Depending on who you ask, Google Chrome is the world’s most popular browser here in mid-2012. It’s fast, lightweight, and standards-compliant. However, Chrome has one major (for me) issue that will prevent me from ever using it as my primary browser: The lack of any way to modify the behavior of the Ctrl+Tab keyboard shortcut to switch between tabs.
Like the other leading desktop web browsers Firefox and Internet Explorer, the default behavior of the Ctrl+Tab keyboard shortcut in Chrome is to switch between tabs in left-to-right order. I’ve believed for years that this behavior is inefficient at best, and the default switch order for Ctrl+Tab should be most-recently-used (MRU) order. The default left-to-right Ctrl+Tab switch order makes it impossible to quickly use the keyboard to toggle back and forth between two tabs when there are multiple tabs open. Left-to-right order is also inconsistent with the long-established MRU order for the keyboard shortcut for switching between open applications (Alt+Tab in Windows and many Linux distributions; Command+Tab in OSX).
Unlike Firefox and Internet Explorer, however, Chrome offers no way to change the default Ctrl+Tab behavior, even via add-ons / extensions. To compare the three leading desktop browsers:
- Firefox: Has an excellent addon called LastTab which has a great implementation of MRU Ctrl+Tab behavior (including an Alt+Tab-like preview window of the tabs arranged in MRU order);
- Internet Explorer: Has a “Use most recent order when switching tabs with Ctrl+Tab” checkbox in its Advanced Options settings;
- Chrome: There’s no configuration setting to change the Ctrl+Tab behavior. The Ctrl+Tab key combination apparently is defined as “reserved,” so extensions can’t change its behavior either.
There’s a long-standing (2008) Chromium bug, Issue 5569, logged for Chrome’s Ctrl+Tab behavior; however, it was marked as “WontFix” shortly after it was opened. Google does acknowledge the demand for MRU switching behavior in a brief statement on the Chromium project’s User Experience > Tabs page:
Ctrl+Tab, Ctrl+Shift+Tab, Ctrl+PgUp and Ctrl+PgDn can all be used to switch back and forth between tabs. While there is great demand for an MRU-ordered switcher, we've so far been unable to find an MRU switcher that makes sense beyond the first three most recent tabs, or one that works well with background-created tabs.
I’m somewhat bemused by this statement; there are many good reference implementations of MRU switching order available. One specific example is the LastTab Firefox extension mentioned above; I’ve used that for years and have been very happy with it.
If you’d like to add your vote to this issue, feel free to head over to Chromium Issue 5569 and “star” the issue and/or leave a comment.
This issue is a deal-breaker for me to consider adopting Chrome as my primary desktop web browser – Chrome’s benefits don’t outweigh the potential several-times-per-day productivity hit of not being able to rapidly and easily toggle between two specific browser tabs. In the meantime, I’m happy to continue using Firefox as my own primary browser.
In occasional situations where I do need to use Chrome and have multiple web pages open, going old school and opening each web page in its own browser window (instead of using multiple tabs) is a tolerable workaround (since that lets me use the operating system’s MRU window switching behavior to rapidly toggle back and forth between two windows as needed).