Why You Should Never Have More Than Nine Browser Tabs Open

I often hear people complain that their browser is slow and unstable. It's easy to blame browser developers for using sloppy coding practices and not managing memory correctly, but in my experience there's a more common element: people who insist on having dozens of browser tabs open at once. That's an unproductive and pointless practice and everyone should stop it immediately.

Nine picture from Shutterstock

Open enough browser tabs and it doesn't matter whether you're running Chrome or Firefox or IE or Safari or Opera: your system is going to slow down and eventually your browser will crash altogether, quite possibly bringing your entire environment down with it. Quite aside from that performance drama, there are at least four obvious reasons why having multiple tabs open is pointless.

1. You Can't See What's In Them Anyway

"I want to be able to refer to that later" is the underlying argument of many chronic new tab openers. But when you have so many tabs open that you can't see the anything but the favicons, you'll waste lots of time hunting down that one elusive page. With nine open, you can see the page titles easily.

2. Your Browser History Is A Better Solution

You run into an interesting article and figure you'll check it out later. You don't need to keep it open — your browser is tracking your history. As long as you can remember one or two keywords, you can easily hunt it down when you want it. Your computer is more efficient at searching than you are. Let it do the work.

3. You Can't Process That Much Information Simultaneously

Dozens of open tabs signifies either procrastination on a truly epic scale or a chronic inability to focus on the immediate task at hand. Either way, it's not the sign of someone working efficiently. I work as a journalist — sourcing information from multiple sources is a big part of the job — but I don't kid myself I need thirty of them open at once. Absorb the data from one place, then move on.

4. It Wastes Good Keyboard Shortcuts

Those reasons easily justify not having multiple tabs open, but why pick 9 as the upper limit? Simple: every modern browser supports using Ctrl-1 to go to the first open tab, Ctrl-2 to the second, Ctrl-3 to the third and so on. If you have windows that are constantly open (your mail client, social networking, content management systems), you can keep them in the same location and switch to the instantly using the keyboard. Granted, this still works even if you have 40 open, but it makes sense to match the available shortcuts with your screen real estate. (Control-9 always jumps to the last tab, however many you have open, by the way.)

The next time you're asked to support someone who can't control their Control-T-loving fingers, tell them to ease back on the tabs. Life will be better for everyone, I promise.


Comments

    This is a silly article. The fact that you can't do something efficiently shouldn't lead to the conclusion that nobody can. When doing legal research, I will perform a search, open multiple cases into new tabs, and then read through them serially. This often results in up to 30 tabs open at a time and is easily the most efficient was to read through cases. In response to your particular arguments (1) Mozilla + Tree Style tabs (2) How is clicking on a tab slower than opening your history and searching for something you opened a random amount of time in the past? And when you need to open more than one tab from history it becomes incredibly inefficient (3) Yes you can, and sometimes you are juggling multiple projects (4) Maybe 1% of users use those shortcuts.

      I second Mozilla + Tree Style Tabs. It's effectively tabs on the left of your browser instead of the top, and you can have parent tabs with children tabs etc. Just try it once and you'll never go back.

      yeah i'm studying law and I always open up a million tabs when doing research.

      Completely agree. When I get online I just open up everything I'm interested in checking then close tabs as necessary. This makes things a much smoother process when browsing all of my regular sites. Also 9 is far from the limit where it gets difficult to distinguish between tabs for me, I have 15 open in chrome at the moment and I'm only just not getting the ends of headings chopped off which is no issue.

      I agree completely, working in IT, you often find yourself referring back to multiple articles from multiple sources all covering off similar, but slightly different concepts, all in order to get 1 task done. Combine that with needing to use the same web browser to actually do some of those tasks (via web page management screens and what not), and any hard limit on tabs just becomes ridiculous and limiting.

      Open as many tabs as you're comfortable with. If you can't handle more than 9, so be it, but that's just you and certainly doesn't apply to everyone else.

      Tree Style Tab extension in Firefox is the best thing ever <3

      Exactly.

    Seriously.... there are moments I need to have lots of tabs open.. it's not often.. but it's common enough that without this ability, I'd not as productive in those situations as I would have been.

    At work, I will generally have somewhere between 5 and 8 tabs open that are being constantly switched back and forth between. Prior to tabs, the only way to do this was to have 5 to 8 separate windows open.

    The task remains the same with or without tabs.. tabs simply adds convenience. However, I guess it's hard to see this for people who don't need to have that many tabs (or windows) open all the time.

    Browser history one doesn't make sense to me. So you open a page in a new tab, then close it again, then when you want to read it (how do you remember?) you use the browser history to find it again? WTF?

