Top tab tips for macOS Sierra - work faster and smarter with tabs

Master tabs in apps when using macOS Sierra on the Apple Mac

A new feature in macOS Sierra on the Apple Mac is tabs. This is not a feature of apps, but the whole OS and many apps can make use of them. Here are some great ways to use them and configure them.

Tabs have been around for years in web browsers, but they haven’t been that common in other apps. Some have them, but others do not.

With macOS Sierra though, tabs are built into the OS and many apps that did not have tabs before, now find that tabs are included.

Tabs reduce the number of windows that are open on the desktop and they prevent desktop clutter where you have multiple overlapping windows and you can’t easily find what you want.

By opening new windows in tabs, you can prevent the desktop clutter.

Configure tab options in macOS

There are three different tab options and to select the one you want:

  • Go to the Apple menu.
  • Click System Preferences.
  • Click Dock.

There is a menu, Prefer tabs when opening documents, and there are three options.

System Preferences in macOS Sierra on the Apple Mac

Select Manually and you can choose whether to open a document in a new window or a new tab. To see how this works:

  • Open TextEdit.
  • Go to the View menu.
  • Select Show Tab Bar.

Show the tab bar in apps on the Apple Mac using macOS Sierra

Now the tab bar can be seen just under the toolbar in the TextEdit document window.

If you select File, New to create a new document, it will always open in a new window on the desktop. However, if the plus button is clicked at the right side of the tab bar, a new document is created on a new tab. You have a choice of a new tab or a new window.

Open documents in new tabs or new windows in macOS Sierra

When using File, Open to load a document, it is always opened in a new window when Manually is set in System Preferences, Dock.

Now try this. In System Preferences, Dock, select the Always option (first screenshot above). Whether you create a new document by selecting File, New  or the plus button in the tab bar, or you open a document on disk, it will always be in a tab.

Drag tabs out

Suppose you change your mind and you want a document on a tab in its own window. All you need to do is click and drag the tab bar out of the window and drop it on the desktop. It opens in a Window.

Drag tabs out of windows and drop them on the desktop to open them in their own window in macOS Sierra on the Apple Mac

The Always option is the best one to select because you can always drag a tab out and drop it on the desktop to create a new window if you need it. I couldn’t find a way to put the window back into a tab if you first opened it in a window. Is this possible? It doesn’t look like it.

Dragging tabs out of the window onto the desktop works not only with TextEdit, but also with other apps with tabs like Finder and Safari.

After experimenting with dragging tabs out and dropping them, I ended up with ghost images on the desktop.

macOS Sierra desktop on the Apple Mac

They don’t do anything and they cannot be selected or deleted. It is strange, but harmless and they were gone after a restart.


  • Set the option in System Preferences to always open documents in tabs
  • Drag a tab out of the window and drop it on the desktop to open it in a separate window
  • Open folders in tabs in Finder by holding down the Command key and double click a folder.
  • Drag tabs left and right to rearrange the order.





You can merge all windows into tabs: TextEdit > View > Merge All Windows

It's on the Window menu, not the View menu, but I swear that wasn't there when I first tried tabs in TextEdit. It is possible that it was added in a macOS update. There have been some big ones since Sierra was launched.

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