I overheard a comment a few days ago that a friend made regarding the default layout of Internet Explorer; namely its placing of the address bar inline with tabs. This results in reduced space for tabs, thus reduced title lengths, thus reduced efficiency managing multiple tasks in parallel.
Chrome, on the other hand, places the tabs above the address bar, giving the impression the address bar is part of the tab currently-opened tab. Firefox, and Opera both also place the tabs above the address bar. Every browser appears to write in stone their tab-placement – though Internet Explorer appears to show the most flexibility.
Upon exploring Internet Explorer following my friends comments, I soon found that I could resize the address bar, re-arrange the stop/refresh buttons, drop tabs down onto their own line (or leave them inline), reduce certain toolbars down into command buttons to minimize space-used. Needless to say, I was pretty impressed with just how much flexibility I found in Internet Explorer.
Here are a few arrangements I went through:
As previously mentioned, the above shows the resizing of the address bar, shifting of the stop/refresh buttons from the right over to the left (easier to avoid accidentally clicking the Compatibility View button), dropping tabs onto their own line (you can leave them inline, if that floats your boat), collapsing toolbars like the LastPass one into the command region, and making it inline with the favorites.
Of the four browsers I checked, Chrome appears to be the most rigid. As for customization, you can change the theme, but this is really not much more than swapping out a background image on browser itself. You can’t change the address bar width (well, you can resize the add-on bar, which results in a longer/shorter address bar), the placement of the tabs, the locality of the buttons or anything. You can, however, toggle the “Home” button on and off.
Both Firefox and Opera have really impressive options for customizing your toolbars, but that might be a degree of control that few people enjoy. I personally explored it, but didn’t find it too appealing. Also in Firefox you can disable tabs until you explicitly request to open a link in a second tab. This too reduces used-space around the “chrome” of the browser.
Opera sports an even more advanced set of options for Tab Bar Placement. While tabs at are traditionally at the top of the content (following their real-world exemplar of manila folders), you can place them on any side of the viewport in Opera. The changes of the layout are pretty drastic, so I apologize for the disorienting effect of the following gif:
My take-away is that Chrome is nice on the eyes, but far too rigid with the layout options. Opera and Firefox go to the other extreme, and drop enough tools in your lap that you’d need an engineer’s manual to truly understand the power you’ve been given. Internet Explorer hits closest to the sweet spot in my sincere opinion. While I wish Internet Explorer had a few features we’ve come to love in its competition, I am happy with the degree (and limits) of flexibility Microsoft has chosen to provide.