How to unclutter your Mac's desktop by opening windows in tabs

Posted:
in macOS edited October 2020
Many Safari users will be familiar with tabs, a way to have multiple webpages open within a single browser window, but Safari is not the only application to offer this handy organization option. AppleInsider tells you how to start using tabs away from the browser, to help reduce the number of windows on the Mac desktop.




Tabs have become an indispensable part of online browsing, and for good reason. For those wanting to quickly switch between viewing websites, it is a far better method for containing all the different open pages than having multiple browser windows open and cluttering up the desktop.

The same concept can also be applied to other Apple apps in macOS, stacking multiple documents and windows into a single panel that can be quickly switched between at will. This can be handy if you have to reference two or more maps or emails as part of your work, and is probably a more workflow-friendly option compared to constantly minimizing and recalling windows to and from the dock.

Added in macOS Sierra, tabs for apps works similarly to Safari's version, but it may take a bit of getting used to outside of the normal browser-based usage.

Enabling and Disabling the Tab Bar

Open the application you want to use tabs within. In this example we will be showing how it works using Maps.

Click View in the Menu, followed by Show Tab Bar. This will bring up a new tab bar that consists of the current window's view and a small plus button.



The same process can be performed to remove the tab bar, but instead selecting the now-renamed option Hide Tab Bar. This option may be grayed out and unavailable if multiple tabs are open in the current window, so reduce the tab count to just one beforehand.


Creating Tabs

To create a new tab in the current window, click the small plus symbol on the right-hand side of the tab bar. If this button isn't available, it is not possible to add tabs to that window despite the Tab Bar being available to enable, such as in the main inbox view in Mail.



It is also possible to create a new tab by selecting File then New Tab in the Menu. In most cases, this can also be performed by the keyboard shortcut Command-T.


Removing Tabs

Each tab has a hidden cross on the left-hand side, revealing itself with a mouse-over action. Either click the cross to close that specific tab, or Option-click to close every other tab in the window except for that tab.





As above, the File menu will also house an option to Close Tab.

Tab Navigation

The simplest way to switch tabs is to click the one you want to see in the tab bar. The Window menu also presents options to Show Previous Tab and Show Next Tab, which can also be cycled through using the Control-Tab and Control-Shift-Tab keyboard commands.




If you want an overview of what items are in which tabs, select View then Show All Tabs in the menu. This will tile thumbnail images of each tab into a grid, adding one more box at the end that can be clicked to add one more tab.

Tab Management

If you want to change the order of tabs in a window, simply click and hold the tab you want to move, and drag it to a new position.

This also works between separate windows of the same app, allowing the tab to be shifted from one window to another using the same dragging action.

Dragging a tab out from the window and onto the desktop will turn that tab into its own window. This can also be done by selecting the tab then clicking Window in the Menu followed by Move Tab to New Window.


Further Notes

The tab bar is available in a large number of Apple-produced productivity-focused apps supplied in macOS, including but not limited to Finder, TextEdit, Numbers, Pages, Keynote, Mail, and Maps. Not all Apple-made apps support the functionality, such as GarageBand and FaceTime, but many do.

Some third-party apps also support Tabs, so it is worth checking them to see if the option is available in the menu. It will generally be under the View or Window menus, and may have a slightly different wording to how it is presented in Apple's apps.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 18
    I change my keyboard preferences to command right and left arrow to go to next and previous tabs in safari, but it never works. If I change it to something else, it works, but not what I want. I don’t want to press three different keys to cycle between tabs. right and left arrow seems the most straight forward way.
  • Reply 2 of 18
    I keep a window with a few tabs for iMac on left side of screen, and window with few tabs for server on right side. Great for workflow, although the Time Machine we use as server has to spin up with an mechanical grunt each time it's accessed.
  • Reply 3 of 18
    sunman42sunman42 Posts: 191member
    Hate tabs. They appear to defer the whole purpose of a windowing GUI. Why should I have to click and drag on the relatively small real estate of a tab name in order to make it into a separate window so I can view it side by side with another window in the same app?

