Give every window in Windows 7 a tabbed user interface

In this edition of the Windows Desktop report, Greg Shultz introduces you to WindowTabs and shows you how to configure the application to add a tabbed interface to Windows Explorer.

I recently received an email from a reader who was looking for a way to add tabs to Windows 7's Windows Explorer. The reader is a Windows XP user who wants to move to Windows 7. He has been using QTTabBar in Windows XP for quite some time now and refuses to switch until he can find a suitable replacement that works in Windows 7.

Since I at one time used QTTabBar and loved it, I have a pretty good idea of this fellow's dedication to QTTabBar and his refusal to give up a tabbed user interface in Windows Explorer. Furthermore, like him, I too am surprised by the fact that Microsoft has not yet created a native tabbed user interface for Windows Explorer.

Now, I am aware that the folks behind QTTabBar are currently working on a version for Windows 7. However, it appears that it has been slow going for them and the new version is still in Beta. While I am sure that it will be a great product when completed, I can't really encourage everyone to use a Beta version for mission-critical, file-management tasks.

However, I have discovered another tool called WindowTabs that can add tabs to every running application's Window and allows you to group these tabbed windows together as a single entity. As such, you can open multiple instances of Windows Explorer and group them together to create your own multi-tabbed version of Windows Explorer. It is very simple and works great!

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll introduce you to WindowTabs and show you how to configure and use it.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download, and it is also available in a TechRepublic Photo Gallery Slideshow.

Getting WindowTabs

Once you download WindowTabs, installing it is a simple procedure with the WindowTabs Setup Wizard, as shown in Figure A. You can download and use WindowTabs at no cost, with the limitation that you can have only three tabs per group. A single-user license is $19, and the registered version removes the three-tab limit and includes one year of upgrades. And, WindowTabs is compatible with Windows XP, Windows Vista, as well as both the 32- and 64-bit version of Windows 7.

Figure A

Installation is a very easy procedure.

Using WindowTabs

As I mentioned, once WindowTabs is installed, it will add a tab to every running application's window. For example, I launched Computer from the Start menu and discovered that it now had a tab on it, as shown in Figure B. Other than adding the tab, which also provides access to configuration options that I'll examine in a moment, WindowTabs makes no other visible changes to the user interface of Windows. That's one of the things that I like most about this program -- it does one thing, does it very well, and doesn't go overboard with a ton of extras that you don't need.

Figure B

Once WindowTabs is installed, it will add a tab to every running application's window.
Next, I open Documents, and it too has a tab on its window. Now, in order to group the Computer window and the Documents window into a single multi-tabbed version of Windows Explorer, I click on the Documents window's tab and drag it toward the tab on the Computer window. As I do, the Documents window shrinks in size and becomes transparent, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

When you click and drag a window by its tab, the window shrinks and becomes transparent.
You then drop the shrunken window on the tab of the other window, and instantly you have a multi-tabbed version of Windows Explorer, as shown in Figure D. You can use [Alt] along with the left and right arrow keys to switch tabs as well as simply clicking tabs.

Figure D

Once you drop the shrunken window on the tab of the other window, you end up with a multi-tabbed version of Windows Explorer.
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As I mentioned, the free version of WindowTabs will allow you to group three windows into a single multi-tabbed interface. As such, you could add Pictures to the mix, as shown in Figure E. If you attempt to add another window, you will receive a simple message reminding you of the three-window limitation.

Figure E

The free version of WindowTabs will allow you to group three windows into a single multi-tabbed interface.

Configuration settings

If you right-click on any tab and select the Settings command, you'll see the Settings dialog box. On the Filtering tab you can specify which windows you do or don't want to apply tabs to. (By default, all open windows get a tab.) For instance, Internet Explorer already has its built-in tabs, so I don't necessarily want WindowTabs to add more tabs. As such, I can select the Disable Tabbing for the Following Applications and then type iexplore.exe in the list, as shown in Figure F. When I do, every window except Internet Explorer has tabs. If there are other windows for which you do not wish to have tabs, you can type their executable file names in the list as well.

Figure F

You can pick and choose which windows you want to have tabs.
On the Shortcuts tab, you can alter the shortcut keys. On the Advanced tab, you can change several other options, as shown in Figure G. For instance, by default, WindowTabs shows only one icon on the Taskbar, and it will list only the tab that is currently selected. If you wish to have all windows in the group appear on the Taskbar, you can clear the Hide Taskbar Buttons for Tabbed Windows check box. I prefer to have the Automatically Hide Tabs on Inactive and Maximized Windows check box selected because it makes things just a bit cleaner looking. Besides, you can just hover and the tabs reappear.

Figure G

The Advanced tab allows you to configure several other options, such as the ability to automatically hide tabs on inactive and maximized windows.

Other applications

Remember, even though I have focused on Windows Explorer here, WindowTabs works on every application's window. So I could be working on a single project that has a Word document and an Excel spreadsheet and I could then group Excel and Word into a single multi-tabbed interface for easy access.

What's your take?

Have you ever wished that Windows Explorer had a multi-tabbed user interface like Internet Explorer? If so, are you likely to download and install WindowTabs? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

By Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.