How Do You Use A Browser?

| 22 Comments

I've been looking over a lot of shoulders the last few months, trying to better understand how my co-workers, family, and even strangers use their browsers. The more I look, the more I find little surprises -- not the "oh wow, that's a totally different way of browsing" kind of discoveries; more like "that's an interesting way to ask the browser to remember a page" or "I would have expected you to use the mouse for that rather than the keyboard."


Photo by rachelsimmo, and used under a CC license.

The takeaway for me is that there may not be a lot of huge differences between how we spend our time in Web browsers, but there are a whole lot of little differences.

I'll give an example and then I'm very interested in hearing some of your examples. Watching someone use a browser last week I noticed an interesting pattern. This person didn't use the back button. Almost every link exploration was in a new tab, even for things like reading the second page of a two-page article. Because this wasn't in a setting where I could easily ask, I don't have a good answer as to what motivated that pattern, but nevertheless it was interesting and it demonstrated to me that even the things I think have one very clear and obvious browser sequence can and are still done using alternative methods.

What patterns have you seen in others that are different from yours? Or, what patterns do you have that you know are different from those around you? And finally, do you think it's an overall good thing or an overall bad thing that there are so many different ways to accomplish similar kinds of tasks in Web browsers?

22 Comments

i also open _most_ links with middle click in the new tab. not always, but whenever at least one of these things is true:
* i know i'll be opening more than one link from this page
* i _expect_ to be interested in more than one link from this page
* while reading an article, coming up on a link (that looks promising) in the middle of the text
* when i'm looking for some information on a site, and i'm uncertain where to find it

but i don't open in new tab:
* when i'm done reading an article, or even first page of an article
* when i'm looking for something on a site and know *exactly* where it will be

so basically, i very rarely use the back button, and use the open tabs as a sort of stack of pages i want to look at..

I use the new tab for every link technique. Primarily it is so I don't forget to read something but it is also nice that the page is loaded when I come to it(even though I have a 50Mb connection). I can read the tab and close it and I rarely use back or forward.
Weird patterns: my father doesn't understand backspace; he always moves the cursor with the arrow keys to the front and presses delete
I think it is wonderful that you can do so many things in so many ways. If you start limiting how you can do things you become Opera or worse Chrome.

I would say that I also follow that patter of opening tabs and never using the back button
why?
as mentioned, to keep reading whatever the page is about, to have it ready when I have finished this one, to avoid problems getting back if there's some strange redirect
one thing that I really hate in the browsers is that the backspace key is binded to going back in history and I can assure you that I have never wanted to use it that way, but I have accidentally pressed it and lost some form data more than once
if the page is a new tab there's no history to go back and in those cases the problem is solved

wow, Firefox on a Nexus 7 is great

I use a lot of keystrokes, including CTRL+T (new tab), CTRL+SHIFT+T (open last closed tab), CTRL+W (close tab), CTRL+TAB (switch tabs), CTRL+SHIFT+TAB (switch back tabs), TAB (rotate focus of elements), SHIFT+TAB (rotate focus of elements backwards), CTRL+L (edit the URL bar), ALT+LEFT (go back a page), ALT+RIGHT (go forward a page), CTRL+0 (this is really nice for resetting the zoom level), and CTRL+CLICK (open a page in a new tab). Sometimes I use three finger swipe, I'm glad Firefox went ahead and added this.

I also have simplified Firefox so that there are very few things in its UI...

First Row: Firefox button (rearranged contents with Personal Menu addon), home button (small), bookmarks (added an addon to be able to CTRL+CLICK them with the menu staying open), tabs, NoScript.
Second Row: Back/Forward button, Location Bar, Refresh/Stop Loading, Downloads button.

When I click a flash object that doesn't let go of its focus, I deal with it by clicking the location bar. I like letting my downloads window accumulate downloads so i can have it all in one place. I use Sync, because I have two OS's on my computer. I've started using the location bar to search for things in my history instead of browsing search results.

I tend to actually pay attention and use the new features Firefox implements (can't wait for the Downloads Panel to become mainstream!), though I disowned the App Tab feature because my email logs off from it timing out, when I open a new window and close the original- the app tabs disappear, the app tab doesn't auto-refresh for certain pages I'd need it to, and the app tab doesn't default to visiting pages in new tabs for certain pages I'd need it to. I don't see why I'd need tab groups, I guess because I use one window for Firefox at any time. I never use any sidebars.

My other addons include Adblock Plus (placed only in Firefox menu), Close Tab By Double Click, Dictionary Lookup Extension (sometimes I want to look up a word's definition by highlighting it and right clicking), DownloadHelper (placed only in Firefox menu), Fierr (I like auto refreshing when a page isn't found), Firebug (I'm majoring in CS), Greasemonkey (placed only in the Firefox menu), gTranslate (same as dictionary extension, but for translating foreign words), Image Search Options (I basically only use TinEye, but sometimes I want a bigger sized image), Lazarus: Form Recovery (great for stupid websites that crash), Location Bar Enhancer (I really like the idea of this, even though it's buggy), Menu Editor (simplified my right click menu), PDF Viewer (I actually don't know if this has landed on Firefox), Redirector (great for my email where I want to always use their SSL login and be redirected to their email and not home page upon logging on), RSS Icon in URL Bar (I read a lot of blogs and bookmark them :P), Tabs Always in Titlebar (I don't like that extra space up there when FF isn't maximized), and Youtube Ratings Preview (this addon is hecka pro). I do also have a persona installed, and switch it up from time to time.

