Usability of tabbed browsing in Firefox
In the post Improving Tabbed Browsing, Ben Goodger reports some interesting findings from usability testing of the Firefox implementation of tabbed browsing.
The usability studies were done at Google, using a special build of Firefox 1.5b1 that was configured to open targeted links in new tabs instead of in new Windows.
The testing revealed some things that caused problems for many users:
- Back button: When a new tab is created, it gets a blank session history, so you can’t use the back button to get back to the page that launched the tab.
- Closing tabs: Many did not see the close button, and instead used the contextual menu to close tabs. Some tried closing the entire browser window instead of just the tab.
- Stacking order of tabs: When closing a tab that was opened by a targeted link from another tab, the adjacent tab is made active instead of the tab containing the opening link.
The team experimented with some adjustments to the tabbed browsing in Firefox to find out if they would improve usability:
- Put close buttons on the tabs
- Change the closing order of tabs
- Implement an “Open links that would open new windows in tabs” preference
The discussion in the comments is interesting and brings up different views on what makes tabbed browsing more usable. Obviously the ideal behaviour is different for different people.
Safari, my main browser, has a close button on each tab. Most of the time I use a keyboard shortcut (Cmd+W) to close tabs instead of that button. I have accidentally clicked the close button a couple of times, closing a tab instead of activating it. Annoying, yes, but to me that’s a price I’m willing to pay for the convenience of being able to close tabs without first activating them.
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