How to Use the Tabs in Your Browser

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If your Web experience began with WebTV, or you've been using PC with Windows XP and Internet Explorer, you might not know about browser tabs.

They're a wonderful addition to your web browsing, and whether you're on a computer or a tablet, you already have them. In this tutorial, I'll show you how where they are and how to use them to make your life easier.

The Way It Used to Be

On WebTV, you had to use the Recents panel to go back and forth between web pages.

If you were on WebTV or MSNTV, you only had one browser window. When you clicked a link, the new web page replaced the one that had been there. If you wanted to be able to look at both pages -- for example, to compare two pages, or to copy and paste from one to the other -- you had to use the back button and the Recents screen.

On Windows, before Internet Explorer 7, you could open a web page in a new window. Sometimes, a clicking a link web page would do this for you if the page owner had set it that way. But that could leave you with multiple windows all over your screen. Or, if you were using your browser in full screen mode, the new window would completely cover the old one. You might be wondering where the other web page went!

Tabs in Your Desktop Browser

Here we are with a modern web browser on a computer. We're showing Chrome, but all of the modern browsers work the same way. Right now, we only have one web page loaded. If you'll look at the top, you'll see the page title and icon for the WebMD page in a tab -- it looks like a tab on a file folder or notebook divider.

Right next to it is a little blank square. When you click on it, a new blank web page will open. You can still see the tab for the WebMD page that we were looking at, but this new page is on top and it has its own tab. Right now, it says New Tab because we haven't gone to a web page yet. Just enter the web address and it will fill the page, and you can jump from one page to the other just by selecting the tab.

Opening a Link in a New Tab

If you'd like to click a link and have it open in a new tab so that it doesn't replace the page you're looking at, the easiest way is by pressing the [Ctrl] key on the keyboard as you click the link. Or, if you prefer, you can right-click on the link and select "Open link in new tab" from the context menu.

Some sites will do this automatically with their links: the webmaster can write the link to tell it "open in a new tab or window" instead of replacing the page. Google News does this so that you can check out a number of links while not losing your place. We do this too, in the links in our video pages, so you can look at the WikiPedia or Internet Movie Database article without losing the movie.

As Many Tabs As You Need

Here, there are six tabs open. The tabs themselves get smaller as you add more and more of them. To close any of them that you don't need open, just click the little X on the tab.

Every web page that you have open does uses some of your computer's memory to display itself. So if you have a lot of tabs open at once, you might find your computer starting to run more slowly. Just click on the x in any tab that you're finished with.

Audio in a Background Tab

On the desktop browsers, web pages that are in "background" tabs (not the one on top) are still "live." That means that audio or video will continue to play, and a page that refreshes itself every few minutes will continue to do so, even if it's not selected.

This can be useful, if you'd like to listen to an online audio program while you surf or play games. Just find the video or audio you'd like, start it playing, and then open a game in a new tab. If audio is playing in a tab, a little icon will be on the tab (the speaker in Chrome, a black "play" arrow in Firefox and Internet Explorer) so that you'll know which one(s) the sound is coming from.

Something to Know If You Have Data Limitations

If you are on an Internet plan which has a fixed data allotment, like satellite Internet or a cellular hot spot, each one of those "live tabs" could keep drawing data. This won't matter for most of our readers but if your Internet plan is for a certain number of GB per month, don't let it get used up by pages you're not even watching.

Tabs on a Mobile Browser

Your mobile browser, on your iPad, iPhone, or Android tablet or phone, pretty much works the same way. You can see here on the iPad browser that there are five tabs open. To open a new tab, press on the + icon. And of course, to close one, press on the tab's little X.

If you want to open a link in a new tab, put your finger on the link and hold it. That will open the browser's context menu, and you can select "Open in a New Tab."

On the iPad, if you get too many tabs open for your tablet to display, there will be a ... icon on the right which will show you the rest of them. On some browsers, such as the Silk browser in the Kindle Fire, there will be arrows along the top to scroll through the tabs, instead of the ..., if there are more than can be displayed.

Tab Differences on a Mobile Browser

Unlike desktop browsers, mobile browers on tablets and smartphones don't leave their pages active in tabs that aren't selected. If you're playing audio or a video in a tab, and you switch to another tab, the tab that's playing will pause. Also, pages that update or reload themselves will stop when another tab is selected.

Also, when you select a tab that has been in the background for awhile, the page will reload. What has happened is that pages that aren't active have been unloaded to save memory. There are some exceptions -- for example, if you've selected the "Reader" on the iPad, the page will stay in memory.

This is largely a good thing for mobile browsers, because that's where you're most likely to have a data allotment that you don't want to have used up when you're not active. Mobile devices usually have less RAM (system memory) than computers, too, so this keeps the memory from being all used up with web pages that you're not looking at. But it is something to keep in mind -- you can't load pages, then go out of range of your WiFi or into Airplane mode and expect to be able to read them. (There are ways, though -- see our article on Pocket.)

You're Ready to Go! Questions?

Now you know what those tabs are, and how you can use them! If you have questions, feel free to ask them below -- just log in, if you don't see the comment form -- or send me a Talk4TV Private Message or an email. If you haven't activated your Talk4TV yet, this is why you should -- it's free for Games4TV members.

And if you haven't joined us yet, would you consider it?