As many techies and/or bloggers I am often forced to use multiply browsers. Even if I am completely committed to Opera as my main browser, I do not really mind going out of that comfort zone.
However there is one thing that bites me every time – I seem to expect all browsers to have some baseline set of functions and interface conventions. Sometimes they do, but more often they don’t. And should they at all?
Common in interface
It is hard to go wrong with main area where page is displayed. It is about sites and only thing browsers do here is render (as best and fast as they can).
However there is much more to modern browser than displaying page. It must also provide:
- on-site and between-sites navigation;
- bookmark management and other integrated tools;
- embedded services (such as updates or sync);
These can be done in many ways. Some conventions (main menu or address bar) seem stable… Right until some browser throws them out of the window.
There is also plain eye-candy factor of looks. Browser can choose to blend with GUI of platform they run on or to go for completely self-sufficient looks. On top of poor usability this can also have major performance impact.
Common out of interface
Aside from how browser looks there are also a lot of details how it works. Things like hotkeys and tab behavior aren’t visible but are large part of experience.
When I did my browser memory benchmarks I had coded in Ctrl+W to close tabs. Worked like a charm in Opera. Worked like a charm in Firefox, until it reached last tab and closed it for good.
Such differences are much harder to even spot. Making them standard seems not only hard but completely out of interest to browsers’ developers. But for users the more specific functions and paths you use – the higher probability it will misfire on another browser.
Choice of common
Commonalities ease browser switching. Marketing and fanboy crowd may scream about bogus market share numbers, but in reality people rarely make a personal and consistent browser choice. Even if they do on personal computer, at work that choice is most likely made for them.
Interface and functionality baseline is highly important to make transition between browsers unobtrusive. It makes choice of browser brand less relevant and browsing experience more generic.
Choice of uncommon
Unique decisions allow browsers to get an edge. Better layouts, tightly integrated extras, aesthetic appeal – these make browser stand out. But they also make everything highly specific.
Doing things in unique way is like a flower with thorns. It attracts users that like the way browser does things, but at the same keep away users that don’t want to re-learn how to browse.
While there is clearly visible core of common elements and functions, browsers seem to wander further and further from it. To some degree it is compensated with drift of popular features, but some core elements are major enough to never be adopted by competition.
Do you expect browsers to have certain baseline experience? Do they meet or fail such expectations for you?