Jun 21, 2007

nicely done, firefox

As has been covered here before, as a rule, I hate application chrome.  I especially hate browser chrome, since the browser isn't supposed to be about excessive toolbars and tabs and menus -- the browser is supposed to be about the site you're visiting.  And yes, I'm this crotchety about most things.

Nosearchbox So a couple of days ago I'm tweaking Firefox to kill as much of the chrome as I can, leaving a single row of buttons, an address bar and a set of menus.  In doing so, I removed the little search box, just to get more pixels for other things.  Now, if you're not only a no-chrome-allowed minimalist but also a mousing-is-for-the-weak keyboard shortcut junkie like I am, you build muscle habits quickly...habits that are hard to undo.  My two particular Firefox keyboard habits are CTRL+L, which puts your cursor in the address bar,  and CTRL+K, which puts your cursor in that little Google search box in the upper right.  CTRL+L is for going somewhere, CTRL+K is for searching for something.

But here's where things get fun.[1]  Let's say you remove that search box from your browser's toolbar.  What happens then?  Not to worry -- Firefox does the right thing and instantly navigates you to http://www.google.com/firefox and drops your cursor in the search box.  This absolutely surprised and delighted me the first time it happened, so much so that I had to interrupt several of my colleagues who were busy with actual work and demonstrate this remarkable behavior to them.  (To a soul they each nodded their head in that slow kind of way that indicates that they're merely humoring you.)

Now there are plenty of other things that drive me nuts about the Firefox UI.  But this little detail made my day.  Since Firefox is open source, I could go figure out just how large the codepath is to enable that surprising and delightful behavior, but I'm guessing it was small.  But there was a conscious decision made at some point, by someone, to just do the right thing and respect the intent of the keyboard shortcut ("I need to go search for something") even if the search box wasn't visible to the user.

And since I know this will come up somewhere, somehow, I can't figure out if IE7 even allows you to remove the search box in the upper right.   I don't think you can.  But I'll give them this -- IE7 did a much better job at conserving vertical pixels, creating a larger default canvas for browsing.  This has probably come at the expense of usability for normal humans (I can't count the number of times I've watched people hunt for the home button, or worse yet, the file menu), not to mention a pretty big design inconsistency when you compare IE7 to Office 2007.  But I digress.

Nicely done, Firefox.  May minimalist-browser-loving keyboard shortcut fanatics everywhere unite in song, singing praise of your CTRL+K goodness.

[1] If you define fun the way I define fun, in which case we really should hang out more often.  Seriously, what have you been up to?  Let's have lunch.