Why I use Safari instead of Firefox

Yesterday I posted a gripe about a particular bug in a particular piece of software I use, and the usual suspects wanted to turn that into a referendum on the healing, cleansing power of Open Source.

So, since you obviously care, here's why I use Safari.

There are both specific and general reasons, and I know ahead of time that all of this is going to be misinterpreted and taken out of context, because my opinions here are not black and white. My opinions here are nuanced. And the years have taught me that you, my dear readers, do not do nuance.

Consistency across apps

    I use a Mac instead of Linux on the desktop for a reason: because I think that the design and consistency that Apple's UI brings is extremely valuable. I don't buy computers based on how fast they are, I buy them based on how easy it is to get things done with them, and Apple is the hands-down winner on this pretty much across the board. (Oh, also because I want my audio card to work, but that's neither here nor there.)

    Firefox does not look or behave like a MacOS program. This is intentional. It has gotten better in recent years, but it still feels like a cross-platform open-source program, which it is. But I don't want your Linux in my Mac. I want my Mac to behave like a Mac. That's why I bought a Mac.

Consistency across versions

    The Firefox UI is a moving target. It is under constant "improvement", which means "change" which means every few months I'm forced to upgrade it and shit has moved around and I need to re-learn how to do a task that I was happily doing before. This does not often happen with Safari. Their UI has been remarkably stable for many, many years.

    The constantly-changing Firefox UI is by design. They believe that user-experience bugs are just like all other bugs, and you can manage them in the same way: toss them into Bugzilla and "more eyes make all bugs shallow", etc. (Google takes this even further: all of their UI decisions are made statistically.) Apple doesn't believe that, and they develop their UI in dictatorial secrecy.

    Here's a 50-minute talk by Alex Faaborg, Principal Designer at Mozilla, about how they do UI and why they think they should do it that way. It's interesting.

    Maybe the Firefox team is right, and you can develop a better UI that way. Well, they haven't yet proved this, because Apple's UI is better.

    Look, in the case of all other software, I believe strongly in "release early, release often". Hell, I damned near invented it. But I think history has proven that UI is different than software. The Firefox crew believe otherwise. Good for them, and we'll see.

    Meanwhile, I'm going to use the app whose UI works best, not the app whose development methodology most fits my political preconceptions.


    I hate tabbed browsing. I'm sure you think tabs are awesome. Good for you. Go forth and tab in peace. In Safari, there's a preference that lets me turn off tabs. I never, ever see them. When I middle-click on a link, it opens a new top-level window behind the window I'm currently looking at, and all is right and proper with the world.

    Honestly, I am not interested in arguing the merits of tabs with you. You love them. I know. Don't tell me about it. I don't care.

    The point here is, you cannot turn off Tabs in Firefox. You may think that you can, but history proves you wrong. I spent literally years where, each time I upgraded Firefox, I had to spend half an hour searching through the thousands of lines of about:config looking for the newly-added checkbox that I need to un-check -- and then it would only work like 60% of the time anyway, and I'd still end up with tabs.

    So, Option 1: I could report the bug -- again -- and wait, possibly forever, for someone to fix it. Then there's Option 2: (yes, you in the back, I see your hand, sit down) I could dive into the code and try to fix it myself. Or, you know, there's Option 3: I could just use Safari, which already provides me with the functionality that I want in a way that actually works.

Seriously dude, it's not just Tabs

    Right now one of you is already starting to write a comment saying, "But you can turn tabs off now!" Please don't. I don't care, and even if I did care, I don't believe you. I'm using this specific example to describe a general problem. Remember what I said at the top about "nuance"?

    Tabs are just one example, albeit an example I care about a lot, but this kind of thing happens with Firefox all the time in general too. A new version comes out, some random behavior has changed, and either you suck it up, or you go play whack-a-mole in the minefield of preferences checkboxes.

    But but, you say, when Apple changes the UI they usually don't even give you a checkbox to change it back to how it was before! You are absolutely correct. However, Apple doesn't change the UI very often, and when they do, they usually get it right.

    Anyone who truly understands UI design realizes that every preference option is an admission of defeat: it's there because you couldn't just get it right the first time.


    Apple's lock-in behavior on iOS is shameful and scandalous. The politics of their app store are an abomination, and they are seriously damaging the web as a whole, both with their actions and their precedent. They're awful. I know. I know.

    But their products fucking work, and they work well.

    I care about the web and software ecosystem, but I also have a life and a job and in the context of the latter two, I just want an appliance that works, by which I mean something that will let me communicate with my friends and get shit done without having to spend a lot of time dicking around with the medium instead of the message.

