Multiple tabs & parallel browsing

As you may have heard, I recently acquired an OLPC laptop. At some point I am going to write up my experiences with the OLPC/Sugar software so far (in the meantime, to uphold a promise I made, here are some useful tips for using and setting up software on the OLPC). For now, here are my thoughts on browsing the Web from the OLPC Browse activity.

The killer bit of the Firefox browser, IMHO, was the ability to open multiple Web pages in separate tabs within the same browser window. Of course, internet Explorer now does multiple tabs (in a rainbow of shades) but back in my Windows (pre-IE7) days, I frequently did parallel browsing of websites by simply opening each webpage in a new window. The advantage of multiple tabs is that you don’t end up with a clutter of browser windows all over your taskbar.

I suspect that multiple tabs in browser windows, and (in Firefox at least) being able to bookmark all the tabs at once, has slightly altered how people browse.

Opening in a new window set me off down the path of parallel browsing but multiple tabs ensured I got there. Especially as websites got more interactive and state-sensitive (meaning that you can’t switch to another website then click ‘Back’ to return to your internet banking session). And I got less patient waiting for pages to load (ironic seeing as connection speeds have increased).

So now I’ve started using my OLPC to browse the web occasional when my other laptop is unavailable. This is an interesting, and slightly frustrating, experience.

The Sugar interface on the OLPC basically does away with the idea of windowing environments. That is, you don’t have a desktop on which to drag around and switch between windows. instead, each application (known as an ‘activity’) runs moreorless full-screen, like this:

This means a return to linear browsing. in some ways it’s a liberating experience in that I read what I want to read of the current website or page before moving on the the next. And when reading blogs and the like, I can always click ‘Back’ later. In many ways, though (and i’m a great believer in computers supporting user-behaviour, and not the other way round), it’s just frustrating.

For example, in writing this blog-post, I couldn’t easily open my blog or Andy’s OLPC tips page to check that I used the correct URL in my links. Nor could I quickly check my usage of a word in I can, and sometimes do, open other instances of the Browse activity – essentially opening in a new window but with a little more effort – but more than three instances, I’ve found, tends to crash the whole lot.

Now, the OLPC and its software isn’t designed for me; it’s an education tool for children in developing countries. On the other hand, how soon before the older or more tech-savvy children start to want to browse in parallel – especially when internet access gets more ubiquitous?

I have resisted putting Firefox on my OLPC but tonight I’m sorely tempted…

2 thoughts on “Multiple tabs & parallel browsing

  1. My Nokia N800 suffers from a similiar problem. When browsing, it has a full-screen mode which is essential for making the most of the screen.

    The browser doesn’t do tabs, but you can open links into new windows, however they open on top of the current window. To get back to the window you were reading, you have to exit full-screen mode, select the window you were on and then return to full-screen. This completely breaks the flow of parallel browsing (nice term by the way). I long for an option to open links in new windows in the background, so I can go to them when I am ready.

  2. Laura,
    I’ve had 3 OLPC’s for 5 months which I have been testing with my two primary school age children. If you haven’t done it already, install update 1 immediately and the peru activity pack. Don’t even think of using 653 or 656. Those builds were alpha and useless. Update 1 is very close to being what should have shipped with the G1G1 program, and the software is really good for primary children. Also, drop on FBReader for ebooks (does not have a sugar container as yet, but has been compiled for olpc by somebody.) I have worked for over fifteen years in Uganda, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Central America in development (I am an anthropologist as well as a geek). I set up a project in northern Uganda for children (semi-nomadic pastoralists) with no access to anything…school, electricty, books… which was very successful (tens of thousands of children have now received a primary education through this project at a cost of about £30 a year / student). This device would have been an absolute godsend. Get another OLPC and put two kids together with update 1 and watch them. It is amazing. I have to say they really got it right…it is very annoying to use as an adult, used to core2duos and 3d graphic cards…but for the target audience this is a remarkably good device. I have been in correspondence with Nicholas Negroponte over his shift to Microsoft…and I think I can say he really doesn’t see how offtrack this latest direction is.


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