After making its way through the developer and beta versions of the browser, a significant new feature has just arrived in the stable version of Google Chrome that most of us are using: Tab Groups. It might just change the way you browse the web forever.
Tab Groups appears in Google Chrome 81 for Windows and macOS, so first of all you need to make sure you’re running the latest version of the browser. Open the Chrome menu then choose Help and About Google Chrome. If you’re not already running version 81 or later, you should see a prompt to update the software.
As the name suggests, Tab Groups lets you… group tabs. It’s likely that most of us have more tabs open at any one time than is really viable, and the new feature lets you take more control over how these tabs are managed. Various third-party extensions have tackled this problem in the past (more on these add-ons below), but now Chrome offers you some built-in assistance.
The easiest way to get started with Tab Groups is to right-click (or Ctrl+click on a Mac) on a tab header in Chrome—you should see an option to Add to New Group. You’ll see the tab gets a coloured outline and a coloured dot beside it.
Click the dot to name your brand new tab group (a name which will appear on the tab bar), and to change the colour, if you don’t like the default one assigned to it. The other options on this menu let you close all the tabs in a group, ungroup all the tabs in a group (deleting the group along the way), and add a new empty tab to the group).
So, for example, you might have one tab group for work stuff and one tab group for social media. If you’re researching two or more topics at once, or trying to work on multiple projects, or just trying to keep your business and leisure web browsing separate, then these are all scenarios where tab grouping can come in handy.
Once you’ve created your first group, a right-click (or Ctrl+click) on any tab header then gives you the option to add that tab to an existing group as well as creating a new one (it’s here that naming your tab groups smartly pays dividends). If you open up a link from a tab that’s already in a tab group, the new tab goes into the same group.
You can also add a tab to a group by simply clicking and dragging it into one. Tabs can be moved between groups in the same way. Pinned tabs are exempt and can’t be grouped (if you try and group a pinned tab, it’ll unpin itself; grouped tabs that you pin will then no longer be grouped).
One of the cool tricks that tab groups enables is moving tabs en masse—click and drag on a tab group label, and you can move all of its tabs at once (or drag them out to a whole new window). You can do this without tab groups by the way, by selecting multiple tabs with a Ctrl+click (or Cmd+click on a Mac) and then dragging them around.
The Chrome development team will no doubt add more functionality to Tab Groups as time goes on. At the moment, it’s not the most robust of solutions: Simply dragging a single tab will pull it out of a group, for example, and there’s no way of saving groups of tabs or bringing them back as a group after you’ve closed them.
Still, it’s a promising start, and shows that Google engineers are thinking about better ways to manage the avalanche of tabs we’re all working our way through every day. Give it a try and you might find it more useful than you expect.
If you need more than Tab Groups can offer, plenty of Chrome extensions cover the same sort of ground. Cluster lets you organise tabs by window, so you can group together tabs with similar content, then open and close them in batches. It makes searching through tabs much more straightforward too.
Tab Manager Plus uses a similar sort of approach to help you manage tabs based on the browser window they’re in—if you want to close down groups of tabs but get them back again easily, it works well. As an added bonus, it will help you spot duplicate tabs you’ve got open, and can (optionally) limit how many tabs you’re able to open in total.
Toby is also worth a mention, and is the most comprehensive of the lot. It essentially transforms the way tabs and bookmarks are managed in Chrome, giving you a new and streamlined way of keeping track of the webpages you need to keep track of. It can take a bit of getting used to, but it can potentially make a big difference to your online productivity if it suits you.