Is it time to move browser tabs to the right?

Almost year ago I had posted how to optimize Opera for large amount of tabs and one of the tweaks that came up in comments was about vertical (sidebar-like) tab bar. I discarded that as non-mainstream tweak at the time.

Year later I won’t have my tabs any other way than on my right. So, what is merit in such tweak and what ways of using browser (not necessarily Opera) it fits?

Tab anatomy

Every tab carries number of elements:

  • site favicon;
  • page title;
  • unread indicator;
  • close button.

Amount of open tabs affects how effective some of these are:

  • favicon – always;
  • title – with low amount of open tabs;
  • unread indicator – always;
  • close button – never (it’s plain evil, just disable and close with middle click).

As for screen space that all of tab bar occupies – all modern monitors have widescreen format. That means when display gets larger it gains more in width then it height.

So vertical space is precious, horizontal space is expendable.

Horizontal bar

Classic one. Tabs are displayed in horizontal line (or multi-line) and their size is dynamic – they get smaller when there are more of them.



Disadvantage is clear – with large amount of tabs it is hard to distinguish between pages. At least favicons make it easy to distinguish between sites.

Advantage is that you open a lot of tabs and it will be cramped, but always remains absolutely usable.

Vertical bar

To try it in Opera Right-click tab bar > Tab Bar Placement.

This one is geeky. Tabs are displayed in vertical stack as sidebar. Their size is static – width and height remain constant.



Disadvantage is that this view has limit of hitting screen bottom. Since tabs can’t get smaller from there they can either go off-screen, or force bar to multi-column (eating unreasonable amount of space on all but giant resolutions).

Advantage is that page titles are clearly visible at all times and favicons are close, instead of being spread. This organization makes much easier to keep open group of pages from same site and still see their individual names.


Horizontal tab placement favors browsing large amount of pages from assorted sites. Good fit for random browsing or just for following habit.

Vertical tab placement favors moderate amount of pages from few sites. Good fit for research and reference browsing.

Had you ever tried vertical tab placement? What were/are your impressions?

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  • Angelo R. #

    To me the horizontal tab placement feels more natural. Plus I normally have quite a number of tabs open for articles I have yet to read and reference pages and such. I tried the vertical with Opera, but I felt like it was eating just a bit too much screen-room that way. I normally have a few things open side by side.
  • David Rader #

    I like it on the left side of my Opera, since I always use Opera in my left monitor. The tabs being on the right hand side of the page can leave me going "off monitor" when trying to speed over to click them. But if I used Opera on the right monitor, I suppose I may prefer right side tabs :D
  • Rarst #

    @Angelo Good point about side by side. I prefer to run apps full screen myself. Switching is easier and faster than organizing and I prefer to see one window at a time.
  • Rarst #

    @David I prefer right, because Opera has sidebar on the left and I use that area a lot already. And I do have bit of a same problem when notebook is turned on and cursor jumps there because of Input Director. I could move notebook to the left but then I would jump out going for sidebar... No good side. :)
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  • Bob #

    Like Angelo, I keep my windows side by side. Vertical tabs would take way too much horizontal space.
  • Angelo R. #

    @Rarst I tried the right side just to test it out though. I don't really use Opera except for cross browser tests so I'm not to familiar with it. I only had about 4 or 5 tabs open at the time, but Opera displayed them in thumbnail mode as opposed to just the tab. Is there any way to disable that? If so then I would probably swap it back to the right for a little longer.
  • Rarst #

    @Angelo Right click tab bar > Customize > uncheck Enable Thumbnails in Tabs btw Martin did posts about vertical placement for Firefox and Chrome, see pingback higher in comments.
  • Riparazioni Torino #

    I use horizontal bookmarks because is much more easy and more natural. It fits a lot better and I get about 20-30 bookmarks on my 1600x900 resolution depending on the description i made for each one. I really don't like sidebar bookmarks.
  • Rarst #

    @Riparazioni Torino Bookmarks or tabs? :) I think you are confusing the two. Post is about tabs.
  • Riparazioni Torino #

    Sorry about that. I misread. But I am familiar to horizontal tabs too. Vertical ones are not my choice, as I said : 1600x900 resolution so I would be able to fit too few. Sorry about the confusion.
  • Rarst #

    @Riparazioni Torino No worries. Myself I switched to vertical tabs at work 1440x900 just to have it consistent with home. Definitely feels bit cramped at times, but still I can manage and perk of more clear organization is nice.
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  • Richard #

    > Disadvantage [of side tabs] is that this view > has limit of hitting screen bottom. That needn't be a limit -- not if it the list is designed to be scrollable -- AND you can still easily read the tab content. Since the advent of wide screens, I ALWAYS have plenty of horizontal screen real estate, but I almost always have to scroll vertically. So anything that provides more vertical room is welcome. Side tab placement (right side is my preference) makes good sense to me.
  • Rarst #

    >That needn’t be a limit — not if it the list is designed to be scrollable
    Unfortunately in Opera there is no scrolling implemented. On other hand it now has tab stacking which is also very helpful for managing many tabs with vertical layout.