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Browser UI [Thursday 9th July 2009 at 7:41 pm]

[Playing |Crisis Healing Salve (Mint) ~ Hemophiliac, Christian Pacaud/RTIST OverClocked ReMix]

A usability question for you all: of the four following layouts, which of the following positions for the address bar in a web browser is the best? Apologies for the quality of the screenshots - I hacked together the bare minimum of a VB program needed to make these.

Poll #1427428 Browser UI

Which address bar position is best?

1: Address bar, menu, toolbar, tabs
2: Menu, address bar, toolbar, tabs
3: Menu, toolbar, address bar, tabs
4: Menu, toolbar, tabs, address bar

It's interesting that the major browsers use very different layouts. Internet Explorer 7 and 8 both use layout 1, while Firefox and IE6 are closest to layout 3 (ignoring the lack of built-in tabs in IE6). Opera uses layout 4, while Chrome doesn't really fit into any of these (though it's most like 4).
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[User Picture]From: olego
Thursday 9th July 2009 at 7:06 pm (UTC)
I actually put my tabs on the bottom in Opera - so there's a fifth option for you. :-)
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[User Picture]From: boggyb
Thursday 9th July 2009 at 7:56 pm (UTC)
Oh, there's no end of possible permutations of toolbars and menus and suchlike, for the real tweakers. That does of course assume that your browser can do such - the main (and possibly only) thing that's putting me off IE7/8 is the lack of such customisability. The address bar shall be at the top of the window, the tab bar shall be at the bottom. Out of all the others, Opera is closest to what I want, but it's still not ideal.

My ideal browser would be the latest Internet Explorer or Opera rendering engine, combined with the Internet Explorer 6 interface and system integration and with support for multiple distinct sessions that share bookmarks/history/persistent cookies. The latter is something that I've only ever seen in IE, and is incredibly useful when you want to do two separate queries on a session-based site (e.g. the National Rail journey planner).
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[User Picture]From: olego
Thursday 9th July 2009 at 8:28 pm (UTC)
The latter - I agree, is useful, and it's a shame that other browsers have not implemented that properly. But the former - IE6 interface - I disagree with you on - probably because of the way I define the word "interface".

It's true: I was really fond of IE6 in 2005 - and I thought of it as my main browser. It's fast, and it's clean. There was no extraneous stuff in the toolbar; it was just a browser. But working on multi-tab sessions became really difficult, because each "tab" was actually a window on the taskbar. So I switched to Opera.

And I guess it was then that I redefined "Interface" to include control over most aspects of the browsing: Tabs, Gestures, Easy Page Switching, and Zooming. Yes: I still keep a minimal UI (Back & Forward Buttons, Reload, Address Bar, Zoom, and View Button - no "Home", no Search or Favourites or History buttons because they can be accessed with a shortcut; but I'm addicted and dependent on Gestures and tabs with MRU.
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[User Picture]From: boggyb
Thursday 9th July 2009 at 9:30 pm (UTC)
It's something of an architectural design decision, in that the others (Firefox, Opera, Chrome - not tried Safari) have a model of one process for a given profile (Chrome has multiple processes but I believe will still only have one control/interface process for a profile). IE6 on the other hand will let you run as many processes as you like, and temporary state (e.g. session cookies) is not shared among processes. A nice side-effect of having multiple processes with distinct session state is a whole class of security holes just evaporate - assuming you log into your bank's site from within another process, and they use session cookies, then it's impossible for a site running in a different process to hijack that session. There are some problems involved with implememting this though - one I can think of is your on-disk data now needs to be multiprocess safe (without it you only need it to be threadsafe, which is easier).

You make a good point about the interface, Opera is definetely more customisable that IE6 and has
actually useful shinyness. I've not used the gestures, but I do like its tab ordering system and the single-key shortcuts. If it weren't for the multi-process issue and a couple of bugs, I would have likely switched to Opera by now.

I was thinking also of system integration as a whole when I said IE6. I have an address bar to the bottom of my screen (to get it right-click on the taskbar, Toolbars, Address... except Microsoft partially removed it in a service pack because some regulator didn't like it - that's another rant), and it behaves like a cross between the IE address bar and the Run dialog. The integration is excellent - I can type in a website, a folder on my computer, a network share, a program, a file, the name of a favourite, or a search keyword, and it all works with full auto-complete and launches the right thing. On the one hand, that kind of integration is monopolistic... on the other hand, it's incredibly useful (and I believe it will launch the default browser, so if you've set Opera as the default it'll use that).
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[User Picture]From: tau_iota_mu_c
Friday 10th July 2009 at 4:12 am (UTC)
With wide monitors these days, and the sheer number of tabs I have open in a given window causing the text in the tab to otherwise shrink to almost nothing, I've configured opera to have the tabs down the side. Shrinks the page realestate down to a reasonable width, and I can read most of the titles.
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[User Picture]From: olego
Friday 10th July 2009 at 4:24 am (UTC)
Hee hee, I rotate both of my wide monitors at work so they are vertical, and therefore I don't have to put anything to the side.
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[User Picture]From: boggyb
Friday 10th July 2009 at 6:31 pm (UTC)
Oh, now that *is* useful. Except I don't seem to be able to resize it, so it takes up a bit more space than I like on my old-fashioned 4:3 CRT. Still, that gives me a wonderful idea for the browser UI replacement that I keep considering writing.
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[User Picture]From: link077
Friday 10th July 2009 at 12:44 am (UTC)
I prefer as little interface as possible, as to provide the most space to actually display web pages. My ideal browser would get rid of the menu bar completely, and put the address bar and the toolbar on the same line.
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[User Picture]From: olego
Friday 10th July 2009 at 2:11 am (UTC)
IE7/8, and Opera9+, are able to hide Menu Bar correctly. IE has the advantage that pressing Alt will show it temporarily; Opera doesn't do that.

I don't know about Firefox.
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