    Mobile Safari does that, because it's integrated into iOS.

    There are lots of alternative mobile web browsers out there, but since Apple (shamefully) does not provide an option to set another browser as the default on iOS, they will always be second-class citizens, and you'll often end up in Safari anyway.

    Do I seem like I want to be dealing with the quirks of two different browsers on a regular basis? I hope I don't, because I do not. So I just use one, and that's Safari. It's not perfect, but it's the lesser hassle.

    Again, it's awful that Apple privileges their own apps over third-party apps. I hate it. But it is what it is.

    Based on my comments on the desktop Firefox UI, I hope I don't have to go into detail about what I think of the Android mobile UI: suffice it to say that while I think the jury is still out on whether Mozilla's many-cooks approach to UI design can work, I think that Google has definitively proved that statistical analysis is no way to build a phone. The result of that is that everything about Android feels like it was cobbled together by a kernel hacker.

And so...

    From a political and philosophical point of view, I would love to be using Firefox on all of my devices. All things being equal (or even nearly equal) that's what I'd be doing.

    But all things are not equal, or nearly equal.

    I'm certainly willing to inconvenience myself for my political beliefs. I've done it before and I'll do it again.

    But in this case, the inconvenience is too great. Apple's approach is resulting in a product that is just so much more usable than Mozilla's (and especially Google's) product that using it all day, every day would be just too much of a pain in the ass.

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186 Responses:

  1. Colin says:

    I would just like to say that I will comment and say I appreciate this strange and subtle "nuance" of yours. All of what you say lines up pretty nicely with why I switched from Linux to Mac and got an iPhone. It's not just an empty marketing catchphrase... this shit just works.

  2. NelC says:

    I'm pretty sure I've set the default on my Mac to FireFox. At least, FireFox always launches when I click on a link in some other application. I seem to recall the option is actually set in the browser's preferences (they all have the option to set themselves as the default browser).

  3. Not That Jamie says:


    I do use FF for web development. Better debugging tools. But for actually using a browser, it is always Safari.

  4. Matthew says:

    Bravo. Its like you pulled the thoughts out of my brain.


  5. mike k says:

    I use Firefox for testing - i wind up clicking on the icon then going out to lunch because it takes so goddamn long to load. Other than that, I wish it would go the fuck away. Too many bs bug reports to mention. Took years upon years to get NTLM

  6. Wibble says:

    Have you ever gone into detail about what you find so objectionable about the Android 'experience'? I'm just curious how our use cases must differ, as my first 'mobile' device post-dumbphone is an Android tablet, and I'm pretty happy with it thus far. But maybe I just don't use the bits you hate.

    • gryazi says:

      +1 for curiosity at hearing the rant / some examples. Android definitely has some of the same resource-management pitfalls as iOS, but talking UI... what are we missing other than being pushed into Apple's cloud services instead of Brother GOOG's?

      [Android contact management is my biggest bitch so far, but there's probably some app somewhere for that, as with everything else, that I would have to hope won't be carrying a payload that mirrors everything to someone even-less-trustworthy's server instead.]

    • FWIW, he was hating on Android back a year or so ago, when it was a bloody abomination. It's barely acceptable now, and I hear Ice Cream Sandwich is actually pretty decent. That said, in terms of things like getting screwed over by the service provider in terms of "customizations" and updates, iOS is still light-years ahead.

      • Rick O says:

        I've used an ICS build on my phone for a few months now, and it is well beyond the 2.x series that most people think of as Android. The fact that some of the apps learn how I like to use them and make better defaults based on that is awesome. "Oh, you generally send your photos over MMS? Well why don't I just give you an icon for that right here instead of making you dig and scroll." And my new favorite: txt responses to phone calls that you can't take right then. Yeah, it's little stuff, but as has been said, it just works. Perversely, all of the ICS builds I've run on my phone have actually run faster than 2.x ever did, whether it was stock 2.x or CM7 or some other ROM.

        I've got an iPad from work and I still find myself reaching for my Android phone to do basic stuff, as the iOS interface still feels too toy-like for my tastes. And the multitasking and integration between apps are still a few generations behind Android. I also can't get used to some app configs being in Settings and some in the apps themselves. But I will absolutely admit that iOS apps, as a generalization, have far more polish and aesthetic appeal than Android apps.