    I open lots of tabs personally because I go through my RSS feeds, skimming summaries etc, and anything interesting I open in a new tab to read more carefully. I also tend to do this with search results when searching for specific things, or when I'm reading documents and want to check a link without losing my place in the current document (which is why we have tabbed browsing in the first place).

    Instead of telling me to change my browsing behaviour, perhaps browser developers should put some work into making their software stable when I have more than 9 tabs open?

      Browser history is useless when the pages are not correctly labelled or distinguished by the site serving them up. Some sites have every page labelled with nothing more to distinguish them than a long query string.

      I also wish I could work out how to hack Chrome so that typing chars into its Omnibox brought up a recent page for a site rather than some random one that I glanced at months ago.

    Excellent advice Angus.

    Will you also be recommending how many applications I should have open and perhaps how many keystrokes I should do per minute? I'm finding it hard to curb my productivity, so this will definitely help me?

    Given your vast experience in this field, can you please also advise me how many files I should store on my hard drive, how many lollies I should eat and if I should eat my apple before my orange, or afterwards?

    Seriously.

    I'm all for giving people help and assistance, advice and education, training and support.

    Sadly this article isn't it.

    "It’s easy to blame browser developers for using sloppy coding practices and not managing memory correctly, but..."
    Soooo users should change their habits to suit the programmers, or vice versa?

      Users are entirely to blame. Either they're using a sinfully old computer or they have been particularly nasty to their new computer with all of the crap and addons they've been downloading and installing. I work in IT support at a highschool and have seriously seen hundreds of cases of computers and in particularly browsers slowing down and 9 times out of 10 it's to do with junk they've installed. Having multiple tabs open doesn't actually suck up that much memory or processing power.

        Or the fact that Google Chrome is a huge CPU Hogger as Mozilla Firefox is a big Memory hogger. Reasons why IE is amazing in the Corporate world? You can disallow Add-ons and such via a Group Policy.

    im sure my triple screen 7680x1440 display, ssd, 48 gb ram, 5ghz core i7 processor and gtx 690 can handle an many tabs as i want

      Yeah yeah yeah your computer is amazing and so are you.

        i was being faceitious
        just saying that this doesnt apply to most desktop users because our systems can handle several tabs open at a time.

        we dont spend 3k only to open 9 tabs!

      Can you give me your email address so I can send you fan mail from time to time.

        You're your own biggest fan I see?

    So when reading this site, I shouldn't scroll through the pages of new posts. Opening the ones I am interesting in reading into their own taps until I have exhuasted the pages of new posts. To then flick through them one by one reading them?

    I shouldn't do that is what you're saying?

    I should constantly be going back and forth.

    I also often do this on many websites with news stories. Quickly open up everything I want to read in the morning in tabs. Then work my way through them.

    I always have lots of tabs open. At the moment I have 15. It's no problem at all. I'm also not poor so my computer doesn't slow down with them.

      It's not like a fast computer is expensive, i just priced a new i5+16gb ram+660ti system ther other day and came out at $1100AUD (minus monitor and peripherals)

        That's kind of the point, you have to be really poor to have a slow computer.

        One that's probably beige

        lol

      That's how I browse Lifehacker too, click all the articles I want to open, then close them when they're done.

    Bull, bull and bull again.
    The crash stuff is quite simply wrong, especially as many tabs are running in their own space, but even without that I have no slow down (that is noticeable) and haven't had a browser crash in so long I've forgotten the last time. History is not a solution, and I know what is in my tabs.
    Yet another useless and paternalistic suggestion from lh.

    Another law student who also opens way more than 9 tabs at a time. When doing research on a legal database, I'll just right click and "open in new tab" for any case/journal article/commentary that I think will be relevant. I've had so many tabs open they turn into tiny grey blocks. Then I just go through them all and close off the ones that aren't relevant. A much better system than opening the link, closing it, and then trying to re-open it later from my browser history (not least because the links from those databases are only accessible until your log in times out - at least if you've already opened the link, you can read the page even after your log in has timed out).

      Just use middle click. There, I doubled your link clicking productivity.

      As you're a law student I'm going to have to charge you lawyer rates for that advice, so $250 or I send in the goons.

      Good day

    Angus, if you wanted to tell us that you personally can't handle more than 9 tabs of data open at once, you could have just written that as your article. I have 49 tabs currently, sometimes twice that much (spread across two browser windows). I can tell you what's on every single tab by their icon or by nearby icons (because tab proximity is often connected to the order you opened them in), and I can process the information in those tabs just fine. It's much faster to click the exact tab I want than to open the browser history and type in a keyword and filter through the results just to find what I was after.