Sorry about making such a long post lol...

Relatedly, it amazes me how often I hear someone say "I could not possibly use any browser other than $BROWSER because it's the only one that does $OBSCURE_TINY_FEATURE right". (Alas I cannot think of specific examples right now.)

Of my peculiar browsing patterns, I’d like to note these:

* I have TabMixPlus set up so that entering a URL or clicking a bookmark opens them in a new tab by default (Alt+Enter or middle-click to replace the current page). This way, I do not lose my current page when I want something unrelated. For me, this is *the* $OBSCURE_TINY_FEATURE that other browsers don’t do. And this is the reason why the address bar and the bookmarks menu absolutely *cannot* be located below the tab bar — they are for opening new tabs, not for affecting the current tab.

* Another TabMixPlus setting is to open new tabs immediately next to my current one. The result is that when I open several links from one page in succession, they end up reversed. I cannot really explain why it feels more convenient to me.

* I have a multi-row tab bar and one window per monitor per workspace. (At home, I have one monitor and three workspaces; at work, two monitors and one active workspace.) Sometimes, I accumulate four rows of tabs per window.

* My home page is about:blank. If I open a new tab with Ctrl+T, it opens about:blank, too.

* I don’t use the back and forward buttons. Instead, I prefer mouse buttons (when I have them on my mouse) or rocker gestures (press right button, press left button, release right, release left).

* I don’t use (and hide) the Go, Stop and Reload buttons. They were invented for devices that don’t have Enter, Esc or F5 keys.

* I use the classic menu bar, augmented with the back/forward buttons (which I only use by right-clicking to get to an arbitrary page in the history for a particular tab) and the address bar.

* I redirect the the status bar to the add-on bar with the Status-4-Evar add-on, because the floating status bar is distracting and sometimes occludes useful parts of the page.

* I hide the tab close buttons so that I don’t accidentally click them; I close tabs by Ctrl+W, or middle-clicking the tab, or the down then right mouse gesture.

* I don’t use the search box. Instead, I have numerous search keywords.

* I rely on ‘/’ in-page search heavily, and curse whenever I’m on someone else’s machine with a different browser or when a web page steals ‘/’ to focus its own site-wide search input.

I was always curious concerning this for different people and diiferent applications. What I found is that restricting number of options is good - people do switch to more efficient methods without the problem.

I also open most links in new tabs. I usually use the "Right Links" extension to do that. I also open all items that I select to read from feeds - my reader is FeedDemon - in new tabs. I also prefer to use Web-apps, e.g., gMail, over desktop applications. That way I can simply work back and forth with content between Firefox tabs. I seldom need to leave Firefox to go off to a desktop program to process Web content.

I don't use other browsers much. (I'd hate to wear out my "Ctrl" key by to open links in new tabs.)

"I also open most links in new tabs. I usually use the "Right Links" extension to do that."
Why not use mouse middle click/mousewheel click?

'Why not use mouse middle click/mousewheel click?"

Yeah, maybe I should try to get used to that.

"Why not use mouse middle click/mousewheel click?"

I would've done that myself, but I have a laptop now so I guess I abuse the CTRL key :P It's interesting how you can press Esc instead of the x to stop loading the page, I'll have to do that from now on.

But yeah I can't stand the menu bar, it takes up too much space and adds an out-of-place, unnecessary title bar to Firefox. The most important things I get from the menu bar I can use in the Firefox menu.

I really don't use the home button either... I just removed it :P

Here's what things look like for me now: http://img833.imageshack.us/img833/3814/49204320.png

Asa, I do open other pages from an article for one reason only, which hasn't been mentioned in the previous comments, AFAICT. When in a laptop I can never guarantee I will have a constant connection, I might start reading an article I find interesting, and then open new pages in different tabs so that I can read it when I move around, and perhaps don't have connectivity anymore.

Never do that on the phone, though. And clicking quickly through the article pages won't do it, because going back might try to reload the page when I am not connected and get an error rather than the page, which I would have expected to have cached.

I'm fairly certain I have Firefox setup to look different than a lot of people.

My browser UI is very minimal or maybe I should say it has the maximum screenspace for the webpages/-applications.

There is no home button, no bookmarks toolbar, no addons toolbar, basically an address bar and a search bar with tabs at the top. The icons are set to small icons. I also have the LessChrome HD addon from Mozilla labs installed.

So the only thing that is visible most of the time is the combined tabbar and window titlebar. So one bar.

I know a pretty large set of keyboard shortcuts so I don't need to use the mouse for a lot of things.

But hey, I have 'submit performance data' on so in theory you could already collect that information. ;-)

In agreement with Alfonso.

I'd like to request that the next version of firefox have a setting that allows me to completely disconnect the backspace key from the back button.

"Why not use mouse middle click/mousewheel click?"

