical tabs feature.  By moving the tab bar to the left, disabling thumbnails in tabs, and utilizing the tab stacking feature of Opera, you have vertical tabs without any add-ons or extensions. 😀  

    • http://twitter.com/b1620_26b leviathan

      This is a decent option.  I use Opera as my primary browser, and their vertical tabs feature is pretty polished and useful.  Opera has finally garnered a decent extensions library, too(adblock, lastpass, etc.).  I recommend it!

    • voltball

      Alas, Opera is now Chrome. After 13 years, I find myself relying on an outdated version. Vertical tabs is about to become to mankind.

  • Exquisite Corpse

    Goodbye, vertical tabs. We barely knew you!

    Hopefully the programmers at the chromium project can get their act together and restore side tabs functionality before they lose the better third of their user base.

  • Exquisite Corpse

    Goodbye, vertical tabs. We barely knew you!

    Hopefully the programmers at the chromium project can get their act together and restore side tabs functionality before they lose the better third of their user base.

  • Matt

    I couldn’t agree more.  Vertical tabs is the ONLY way to work.  Why Chrome won’t support this is beyond me?!!?!?

  • liebezeit

    This is a terrible, terrible shame.

  • Lala

    I am still hanging onto FF 3.6 because of tree style tab and tab kit. But FF keep crashing on me when youtubing. I finally reinstalled chrome. And learning about this now. Looks like I am not making chrome the default any time soon.

    • http://www.techerator.com Evan Wondrasek

      Are you really using Firefox 3.6? That’s an incredibly old version of the browser, Firefox 8.0 came out last week. You should highly consider upgrading (it may also resolve your issues with YouTube).

      You can download the newest version ta http://firefox.com.

  • Alan Jay Weiner

    I’m utterly astonished.

    I’ve been using Firefox for years, with vertical tabs almost from the beginning.

    I frequently have 50 to 100 or more tabs open at one time.  I’ve had as many as 360.  Make any comments you wish, but it fits the way I work.

    Firefox is a pig with memory (right now I have 46 tabs open; probably 200+ that I’ve closed already) and it’s using 200GB of virtual memory; working set is just over 1GB.  (I can’t imagine what a *browser* is doing with that much memory…)

    I installed Chrome to see if it’s better.   No vertical tabs?   Forget it.   Uninstall.   Back to Firefox.

    • 俊彥 許

      I think Chrome uses more memory than Firefox. By the way, the Firefox extension BarTab can be set to automatically unload tabs after a period of inactivity.

  • Anonymous

    Wow… I didn’t even know this feature had existed. Your sharing of the story about how horizontal tabs can become cumbersome matches me near perfectly. I’m really going to miss this nifty feature that I never got the chance to take advantage of.

  • http://profiles.google.com/dmitry.astapkovich Dmitry Astapkovich

    I’m fan vertical tabs in FF, but FF is becoming more and more slow in newer version. 8.0 works like a crap without any extensions installed and one opened tab, 3.6 consumes tons of memory and freezes sometimes (e.g. while playing youtube) which is really annoying, Chrome is just super fast but without vert tabs is useless. Can anyone give any _real_ hints about FF 8 performance on Win 7 x32?

  • bzhboop bb

    Vertical tabs are such a popular feature with FF. How can Google say that side tabs weren’t compelling enough?

    “a small number of people really passionately loved them” they say.

    Sure, chop the flea’s legs and it won’t jump.

    Since the vertical tabs option is hidden in Chrome, it’s hard to find. Asking a non geek to use “about:flags” to set up options in Chrome is plain silly. Vertical tabs are supposed to be a popular feature, not an option for computer engineers only.

    It reminds me of the Google Labs services they’re dumping for the same reason: it’s not that they are not compelling enough, it’s because they don’t market them at all.

    “Build it and they will come” is a worthless attitude when it translates into “Hide it and they might come”.

    • frankmannen

      Let’s hope they at least open up their API a little bit more, to make it possible to create a nice sidebar in an extension. Popup window works, but definitely not as nice as having it in the same window.

  • bzhboop bb

    I can’t help wondering: how come FF extensions built by private individuals in their free time have better and fuller features than the ones developed for Chrome by paid employees at Google?

    Side tabs need a revamp, it’s about time. We do not only need them, we want them to be better.

    The way they’re awkwardly handling this issue at Google makes them sound like a bored freeware developer dumping a useful piece of software because he’s moved on to other things.

    Very frustrating. Even more so, coming from Google. A company whose CEO’s personal wealth is around $ 17 billion thanks to us, users, should respect us a bit more.

  • 俊彥 許

    I moved back to Firefox since Firefox 8 was released, which no longer load all tabs at startup. Now I manage to keep 400+ tabs in the browser, which are divided into TabGroups. By the way, Firefox are able to have 180 tabs loaded at the same time, but Chrome cannot handle around 60 (on my computer).

  • javan

    I have a strange scenario here.  Currently running 2 laptops, both with Win 7 (1 is Enterprise SP1, the other is Home Premium SP1).

    Google with vertical tabs (added –enable-vertical-tabs in the shortcut) on the laptop with the Enterprise version has quit working with vertical tabs, whereas the Home Premium laptop still runs tabs just fine.

    Strange!

  • Joshua English

    Should you prefer the look of Chrome 15’s side tabs. I created an addon for Firefox called Side Tabs. Check it out:

    https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/side-tabs

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ou-Inn/601357915 Ou Inn

    Please don’t use bug report mentioned in the post for comments. It is marked WontFix so it hardly gets attention from developers. Use this one instead – http://code.google.com/p/chromium/issues/detail?id=100319

    Please also sign http://www.change.org/petitions/google-chrome-support-vertical-tabs if you care.

  • Guido v. Oorschot

    I only had Chrome to test out the implemented beta vertical tabs.
    Removed it the moment those were out again.
    Sad there isn’t any plans yet to reimplement it.
    Oh and those suggested addons aren’t really vertical tab addons, but more Menu addons.

    Guess Firefox is and STAYS the browser of my choice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tchariya Than Chariya

    Is there any update on vertical tabbing? I think Chrome is at version 20 now…so maybe..just maybe..they put it back in??

    • http://www.techerator.com/ Evan Wondrasek

      As far as I know, vertical tabs have not been re-added to Chrome since they were removed. I was just looking for updates on this a few weeks ago and it seems like the Chrome/Chromium team have no intentions of re-adding the feature. It’s very disappointing.

  • Joel Thornton

    I’ve just released a vertical Tree Style Tabs extension for Chrome, with a dockable sidebar. It attempts to implement all the key functionality of Tree Style Tabs for Firefox, plus some extra goodies like Tab Hibernation:

    Sidewise Tree Style Tabs
    https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/biiammgklaefagjclmnlialkmaemifgo
    http://www.sidewise.info

  • Anonymous

    The best vertical tabs implementation for Chrome is TabsOutliner.

    And it is also can do so much more – absolutely amazing program.

    Some screenshot I found in the web:
    http://i.imgur.com/HkTGWJT.jpg

    • http://www.techerator.com/ Evan Wondrasek

      Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll check it out!

    • http://lafinjack.livejournal.com/ LafinJack

      A whole ‘nother window is even worse than horizontal tabs.

  • frankmannen

    I couldn’t find any extension that worked like Vertical Tabs on firefox, so I create one.

    https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/vertical-tabs-popup/cajhlgkpfinedhdkhecjkkcjgdjnkijf

    Unfortunately it doesn’t seem possible to create a sidebar in Chrome. Instead it has to be in a popup window. Works well enough for me though.