    I've always got far more than nine tabs open. Vertical Tabs (FF addon - would make sense for anyone with a WAS monitor to use it or similar) means I can easily read the tabs. I also split them into tab groups (another FF thing.) Every so often, I reboot the browser (usually when I get over 2GB memory used) and it's all fine. Takes about 10 seconds to do the reboot.

    TLDR - I disagree with your contention.

    My daily routine, open my favourite sites, browse through any interesting articles cmd + clicking to get a new tab for each, end up with around 20-30 tabs, read through each tab sequentially.

    Also when i'm looking at pornographic materials I have around 1-200 tabs open at a time, my computer copes fine with it, even my old macbook with 1GB RAM managed, don't ask me how O_O

    Been a long time since I've even had a browser crash and even then it recovered and reopened every tab that was there before.

    Oh, apart from the time my cat went to sleep on the F1 key, opening hundreds of help tabs in Chrome. That one did need a restart of the laptop.

    I see a lot of people here with legitimate reasons to have many tabs, but I think this article is more aimed at average users who just leave things open because they are lazy or 'say' they may look at that page again, and then continue to complain about things running slow. I personally know a few people who annoyingly do this, especially at my workplace. When you come to use the main computer and go to look anything up, theres usually a crap ton of tabs open making it hard to navigate, and you don't know whats important to someone. I've already given up though now, I just close em all anyway :P

    But seriously guys, if you have a gander at your computer resource monitors while you have a bundle of tabs open, you'll notice the strain on the cpu/memory. My wife was complaining that the i7 we're running was working slow, and this was a primary reason. With 30 odd tabs open the computer was registering that 6 of my 8 gigs of ram were under the pump.

    Why would we make the computer work harder than it has to? It's not as if we are reading them all at once. It's a bit indicative of society in general to be honest: lets do it because we can.

    I use Internet Explorer and I constantly open more than 9 tabs in a session, The most was 27 tabs, and had 4 sessions going, and those othe sessions had tabs open too. My machine, as stable as a Mountain Goat.

    I like my RSS items to open in their own tabs, rather than use a dedicated reader, so first thing in the morning I open the stuff that's popped up overnight. This is generally 100-200 tabs, and I'm OK with this.

    This is stupid. an arbitrary conclusions at that. Why specifically nine tabs or browsers? Did he do a proper scientific analysis? Of course not. When you are developing a website you need up to twenty windows open with different link info to do it well.

      The fact you ask "why specifically nine tabs" suggests you didn't actually read the article before commenting (see point 4).

        Have you ever heard of (ctrl) + (tab) or (ctrl) + (shift)+(tab)? Having more than 9 tabs open doesn't waste good keyboard shortcuts, it just means those specific keyboard shortcuts won't be useful....I think it probably wastes time figuring out which index a certain tab is then using two hands to hit (ctrl) + (9) for example.

    I treat my tabs as a stack of things to do. If my present task is interrupted, I open a new tab (or multiple new tabs) for that task. The first 5-10 tabs are always things that I never close, such as gmail and VLC remote. If I have less than 15 tabs open, I don't have enough work to do.

    I also never use keyboard shortcuts for switching tabs, which is very odd for me because I like to use keyboard shortcuts for EVERYTHING.

    This can only be written by someone that has clue about computers, browsers and tabs!
    Tabs are the best and most easy way to view alot webpages in a very fast and short time, the problem have just been that many browsers havn't manage to group them into single group of interrest, thats why Maxthon browsers was to best browser for me for many years, now i use Google Chrome and a tab manager addon.
    I am interrested in photography and like to visit aleast 25 diffrent website a day, but instead of going to one site at the time, i just click on a group i call "photography" and the browser opens up 25 different website in a split second and without my computer getting slow because of that, I then close each tabs/site as go through them and read what i find interresting!
    Like wise, when working as an It Manager i easily get more then 9 different tabs open to manage many of the system you manage today through a webbrowser!
    The correct title should have been "Why you should never have more then ONE browser open" because that is stupid, when tabs is possible with todays browsers and would make your arguments more true!

    Just how Anal does someone have to be to even think of this, let alone write about it? !!
    - This reply was sent via tab number 78, and I have a second instance of Firefox open, running a further 42 Tabs.
    I'm going to open a few more. Why? Because I can.

    I keep over 100 tabs open usually. This may sound rediculous, but I have a good computer and firfox has a convienient tab search feature.

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