        • gryazi says:

          Hm, my will-see-ICS-when-Hell-starts-a-curling-league phone has that, possibly with preset messages only. Unfortunately it's impossible to know when a calling party is actually calling from a mobile, so the risk of actually having it *call back* someone's landline with a robocall to read out the message slowly and awkwardly [c/o Virgin Mobile c/o Sprint] prevents me from ever using it.

          That's actually something that might be missing from the UI in my version - even if the party is in the address book, I think it only displays the name, not whether the calling number is stored as Mobile or Home/Office/thing-not-likely-to-eat-SMS-non-annoyingly. Will have to pay more attention next incoming.

          • Anthony says:

            so the risk of actually having it call back someone's landline with a robocall to read out the message slowly and awkwardly [c/o Virgin Mobile c/o Sprint] prevents me from ever using it.

            The amusement value of that would be worth it, at least once.

  7. Ronan Waide says:

    I got a forced upgrade to a new Firefox recently which had two UI changes that broke muscle memory actions. A quick poke through available extensions resulted in one which restored one of the UI elements back to where I expected it. Amusingly, the blurb for the extension suggested that it was intended to fix the UI - my sentiments exactly.

    (Safari on Mac, Firefox occasionally when needed - thank you Oracle..., and Firefox on Linux. A little bit of config fiddling and toolbar rearranging and it's not too jolting to change from one to the other.)

  8. Cowmix says:

    One day when I hit "Command + Q" Firefox to close out the program it asked me, "Do you want Firefox to confirm in the future?" (or something like that). I accidentally check the "don't ask me" check box. Now, if I hit "Command + Q" Firefox disappears without a peep.



    • billb says:

      about:config and search for showquitwarning (or just for "quit").

      • Elusis says:

        Yeah, hahahaha, that was the first config setting I hunted down with the last version, and it is now set to "true," and I still accidentally command-Q'ed myself yesterday with no warning. OH FIREFOX, WHY DID I BECOME SO DEPENDENT ON THE CLIPPINGS EXTENSION.

    • Skreidle says:

      I do recall encountering a similar situation -- and got around it by changing FF's keybinding to be "Not one fucking key away from Cmd-W." Also, I installed the Sessions addon, which was foreverafter a lifesaver in not losing all my open tabs no matter what I accidentally closed nor what crashed (which FF did regularly when I had 40-100+ tabs open.)

  9. Mark Beeson says:

    There is one reason, and precisely one reason, why I use Chrome over Safari. A single click in the url bar in Chrome highlights the entire url. Safari requires the dreaded triple-click.

    • Lun Esex says:

      That's an argument I find AGAINST Chrome. It means that if I want to edit, or select only part of the URL, it takes two clicks instead of one. And it's inconsistent with every other standard entry box in every other Mac app (except Firefox...).

      For any one of Safari/Firefox/Chrome I'll just hit Command-L to move the cursor to the URL bar and highlight the entire URL at the same time. This, at least, is consistent behavior across all three browsers, so it's never frustrating when switching between them, and I never need to either triple-click or click and hit Command-A.

    • zip says:

      Mark Beeson, in Safari, have you tried clicking on the little icon widget in the url bar, between the "Add Bookmark" button and the url?

    • You use the mouse?!?! Cmd-L, Cmd-A for great justice.

      • Lun Esex says:

        Command-L automatically does the Command-A for you.

        And as zip mentioned above, if one insists on using the mouse it turns out in Safari that a single click on the favicon in the URL bar does actually move the keyboard focus and highlight the entire URL all at once. It's a smaller target than the whole URL bar, but it works. Nice.

      • Mark Beeson says:

        As I am one of those weirdos who highlights text while they're reading, and uses two fingers on the trackpad to scroll, going full-keyboard ("nobody goes full-keyboard!") is more of a chore for me. Also, the little icon widget is an extremely small mouse target compared to a gigantic honking url bar.

    • Not in 5.2... Click the favicon, and it selects the whole URL.

    • captain18 says:

      I tip my hat to you, sir.

    • Xeno says:

      This whole tabs thing is not really a problem if you're prepared to spend hours following the out of date tutorials for reconfiguring the software, desperately waving a rubber chicken over it and screaming in frustration. Using the software gives me a sense of moral and intellectual superiority that is otherwise lacking in my life, hence the condescending tone of this comment. I feel perfectly smug in saying that if you google for it, you will be enlightened, although all the hits you get will be either a) Irrelevant, b) somebody complaining about your problem to a bug-tracking system that has discarded their report as unconfirmed or not a bug, c) some noob asking if they have checked the permissions, d) some web-archived mailing list where some arsehat is telling a frustrated user to google for the answer, e) explanations of why open source is better, why you should be happy to get buggy updates and how we're going to conquer the desktop any day/week/year/decade now after we've finished rewriting the thing because security, f) any or all of the above in a natural language you don't speak. If none of that works for you, I suggest downloading the latest source from the repository and compiling it backwards in esperanto. I have completely missed the point of your post, and became a programmer in the first place because I have difficulty understanding people.