    But for those who like them: swell for you.
    maciekskontakt
  • Reply 4 of 18
    Desktop is not mobile device. There are reasons why we have large displays and multiple displays. One window with tabs is design for mobile devices. What "clutter" are you talking about? Have you ever worked in real life multitasking environment with many tools on screen? Try Adobe professional suites and few others a at the same time. Nobody will be tabbing in the office work except kids with no experience and with less responsibilities than serious seasoned professionsl.
    edited April 2018
  • Reply 5 of 18
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 6,176member
    Desktop is not mobile device. There are reasons why we have large displays and multiple displays. One window with tabs is design for mobile devices. What "clutter" are you talking about? Have you ever worked in real life multitasking environment with many tools on screen? Try Adobe professional suites and few others a at the same time. Nobody will be tabbing in the office work except kids with no experience and with less responsibilities than serious seasoned professionsl.
    I use tabs in Adobe CC (and everything else) all the time, and have 20 years of professional experience. 

    Meanwhile, some of the people I work around are constantly dragging and shuffling dozens of offset stacked windows and have no concept of tabs, Spaces, Mission Control etc to streamline their workspaces seem less like a “seasoned professional” to me. 
    king editor the grateStrangeDaysMacProcornchipdjames4242mariowincojony0
  • Reply 6 of 18
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,540administrator
    Desktop is not mobile device. There are reasons why we have large displays and multiple displays. One window with tabs is design for mobile devices. What "clutter" are you talking about? Have you ever worked in real life multitasking environment with many tools on screen? Try Adobe professional suites and few others a at the same time. Nobody will be tabbing in the office work except kids with no experience and with less responsibilities than serious seasoned professionsl.
    You know what? Knock it off. No more arrogance. Consider yourself warned.

    AppleInsider and the Mac itself is not just for you.
    edited April 2018 king editor the gratecornchipjcs2305elijahgsailorpaul
  • Reply 7 of 18
    asciiascii Posts: 5,936member
    The current Windows betas are doing interesting things with tabs. One window can have tabs from different apps, so as to create projects.

    So instead of having, e.g. one Finder window with all your Finder tabs and one Safari window with all your Safari tabs, you might have a "work" window that has a Finder tab set to your work directory, a Safari window on your work webmail, and an FTP client (or something) in the third tab. And your "home" project might have your personal Apple Mail in one tab, a Finder window set to your Downloads folder, and your photos app in another tab. Search for "Windows Sets". 

    The Mac can do a similar thing via having multiple desktops of course, but it doesn't hurt to have different experiments and see which ones work out over time.
  • Reply 8 of 18
    Desktop is not mobile device. There are reasons why we have large displays and multiple displays. One window with tabs is design for mobile devices. What "clutter" are you talking about? Have you ever worked in real life multitasking environment with many tools on screen? Try Adobe professional suites and few others a at the same time. Nobody will be tabbing in the office work except kids with no experience and with less responsibilities than serious seasoned professionsl.
    Twenty-five years in journalism. When tabs were invented, I began using them. But, I am a nobody, so no worries.
    fastasleepStrangeDays
  • Reply 9 of 18
    stoneygstoneyg Posts: 43member
    ascii said:
    The current Windows betas are doing interesting things with tabs. One window can have tabs from different apps, so as to create projects.
    As a web developer, this is super interesting. I'm often switching between desktops to get to different apps based what I'm working on. If I could have my IDE, a browser, REST client, database GUI, etc. in a single window for a certain project I would save myself a lot of two finger swiping.
  • Reply 10 of 18
    I don’t recall now which version of macOS but they announced that tabs for “document” windows was becoming a built in standard. So, it’s much easier for apps to support tabs, and tab behavior is more consistent across apps. 

