Sunday, July 20, 2008 12:27:00 AM
After numerous improvements aimed at achieving user-friendliness, the browser has become as simple as it can be. It has no menus (neither main nor context), no toolbars with many buttons, no sidebars, no status bar, no dialog windows with settings. All of this was too complex for most users anyway, and scared the poor average Joe away from computers. The future browser will hardly be do a tenth of what today's browsers can do, but it will finally be usable by everyone. Speaking about visual appearance, shadows and rounded corners will still be in fashion. Thanks to the lack of any text in the interface, the browser doesn't need translation.
A browser ships with the operating system, an operating system ships with the computer. A regular user has no reason to change any of these, so the only choice among competing products that he makes is when buying a computer. This choice determines both the operating system and the browser. The browser doesn't even have a name because it's not a separately marketed product. The browser window lacks a title bar because nobody cares about the name of the program. The only button pertaining to the window itself is the red close button, and even that one looks superfluous. The window always has standard size, and web pages are usually designed for that size. Saving of pages and images as well as opening of local files is accomplished by dragging between the browser and the file manager, and printing is done by dragging to the printer.
At the top of the window is a universal field that combines an address bar, a security indicator, a window title bar and a search field. The URL is technical information uninteresting to the user; they only care on what website and what page they are. The website name is automatically verified through its certificate. The only security indication is the color of this bar: green means OK, red means problem. The user can't be expected to know about SSL or domain names, and judging whether the web page is safe enough has to be the browser's job. When it's unsafe, the main working area turns red as well because it's not easy to draw the user's attention. When the bar is clicked, it becomes white and empty, and the user can type in it. The text is always looked up in the search engine (the one with which the browser vendor has made an agreement). If an eccentric user types a URL (where would he get one in the first place?), it will work, too.
To the left of the universal field is the Back button. Its size makes it easy to find. To the right there's a button that changes its function. Usually it's Reload, but during loading it turns into a Stop button (red “No entry” sign), and while typing in the bar it's Go (green right arrow). There's no progress indicator. Instead, while the page is loading, the incomplete document isn't rendered, and the main area displays a “loading” animation instead. It's better to not render incomplete documents because their strange behavior confuses users. Fortunately, thanks to future technologies, loading will rarely take long. There are no scrollbars, either; to scroll, one grabs any part of the page that isn't a link and drags. To find text within the current page, it's enough to start typing.
The bottom part of the window contains eight slots replacing both tabs and bookmarks. Technically they're closer to tabs: each of the eight slots is like a separate browser window with its own navigation history. Clicking a slot activates it, dragging reorders, and dragging a link to an inactive slot opens the link in that slot. The active slot is marked with a contour as well as with the arrow-like shape of the main area. There are always eight slots, you can't add or remove one. A regular user doesn't need more than eight, and the controls for adding, removing and scrolling them would add unnecessary complexity. On the first start, the slots are filled with recommended popular websites, and on subsequent starts they keep their content as well as navigation history. This way, they also replace bookmarks: you can simply keep a frequently visited website in one of the slots.
For the future user, pictures are so much better than text, that's why the slots display website logos. For older websites, heuristics will be used to detect where the logo is on the page, while modern sites will be able to take advantage of the new API. The API will allow the page to tell the browser what exactly should be shown in the slot, and even update that dynamically. In the figure, Google shows the search text and the number of hits, LiveJournal shows the name of the user whose journal is open, and Gmail shows the number of unread messages; the latter keeps updating even in an inactive slot.
The split percent users who aren't satisfied with this functionality will be part of a community going further and further away from the mass market. They will have their own browsers and operating systems. Some of those who develop web services for the mass market will be parts of that community, but most webmasters will use rapid visual development tools close in spirit to the “folk's” browser.
The Russian version of this entry (see link below) features a poll. I have included English translations in the poll and encourage all readers to participate. You'll need to register a free LiveJournal account to vote.
По-русски: Минимум необходимого