Monday, March 26, 2007

Too many browser menus

Despite the huge recent improvement in browser interfaces – tabbed browsing, inbuilt search, RSS favourites, etc – I still think there’s a long way to go. In particular there are way too many inconsistent menu options.

Using Internet Explorer or Firefox, running on Windows, there is

  • A title bar menu allowing minimize / maximize / close
  • A standard menu, e.g. file / edit / view / tools
  • A set of browser commands, e.g. back / forward / refresh / homepage
  • An address bar
  • A tabs menu
What’s more, they’re all inconsistent – some open new web pages, others open dialog boxes, others execute some action on the existing web page.

The result is that half the screen gets taken up by confusing options and buttons before the content itself appears.

So what hope does a web application like Google Spreadsheets or SAP (themselves containing another two or three menus) have?

I think it’s time for a rethink. So I’ve listed some principles to re-organize the browser.

1. Use a ribbon bar The old file / edit / view / favourites / tools / help menu should be replaced by a new ribbon bar. Ribbon bars are simple, clear, and effective, and would merge the currently overlapping file menu and buttons underneath.

2. Hardware for common options The most selected browsers button are undoubtedly “back”, “forward”, “refresh” and “home”. In fact, they’re so common, and natural, that they deserve their own hardware.

The buttons F1 through F12 on the keyboard are rarely used and even more rarely understood. Why not replace them with “Back”, “Forward”, “Refresh” and “Home” buttons? This would free up screen real estate, and avoid unnecessary and error-prone mouse use.

The benefits are even bigger on touch-screen interfaces like the iPhone – you can imagine the standard buttons fitting underneath the screen.

It’s likely to be hardware vendors pushing this change. But Microsoft managed to get the new “Windows Start” button implemented, and a similar trick now could allow them to claim innovation and alignment with the internet.

3. No dialog boxes Dialog boxes crop up throughout browsers, especially in the tools and options menus. They’re not accessible – you can’t change font settings or view source – and they’re visually confusing, since they look different to web pages.

All these dialog boxes should be replaced by web pages that open up within the browser. There should be a local web page to allow you to edit connection settings or security options. And why doesn’t browser help open in the browser?

4. Reclaim the home page This is the most controversial principle. Your homepage should be set by the browser – you shouldn’t be allowed to change it to anywhere else, whether Google or Myspace.

On the homepage should be:

  • Your favourites (editable)
  • Your RSS feeds (editable)
  • Your history (with options to delete it)
  • Browser options (editable) – e.g. connection settings, security settings, view settings. Some of these will take you to other pages for more detail - see principle 3 above

5. Lose the title bar What use does the windows title bar have, for browsers? It tells you what the title of the page is – but so does the tab bar. It allows you to minimize, maximize, or close a window – but so does the tab bar.

Once you’ve got tabbed browsing, there’s absolutely no use for the title bar. In fact, it gets in the way – not only does it take up screen real estate, but it makes mouse control trickier (it’s far easier to select a button at the top of the page than one 12 pixels down).

So let’s get rid of the title bar!

Simpler, clearer, more concise So there you have it – five principles to get rid of the clutter of modern browsers. There’s plenty of innovation still to come in browser design!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

You could do some of those with Firefox extensions and some with a sticker on your current keyboard