Tabs in file managers

These days, everyone agrees that tabs belong in webbrowsers. For example, as I’m writing this article, I have nine tabs open, one to write this and eight with the articles I’ll link. Without the tabs, I’d have to alt-tab between nine browser windows, like in the days I used Internet Explorer 6. I think tabs are one of the best things the new generation of web browsers have. But do they belong in file managers?

It seems like the people actually creating the file managers don’t know either. If you ask the KDE devs, tabs are for power users. That’s why Konqueror has them, and Dolphin hasn’t. At first glance, that seems to be correct. The current branch of Nautilus doesn’t have tabs for the same reason. Neither has Thunar, and (never?) will.

But the tide seems to be turning. When PCMan found all the available file managers lacking and created his own, he made sure that PCManFM had tabs. It has been one of its selling points: “lightweight like Thunar, but with tabs”.
But the real thunderclap has been the news that the next version of Nautilus will have tabs too. This was announced on the 12th on July, and already the SVN version has this feature. If you’re not big on compiling software, just have a look at the latest Ubuntu alpha release.

It seems like the question whether tabs belong in a file manager or not is a moot one. Apparently, users want this feature, so it’s up to the devs to implement it.

As for my own, personal take: a file manager should either have tabs, or a twin pane view. Otherwise, copying and moving many files in a complicated directory tree becomes a chore.



5 Responses to Tabs in file managers

  1. Cae says:

    Having Dolphin to replace Konqueror is the dumbest idea KDE dev ever had.

    They are throwing away the crown jewel 😦

  2. Robert says:

    Erm, don’t know about dolphin in kde 4.0.x but kde 4.1.x has tabbing Ctrl+Shift+N

    Personally, I love tabs, simple key sequence and I can be managing more than one folder at once in the same window, plus I then have less windows open which is easier to manage on the desktop imo.

    I like window splitting and find it hard to justify using both splitting and tabbing, but when managing many files at once I prefer tabbing as you have a bit more flexibility instead of having to share screen real estate between tasks, but I will happily use either of these regularly and even on the rare occasion both.

  3. celettu says:


    In that case, the KDE devs had to eat their own words and give in to the pressure 😉

    I agree with your other comments.

  4. andrewmin says:

    Yeah, Dolphin added tabs (thank goodness). I was surprised that the Thunar devs decided to not.

    All I can say is that I’m so glad that Konqueror has tabs. I’m using that until I decide whether or not to switch to KDE 4.1.

  5. The feature I’m most missing when using Dolphin is the Konqueror’s MoveTo/CopyTo context menu. That alls quick moving and copying to multiple places, and is pretty essential when sorting out contents of directories to subdirectory tree. Tabs can do this to some degree and twin panel fails in this totally as I have to shuffle back and forth between directories constantly in order to have the right one in the panel.

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