I mainly use web browsers to do research with the internet.
Doing research is more than just finding a site: it is about switching between different search engines, refining searches and saving search result links and snippets for later reference and further research.
Some tips for searching:
I do not like IE 9 because:
I find IE 9’s new One Box cumbersome to use:
- Search terms get garbled into a query URL.
- One must click the little(!) search button to see or edit the current search term alone.
- While trying to double-click a search-engine icon to switch to it, IE 9 steals the focus by filling history and suggestions.
- When switching search engines, one often ends up with the search URL of the old engine in the new engines search box.
Discarding the search box is only a good solution for scenarios using a single search engine and refining search terms in the search box of the search engine.
IE 9 does not allow dragging links and text snippets to other applications:
I wonder why MS does not offer a nice drag & drop integration between IE and their other products like OneNote, Outlook, Word. If this is a security problem, I wonder why Firefox and Chrome can offer drag & drop.
The release of IE 9 caused me to compare the features of the current web browsers against my requirements:While in the past I considered IE being good enough, I did switch to using Firefox 4 now.
In case I am missing important usability features (especially with IE9), I would be glad to hear about them.
I do not expect MS to row back from the One Box design. For me it would be fine, if IE allowed us to configure having a separate search box and drag & drop.
The basics I do expect from a web browser are being able to:
- Easily switch search engines on-the-fly
- Easily refine search terms
- Show search (term) history
- Show navigation history
- Drag & drop links to folders
- Drag & drop links and text snippets to applications
- Easily access favorite links
- Drag & drop links and text snippets from windows
- Make use of multiple monitors
- Find in page
- Windows UI consistency
For this post I consciously left out requirement areas like security, privacy, performance, reliability, accessibility, ad filtering, web standard compatibility (HTML 5), web apps support and developer tools. For overviews of the new browser features see:
Easily switch search engines on-the-fly
While researching I often switch search engines on-the-fly to see which one seems to offer the best hits for a specific search.
In IE9 one must drop-down the One Box and double-click on the search engine icon – while the IE dialog steals the focus when filling history and suggestions. To drop-down then One Box click the search button (magnifying class) or the drop-down arrow, or click and drag down in the One Box.
In Chrome one must type a search engine keyword to switch to a non-default engine for each search.
I like the browser automatically searching with the current term after switching (like Opera does) instead of having to click the search icon (like IE9, Firefox). I know this is debatable, because generally it is favorable in UI design to give the user (a feeling of) control, even at the cost of additional clicks.
Bad IE9 user experience: Video to be added.
Good Opera user experience. Video to be added
To use engine specific advanced search options on the engine’s site it should be easy to go to a engine’s search page. Firefox presets the search box with the search engine name when double-clicking on the search engine icon with empty search box. With other browsers, as a workaround I enter a garbage search term.
Easily refine search terms
I often refine my searches by refining the search terms.
Ex: Change “wp7” to “windows phone”.
The current search terms should be easily visible together with the search result.
In Chrome and IE the search terms are not easily visible in an engine-neutral place – they are garbled into a query URL. Search terms are only easily readable and editable in the engine-specific search box on the engine’s site.
In IE9 one must click on the little(!) Search Button (magnifying class) to see or edit the current search term without the distraction query URL.
Show search (term) history
I often want to search with the same terms I used a while ago, so it would be nice to show the search term history and select from it.
All browsers only offer selecting search terms from history, when one starts typing a matching term into their search box.
Show navigation history
Is OK in all browsers.
Drag & drop links to windows folders
URL shortcuts are valuable to remember web pages.
Opera does not support drag & drop to create shortcuts – this makes it totally unusable for me.
Luckily IE9’s final version defaults to create a shortcut instead of pinning the site and starting a new browser instance like it still did in RC.
Drag & drop links and text snippets to applications
Drag & drop of links and text snippets to applications like OneNote is very useful for saving research results.
IE9 and Opera do not support drag & drop of links and text snippets to applications – this makes them totally unusable for me.
IE9 supports drag & drop of URLs from its One Box only.
Easily access favorite links
I need easy access to links to my favorite sites.
I prefer them to not load automatically (because this may hinder the snappiness of browser starts, or other actions I do using the same internet connection).
IE9 has favorites bar. Chrome and Firefox have a bookmarks bar and one can pin sites to be available via the Task Bar right-click menu. Alternatively one can use Tab Pages.
Firefox App Tabs are unusable:
- App Tabs are only stored across sessions with Startup Option: Show my windows and tabs from last time
- App Tabs do not restore with multiple browser sessions started via Task Bar, right-click, Firefox. I you close a browser started this way, the App Tabs are gone for all new sessions
Here my use of the Firefox bookmarks bar making some of my favorites available via Options, Toolbar Layout:
Support multi-monitor scenarios
I often work with different browser instances on multiple monitors.
Opera seems not to support starting multiple instances from the Windows Task Bar at all!
You can start a new window from within Opera using CRTL-n.
IE9 at least allows dragging links to another IE9.
Firefox allows dragging links and text snippets to another Firefox.
Sadly all browsers do not support dragging something to a competitor’s browser.
Firefox App Tabs do not show in instances started via Task Bar, right-click, Firefox.
Drag & drop links and text snippets from windows
While this seems not to be browser problem, I dislike that Outlook does not support dragging links from Emails to browsers.
I prefer drag & drop over click-opening, because it give me control over where (in which browser instance or tab; exact place in One Note) the link opens or is stored. I assume this design decision is related to security and would prefer having a choice to configure it.
Find in page
Is OK in all browsers. Nicest in Opera.
Windows UI consistency
Windows Explorer has separate search box on the right.
IE and Chrome deviate from this arrangement.
Opera, Firefox and Chrome move their tabs into the title bar when maximized. I only found this to be a problem in virtual machines, where the browser tabs are hidden behind the VMWare VM switch bar (can be resolved by deselecting Tabs on Top).
Nice To Have Features
Some nice to have features would be:
- Search Engine Selector on the right side of the search box (as in IE8).
This just fells more natural to me.
- Favorites in a Ribbon Quick Access Toolbar.
This would save the space of the bookmarks bar.
- Drag & drop between different browsers.
Currently only works between Firefox and Chrome.
Here a sketch of a browser user experience that would meet all my requirements for doing research with the internet:
[In case you are wondering what tool I used to sketch the UI: Balsamiq Mockups]
Firefox nearly has it all – only a search term history (without having to type a matching term) and auto-search after a search engine switch are missing.
Debugging Silverlight Apps with Firefox
When debugging Silverlight Applications with Firefox as your default browser, your breakpoints may not be hit and you may get the error „symbols are not loaded“ when trying to set a breakpoint. As a workaround you can disable the Firefox Crash Protection using about:config and in Firefox 4 setting dom.ipc.plugins.enabled to false.
IE Default Settings cripple WebDAV
I did not use following IE problem for comparison, because I do not understand the background, there is a workaround and it might not be important to many:
IE’s default internet connection setting „automatically detect settings“ cripples WebDAV. See SharePoint WebDAV performance suddenly slower. I had this problem with my JungleDisk (Amazon S3) network drive getting unusable slow after migrating to Win7 – it took me and others hours to solve and it does still exist with Win7 Sp1 and IE9. I need WebDAV to be able to copy EFS encrypted files to the network drive.