Tab controls on web pages

With the recent surge in AJAX enabled web sites I have to wonder if web user interfaces are still as intuitive as they were when we simply had to fill in a form and press the Save or Submit button. Nowadays user interfaces, like the one pictures below from Community Server 2007, are relying more and more on tab controls and other controls that are more often seen in traditional PC applications.

Community Server tabbed profile editor

The problem I often encounter with tab controls embedded in web applications is confusion. If I click on a tab, will it in fact post-back to the server and render a new page or is it a client site control. In the case of Community Server it is a client-side control but I’ve experienced other sites and applications that simply lose my changes when I change tabs. Its really quite annoying as I don’t like entering my information only to find that most of my edits have actually been discarded.

If only there was a way that web developers could communicate with the end-user more. One idea would be to prompt the user to save or discard the changes.

[tags]user interface,design[/tags]

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