    I don’t use tabs very often. I usually find it harder to drag and drop when tabs are in play. However, in certain circumstances they are very convenient. 
  • Reply 11 of 18
    Desktop is not mobile device. There are reasons why we have large displays and multiple displays. One window with tabs is design for mobile devices. What "clutter" are you talking about? Have you ever worked in real life multitasking environment with many tools on screen? Try Adobe professional suites and few others a at the same time. Nobody will be tabbing in the office work except kids with no experience and with less responsibilities than serious seasoned professionsl.
    Twenty-five years in journalism. When tabs were invented, I began using them. But, I am a nobody, so no worries.
    33 years on Macs and have never once used Tabs. Never really wanted or needed to. 😊
    king editor the grate
  • Reply 12 of 18
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 6,176member
    stoneyg said:
    ascii said:
    The current Windows betas are doing interesting things with tabs. One window can have tabs from different apps, so as to create projects.
    As a web developer, this is super interesting. I'm often switching between desktops to get to different apps based what I'm working on. If I could have my IDE, a browser, REST client, database GUI, etc. in a single window for a certain project I would save myself a lot of two finger swiping.
    Same — I use Spaces with my individual projects/clients isolated in each with multiple apps, which works well enough, but some sort of way of "docking" more of those things together could be cool, especially if it remembers those combinations after reboots/etc. I was messing with an app called Workspaces for a minute to sort of have these launchpads for each project where you can open your browser/finder window/documents all in one swoop but it wasn't quite what I was looking for. Interested in anything that helps organize these kinds of workflows better. Not sure all tabs is the way to go, but having that option would be cool.
  • Reply 13 of 18
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 12,251member
    Desktop is not mobile device. There are reasons why we have large displays and multiple displays. One window with tabs is design for mobile devices. What "clutter" are you talking about? Have you ever worked in real life multitasking environment with many tools on screen? Try Adobe professional suites and few others a at the same time. Nobody will be tabbing in the office work except kids with no experience and with less responsibilities than serious seasoned professionsl.
    Patently false. Tabs did not debut on mobile. They’ve existed in desktop software applications for many years. Have you not used sheets in a workbook? Code/form views in an IDE? Tabs in a desktop web browser? 

    Youre trying to rewrite history man. 
    edited April 2018 jony0
  • Reply 14 of 18
    cornchipcornchip Posts: 1,915member
    I love tabs, but have a little bit of an issue with them in Finder. 

    They only display the name of the sub folder you’re in. Would be great if when you moused over them they would somehow display the name of the top level folder or the path or something to quickly tell you which tab is which.
  • Reply 15 of 18

    I sometimes find it more useful to have a separate window, especially when dragging and dropping stuff in Finder. That said, I like the tabbing option for apps in macOS.

    O.T., I find drag and drop is really tricky with the new Magic Trackpad. It's been over a year and I still can't seem to get the right gestures to do it. It is very hit and miss for me.

  • Reply 16 of 18
    asciiascii Posts: 5,936member

    O.T., I find drag and drop is really tricky with the new Magic Trackpad. It's been over a year and I still can't seem to get the right gestures to do it. It is very hit and miss for me.

    Maybe try turning off Force Touch. On my Macbook Pro I find that when I try to drag an icon it sometimes thinks I'm trying to do a force touch.

  • Reply 17 of 18
    djames4242djames4242 Posts: 639member

    Nobody will be tabbing in the office work except kids with no experience and with less responsibilities than serious seasoned professionsl.
    30 years in IT, most of which as a developer, but I guess I'm a kid with no experience.

    Seriously, you know what's great about modern computers? We have thirty different ways to accomplish a task. My workflow is different than your workflow. You may like dozens of windows cluttering up your screen, but I like my environment a little more organized than that. I may have three or four Safari windows open, but each of them usually have a half-dozen tabs. Same with Finder windows. When working with images I primarily use GIMP which itself allows you to have multiple windows open, or a single window with each open image docked to a tab. For me it's much easier to find the image I want to work with by scanning those tabs than by having twelve different windows to flip through.

    You prefer a more traditional view? That's just fine - it works for you. Be thankful we have options and can set up our workflow the way that works for each of us, but don't pretend that others' preferences are wrong.

    Save that for politics :)
    king editor the grateStrangeDaysjony0
  • Reply 18 of 18
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 2,649member
    greg uvan said:
    I don’t recall now which version of macOS but they announced that tabs for “document” windows was becoming a built in standard. So, it’s much easier for apps to support tabs, and tab behavior is more consistent across apps. 

    I don’t use tabs very often. I usually find it harder to drag and drop when tabs are in play. However, in certain circumstances they are very convenient. 
    I seem to remember 10.12 had to option to force all apps to use tabs, it seems to have vanished in 10.13. I did have a couple of apps ported from Linux (Kicad was one) that got really confused when multiple tabs were opened, and often crashed. So maybe they removed it... or I dreamt it.
    cornchip
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