How to add tabs to windows on the desktop in Windows

Reduce desktop clutter using tabs in Explorer and other windows

It is hard to imagine using a web browser without tabs and they are so useful when browsing multiple websites. Why aren’t there tabs in other Windows programs? Add them with a great utility.

Sometimes we need to open multiple views of things, such as several images when editing, copying and pasting between them, or two or more documents when working on a report. We may want two or more Explorer views so we can access the contents of different disks or folders without having to go back and forth.

The desktop can be filled with separate windows and there is nothing to stop you opening five Explorer windows if that is what you need, but the screen then becomes messy and cluttered. It can be hard to find the window you want because it may be buried underneath other windows.

The problem is most irritating when using a laptop with a small screen and there simply isn’t sufficient desktop space to have lots of windows open without them overlapping each other.

Adding tabs to windows on the PC’s desktop is the solution. Just as with web browser tabs, you can open multiple tabs for Explorer, a photo editor, word processor, and many other applications. This means that windows do not fill the desktop and it is easy to switch from one tab to another with a click of the mouse. Removing the desktop clutter might enable you to work more efficiently, especially on a small screen.

Here I look at two utilities. One adds tabs to Explorer and the other adds tabs to app windows as well.

Add tabs to Explorer with QTTabBar

QTTabBar is a small utility that adds tabs to Explorer windows. You can open tabs for different folders and drives and switch between them with a mouse click. It is great for those times when you want to access multiple folders on the disk. Here’s how it works.

  1. Download QTTabBar – it is free
  2. Right click the QTTabBar zip file in the Downloads folder and extract the contents
  3. Double click the QTTabBar app to install it.

Be patient while it installs. It’s not big, but it’s obviously doing some things behind the scenes and it restarts Explorer when it has finished. There are no instructions and there is nothing to see on the screen, which is a bit confusing at first, but it is actually working.

Enable QTTabBar in Windows Explorer
Enable QTTabBar

To enable QTTtabBar, open an Explorer window. Click the View menu to show the toolbar ribbon and then click Options at the right hand side. Click QTTabBar in the menu to enable it – it will show as a ticked item when enabled. There are several other functions, but here I am just looking at Explorer tabs.

Using multiple tabs in Explorer with QTTabBar
Multiple tabs in Explorer

When QTTabBar is enabled, the current view in the Explorer window is on a tab. Click the plus button to the right and then select another folder or drive to view. Multiple tabs can be opened with your favorite folders and you can switch between them with a mouse click.

The desktop is so much simpler and less cluttered when all the Explorer windows are on tabs instead of separate windows. An option to start Explorer in safe mode , in other words, without QTTabBar enabled, is added to the Start menu. You probably won’t need it, but be aware that it is there if you do encounter any problems.

This is a useful utility and it does not cost anything, so give it a try.

Add tabs to windows with TidyTabs

TidyTabs is a utility that adds tabs to windows  and is the feature you have always wanted. It is free for personal use, but must be paid for if you want to use it for work. There is a regular version that comes with an installer and a portable version of TidyTabs that does not need installing and can be removed simply by deleting the folder.

TidyTabs in an Explorer window on the Windows desktop
TidyTabs portable version
  1. Download the portable version of TidyTabs
  2. Right click the TidyTabs zip and extract the contents in the Downloads folder
  3. Open the TidyTabs folder in Downloads and double click TidyTabs.Daemon.exe
  4. Select the license type – the Personal Edition is free

TidyTabs cannot be seen when it is running, so you might wonder where it is. There is an icon at the right side of the taskbar and right clicking it displays a menu.

TidyTabs software on the Windows desktop
Access TidyTabs in the taskbar

This is not needed very often, but it is useful to know how to turn TidyTabs on or off, or access the settings where it can be set to auto-load with Windows if you want it to.

Create tabs in windows

Ignore that taskbar icon and open a program window. Explorer will be used in the example, but it works with many programs. Probably not all programs, but certainly a lot of them.

Move the mouse to the top left corner of the window and a tab that was previously hidden is revealed.

TidyTabs tab in Windows Explorer
Explorer tabs

So how do you open more tabs? Open another Explorer window. This can be done by right clicking a drive or folder and selecting Open in new window on the menu that is displayed. A quick way to open a new Explorer window is to Shift+click the Explorer icon in the taskbar. Other programs may require you to go to File > Open or use some other method to open a new window.

Explorer windows on tabs on the Windows desktop using TidyTabs
Multiple tabs in Explorer

With two windows open, move the mouse over one to show the tab at the top, then click and drag it to the other window and drop it next to the tab. As can be seen above, there is now only one Explorer window but it has two tabs showing two different views of the disk. Click a tab to view each window.

TidyTabs is not just for Explorer and it works with other software. A harder test perhaps is GIMP. Multiple photos can be opened in multiple windows of course, but to save having several images open on the desktop or minimising windows to the taskbar and opening them again, they can be opened in tabs.

TidyTabs lets you create tabs in GIMP
Add tabs to program windows

Just open two or more images and then drag one window by its tab and drop it next to the other window’s tab.

Is this an easier way of working? Some people may prefer tabs to having lots of windows on the desktop or minimising and maximising them. Of course, sometimes it is useful to have two windows open side by side, so you will not need TidyTabs all the time. Use it when you need it, but use multiple windows when that is better.

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