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Why pinning your browser tabs is important, and why it sometimes fails you

If you frequently lose your tabs, Jack Wallen wants to remind you about pinned tabs and one behavior that can totally frustrate you with that feature.

Image: CC Photo Labs/Shutterstock

Recently, my wife experienced a situation where her Chromebook “restarted out of nowhere.” Under normal circumstances, I’d have thought nothing about it. However, she’d had several important tabs open and needed them back. Once summoned, I jumped in to see if I could help out. Immediately hitting the Ctrl+Shift+T keyboard combination to re-open from a crashed Chrome experience, I was surprised to see it had failed to open anything but a single, empty tab.

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This one stumped me for a while. I’ll explain exactly what happened in a moment. But first, I want to share with you the advice I gave to my wife.

Pin tabs.

That’s right. The solution to that which ailed her was in pinned tabs. The reason I suggested this is because this same issue had come up many times before. And even though bookmarks and Start Tab shortcuts are a great way to keep sites at the ready, some people even view those extra clicks as too much. We’ve reached a point where everything must be immediate, with very little action on our parts.

This is why I suggested pinned tabs.

Pinned tabs are nothing new, and they’re incredibly simple to use. You open a tab, go to a site, right-click the tab displaying the site, and select Pin Tab (or just Pin). That tab will then remain a permanent fixture to your browser until you unpin it (or you fall victim to that which I’ll explain in a moment). 

I’ve been using pinned tabs for a very long time. I now have 14 pinned tabs in Firefox, and I use every one of them. Pinned tabs save me significant time throughout the day, so it’s no wonder they’ve become such an important part of my workflow. If you’re not using pinned tabs, you’re missing out. 

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Every major browser offers pinned tabs. Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Edge, Opera, Vivaldi, Brave … each of them includes the feature, and it works the same across every app. With pinned tabs, you don’t have to worry about locating bookmarks through a convoluted hierarchy of folders. And even though I have a ton of saved bookmarks on just about every browser I use, I rarely bother with that system anymore. For me, it’s all about pinned tabs and Start Tab shortcuts. That’s how I interact with my browsers, and it’s a behavior that’s so ingrained, I cannot imagine having to go back to bookmarks.

Browsers have evolved and so have we.

A fly in the ointment

But pinned tabs aren’t the perfect solution. In fact, pinned tabs are prone to one very simple flaw in the system.

Let me explain.

A couple of weeks after I introduced my wife to pinned tabs, she came back to me to say her pinned tabs were all gone. What had happened? Knowing my wife (and having experienced this myself), I knew exactly what the problem was.

Most browsers are set up such that they’ll remember the last session opened. This is where it gets tricky. I know my wife is prone to opening more than one browser on her Chromebook. She does this and isn’t even aware of it. So here’s how the mysterious vanishing pinned tabs went down.

  1. Wife opens browser window.
  2. Wife accidentally opens second Chrome window.
  3. Wife pins tabs to second Chrome window (not knowing first browser window—without pinned tabs—is still open).
  4. Wife happily works with Chromebook and pinned tabs.
  5. Wife closes second Chrome window, assuming pinned tabs will remain, sees the original Chrome window, and closes it as well.
  6. Wife opens Chrome to see her pinned tabs are missing.

Here’s what’s happening. Chrome is set up to remember the last session (or, in the Chrome vernacular, Continue where you left off). As far as Chrome is concerned, it’s looking for the last browser window to remain open. In my wife’s case, that was an instance with zero tabs opened (pinned or not). So when she opens a new Chrome window, it doesn’t remember the pinned tabs.

How do you get around this issue? There are two ways. The first is to open the Chrome settings window and go to On Startup and select Open the New Tab page (Figure A).

Figure A

pinneda.jpg

Configuring Chrome to not remember the last session.

By selecting the Open the New Tab page option, you can be certain that Chrome won’t forget your pinned tabs. Even though that method is pretty foolproof, it can be a non-starter for those who like to return to opened tabs (pinned or not) in a new session. If that’s you, how do you avoid the same fate as my wife?

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It’s simple: You make sure the browser window with the pinned tabs is always the last browser you close (if you close your browser at all). You see, the problem is that when you open a new Chrome window (by hitting [Ctrl]+[t] or using the menu), it always opens a new window without your pinned tabs. If that window is the last you close (and you have the On Startup behavior set to Continue Where You Left Off), kiss those pinned tabs goodbye. That behavior is not isolated to Chrome. In fact, the only browser I’ve found that includes pinned tabs when opening a new window is Safari.

And so, you have two choices: 

  • Use caution when closing a browser window that includes pinned tabs.
  • Configure your browser to not remember the last session.

As far as I know, there is no happy medium and each of the above two options has its pros and cons. In the end, it just depends on how careful you are with opened browser windows (and if you can remember to pay attention to the order in which they’re closed).

Pinned tabs is a feature every user should work with. But don’t assume it’s the be-all-end-all solution for your tabs. In the end, your best bet is to either add shortcuts to the pinned tabs to the New Tab window or create a specific bookmark folder for your pinned tabs. That way, should you lose your pinned tabs, they are just a few quick clicks away from being restored.

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