Friday, November 16, 2007

The end of Safari and other browsers

The new version of Safari on OS X Leopard still doesn't have a "New Tab" button in it's toolbar options and the hacks that used to let you do it don't work anymore and aren't being re-developed. This is no good for me as I always customize browser toolbars to stick a new tab button just to the left to the location bar where the web address is, always have, always will (where possible of course, Mr IE.). I'm a big user of separators as well, back/forward, separator, refresh/stop (I don't really approve of integrating the two, especially as Ajax style apps often make them redundant but not consistently enough to do without the functionality of both), separator, print on it's own, and new tab. I can live without everything else customizable, but not without new tab: you can't double click the tab bar to get a new tab in Safari like you can in Firefox (Edit: you can now do this in Safari 3.1) and you can't drag a bookmark to the tab bar to open it like you can in Firefox (as Safari deletes it, and there's no Undo available!). I use Camino myself but the rest of the family use Firefox, it was my baby daughter's word for "Computer": having more than one browsers installed is always handy (especially as none of them are any good at identity management).

The sky is not falling in, and it is not onerous to cmd-T and click/type or command-click a link in your Safari bookmark bar to open it in a new tab. Using modifier-key commands don't really scale though: I can substitute cmd-c for ctrl-c easily enough using Stuart Logic (i.e. "always get it wrong the first time") as ctrl-c was 'break' for me long before it was 'copy', but remembering what variant to use for UI operations is annoying cross=platform. What's command-click going to be in Safari for Windows (control-click, but I don't want to have to think about it, that's the point of usability, plus I have to remember which browser I'm using and make it a special case)? What if I'm using Parallels Desktop to run Windows within OS X, which is it? If I am running programs via remote desktop, which isn't good at all at recognizing the differences in keyboard layouts? Not exactly Jane User maybe but not rocket science.

The other annoyance is that switching from mouse to keyboard or keyboard to mouse is what you might call a "high cost user activity" - it takes time, and attention - you have to look for the device, orient to it, use it, and then return to the task. When I watch people using programs I often feel myself wanting to say "You could just press enter" as they switch from text entry or selection to using their mouse to click the OK button in a dialog. I don't, though, as the first 500 times I did it made no difference.

Usability means offering as many ways to achieve your user goals as possible, in the hope you find the right one for a given value of 'user'. Why can't Safari have a new tab button I don't know (Dave Hyatt adamantly doesn't want one, is my guess, but why?)

It's a shame, as Safari has fantastic CSS support for exciting new capabilities, and is the browser du jour as regard iPhone development. Ho hum.

Another thing that annoyed me about Safari was that I couldn't configure it to search with what I typed from the location or address bar. Firefox by default does a semi-optimized "I'm feeling lucky" ("I'm feeling useless" more like) search, but I always set the keyword.URL preference to in about:config (keyword.enabled needs to be true, but that's the default anyway) to always search as searching from the location or address bar is just so obvious to me, it's a textbox, you can type in it, let's search. I have nothing against the location box (which ironically I have started enabling after all these years of address bar searching and I had even trained myself to type cmd-c cmd-t tab cmd-v enter instead of old faithful cmd-c cmd-t cmd-v then enter when I wanted to search for selected text from a webpage. Most browsers now have a context menu option to search for a selection using the default search settings.

Oh, when you type text in the location bar in Firefox 3, it searches the full text of your history URLs as well as the title of he web page, so when you type foo it matches " - my foo web page" as well as - it's much easier to find what you're looking for.

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