Change How Your Web Browser Opens Tabs

by Matt

George wrote in to ask how he can avoid having his web browser immediately switch to new tabs when he asks his browser to open links in those new tabs. This little preference can often be a pain for the user. Some people want the browser to switch its view to the new tab, others want to be able to click on several links from a page, have them open in new tabs in the background, and then switch to those tabs when they are ready (like George, I’m also in this camp).

In Mac OS X, whether you’re using Apple’s Safari, Firefox, Camino, or Opera, you can easily change what I’ll call the tab focus setting. You might try the settings both ways (open tabs immediately or in the background) to see which you prefer. If you tell the browser to open the link immediately, then when you click on the link, you’ll get a new tab with your linked page in it (and the page you came from will be in a background tab). If you open new tabs in the background, it will be just the opposite: the link you clicked on will open in a new tab, but you won’t see it without clicking on that new tab.

I remember that when tabbed browser first appeared in web browsers, I didn’t understand what the hoopla was about; I told myself I’d just open a new window for each link I wanted to visit. Once I learned how to open links in background tabs, I never looked back. It has made my web browsing so much more efficient.

Setting Up Tabbed Browsers in Safari

George didn’t indicate which browser he uses, so I’m going to cover this tip for the four most popular Mac browsers: Safari, Firefox, Camino, and Opera. While many people already know how to use tabs, I’m going to quickly cover how to use them in Safari. I’m assuming that if you’re knowledgeable enough to find another browser, download it, and install it, you probably know how to set up tabs. But since this feature is not evident when you open Safari, it’s worth covering.

If you’ve never used tabs, here’s what a Safari browser looks like with two tabs open:

As you can see from the circled area, there’s a Mac Guru Lounge tab and an Apple tab. Each tab is really its own web browser window, but they’ve been combined into one so that you can save desktop space and avoid clutter. You can have as many tabs open as you want (though if you have a lot of tabs open, your browser is likely to slow down). How do you open tabs?

  • In Safari, you can add an empty tag by going to the File menu and clicking New Tab.
  • If you want to open a link on a web page in a new tab, you can either hold down the Command key when you click on the link or right-click on the link (control-click) and select Open Link in New Tab. Note that you can only use the command key if you have enabled it in the Safari preferences. See below for that task.

Changing the Tab Settings in Each Web Browser


  • Open Preferences from the Safari menu.
  • Click the Tabs tab.
  • Check or uncheck #2 below: “Select tabs and windows as they are created.” (Check to see tabs right away, uncheck to keep them in the background).
  • You can check #1 if you want to be able to command-click on links to open them in new tabs:


  • Open Preferences from the Firefox menu.
  • Click the Tabs tab.
  • Check or uncheck the last line item (check it to switch to a new tab immediately).


  • Open Preferences from the Camino menu.
  • Click the Tabs tab.
  • Check or uncheck the last line item (check the box to have the new tabs open in the background).


  • To the best of my knowledge, Opera does not have a preferences setting to control whether linked tabs open immediately or in the background.
  • However, you can control this setting by keyboard clicks. Just like every other browser, you can open a new tab in Opera by holding down the command key when you click the link. This will cause the new tab to open immediately. If you want the tab open in the background, then hold down both the command and the shift keys when you click the link.

Did this tip help you with your tabbed browsing? Do you have any other tips or better ways to handle tabs? Let others know in the comments.

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