I have 8 mice. I find the middle mousewheel button very hard to click on all of them.

They all have 2 buttons near the thumb that are super easy to press but I don't know how I can get firefox to use them as if they were middle mouse.

I use my Firefox browser with a PS/2 mouse and navigate sites using dozens of tabs on a PC with 2 GB of memory which can put a lot of strain on the browser as well as the single-core CPU itself.

It's been a while since I posted here when Mozilla ended Firefox support for Windows 2000 earlier this year.

Sorry if this is off topic here, but I'm revising one of Asa's older posts on the discontinuation of Win2k support, I thought that they'd be supported by Opera a while longer.

Well, the sad news is that Opera has ended support for Windows 2000 (and even older versions of Windows XP) starting with Opera 12.50 Snapshot Build 1513. Infact, the earlier snapshot build of Opera 12.50 on Win2k wouldn't even work correctly, if not at all.

With that said, Opera 12.1x will most likely be the last version to support Win2k.

And once Firefox 10 ESR has been EOLed on 12 February 2013, there will be not just no supported Mozilla product, but no supported web browser that will work on Win2k since they marketshare is so low and especially since Win2k hasn't been supported for over two years now, the vendor cost of maintaining Windows 2000 support for future releases of their browser is just way too high to keep updating it.

If the cost of maintaining support for Windows XP - that is if it too becomes an unsupported OS in less than two years...is too high, vendors are gonna have to end up making a very difficult decision to discontinue support for Windows XP for sure.

I've started using new tabs rather than relying on the back button more and more because of one key problem: the browser and the website conspire to lose the state of a page once its no longer an active page in a browser tab. The problem gets amplified as more and more sites use HTML5 in-page navigation rather than an actual page reload.

I know HTML5 has tools to save state and restore it when a page is recalled, but almost nobody uses it. Even the big players get it wrong, like YouTube. Navigate from the YouTube homepage into your subscriptions, scroll down a bit, and click a video. The video opens in a new page, but when you hit Back, you're dumped back at the YouTube front page in its default state rather than the subscription you had previously meticulously navigated to and scrolled through. And YouTube is far from the only one out there making the back button an exercise in frustration.

Personally I'd be happy if browsers took it upon themselves to save the entire state of a page's DOM and script (basically serializing everything about the page) and restored it as-is when hitting the back or forward buttons to land on a previously loaded page. Deprecate the onunload event and replace it with some declarative way of saying a confirmation prompt should be shown when the user tries to navigate away, since that's all anyone ever uses onunload for anyway, but the other Turing-completeness onunload ostensibly offers is a non-feature that blocks the browser from being able to safely squirrel away a page state.

That multi-tabbing was new for you? I thought you were into browser development - and you don't even have a little clue about how your user base uses your software?
Get your act together, man.

(At least it sheds some light on some of your decisions of the past.)

Dear person with the same first name - in other words: Jan - besides the fact Asa Dotzler doesnt make all the FX decesions - and quote some of those that he s involved in are of the kind that he doesnt make alone, your comments is more of a hint that your should read more carefully. Multitabbing most probably isnt new to him, it was just new to him HOW some people use this feature. While i get that ppl open links in a new tab, i also understand his a suprise if they do so in case of a multipaged continuos article. Chances are the certain page of that article contains something that the reader wants to go back to later and wants to ensure he or she doesnt forget about it. Not forgetting about something might be one of the biggest motivators for opening new tabs actually.

Hi,what happened to firefox android version?It's really pathetic to use from ics4.0.In the begining it was a little better.Opera-android is the only browser in android that now give a near desktop functionality.We need an android browser with pc/laptop functionality,which is also fast and devoid of lags and freeze,which unfortunately is not the case currently with mozilla android browser(and also mozilla beta android).
Hope that you will improve the mozilla browser for android,so that many of your ardent fans for more than 10 years will be satisfied.

For the people who want to change the backspace behaviour:

Go to the address-bar visit the Firefox advanced configuration by typing in:

about:config

look for:

browser.backspace_action

Set it to 2.

Hello Asa,

A lot of people use Ctrl+W to close a tab and this is perfectly understandable: it's even predictable. You see, closing a tab by clicking on the close button requires considerable eye+hand coordination: the close button is about 16pixels by 16pixels. And now imagine if such close button is not always at the same spot (browser.tabs.closeButton == 1). Now, if I want to close several tabs, then Ctrl+W is definitely faster, less requiring eye+hand coordination.

Ctrl+Shift+T is also more convenient to use with the keyboard: less work with eye+hand motricity efforts trying to search and find the menu item to reopen that closed tab.

My home page is about:blank.

One thing I dislike about Firefox: if you close the only tab, then it closes the software. I find this counter-intuitive and incoherent. Opera behaves as I prefer regarding this matter.

My preferred add-on is Link Widgets 1.7.0.1: it helps me tremendously in the work I do. I added a few buttons on the menu bar.

Another thing I do, which may be special and uncommon: I have the address bar alone on a single row: I want to be able to read all of the URL and I have a rather short monitor screen. So, my search bar is not on the same row as the address bar; or it is not part of the address bar.

Gérard Talbot

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