      • lairdb says:

        Xeno FTW.

      • Locao says:

        And that's true about any sufficiently complex piece of code, also. And this is enough to refuse using an inconsistent software, at least for me. Hell, I'm studying, reading the news and checking the last pornstar (in a reverse prioritized list), I'm not working.

    • Jon says:

      I see your jacko and I raise you slow-clap guy.

  10. Turtle Boughs says:

    Clearly you should be using Opera.


    • MattyJ says:

      ... shoe hits MattyJ in face. Thanks for that, Turtle. Opera +1.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Funny thing there is that I got finally fed up of Opera when they copied Chrome's "you don't need a menubar, let's just hide it all under one button" braindamage*, and moved to Firefox.

      Guess what Firefox then did shortly after I actually got all comfortable and settled.

      The Firefox UI is a moving target.

      When they stop backporting security updates to the 3.6 line virtual blood is going to be spilt.

      * There was also the building pile of bugs and broken features they were showing no interest in ever fixing. It was like open source, without the open.

  11. Lun Esex says:

    And if you're someone who actually LIKES tabs, then you want Chrome to die in a fire, since it offers ZERO built-in options for adjusting its tab behavior. Even Apple, famous for making things "Our way or the highway" puts a "Tabs" section in Safari's preferences.

    (Yes, there are extensions that adjust the tabs behavior in Chrome. But there is no single one that returns the standard set of tabs options that ALL OTHER browsers have built in. It takes three. And they still don't behave quite right, because Chrome doesn't let them.)

    Luckily the latest versions of Safari have fixed a lot of the memory leak bugs they kept adding in versions up to 5.0.2 or so, and I've found it to be no less stable than Chrome or Firefox, now (i.e. each will now only do a full-on crash on me about once every one or two months).

    Since I'm always running at least two browsers I'm now using Safari and Firefox, with Safari being preferred since its faster and it supports h.264 video in tags (this almost totally banishes any need for Flash when paired with the ClickToFlash or ClickToPlugin extensions). Supposedly there are plans for Firefox to someday hand off support for video to the built-in libraries of the underlying OS, which would let it allow QuickTime to takeover playing x.264 video in tags, but we'll see.

    • Skreidle says:

      I'm a *heavy* tab user in Chrome -- recent max was 110 open; what's your beef with its tab functionality?

      • Lun Esex says:

        You're ASKING? Ok:

        A) You cannot choose whether you want Command/middle click to open a tab in the foreground or background.
        B) You cannot choose whether you want tabs to open next to the current tab or as the last tab.
        C) You cannot choose whether you want Command/middle click to open in a new tab or a new window.
        D) You cannot choose whether URLs sent from other applications or dragged onto the Chrome icon in the dock opens the URL in a new tab, a new window, or the current frontmost tab/window.
        E) You cannot choose, when closing a tab, whether the next tab selected will be the next leftmost tab, the tab that you opened the closed tab from, or the next most recently viewed tab.


        You cannot choose to have the title of the current tab/page displayed in the title of the window. It's only available, shortened, in the tab.

        There are theme packs that put the title of the current tab/page back in the title of the window, but none that I've found that are available for Chrome on Macs (and they're ugly themes, anyway). I'd thought about trying to create my own, but I shouldn't HAVE to. Anyway the amount of space saved by not having the page title in the window title at the top turns out to be negligible, if any. (I think I might even get more visible page height in other browsers.)

        Plus, and I'm not sure since I haven't used it in a while, I can't recall if it has an option to turn on/off the warning when closing windows with multiple tabs. I also don't think it has an option to hide the tab bar when you have only one tab, too, *since it doesn't ever display the page title in the window title,* so where else would it go? I don't expect it has options for either of these, because it HAS NO OPTIONS for tab behavior. Zero. You GET tabs, they are always ON, and they always behave the way Google says they should.

      • xrayspx says:

        Here are two examples:

        - Always open new tabs at far right end.
        - Redirect new windows to a new /background/ tab.

        I have the Modified Tab Ordering extension which is taking care of the first issue, I gave up on the second one at some point and resigned to middle-clicking. The desire here is that if you go to Fark, for example, and left-click a bunch of story links, they should all open at the far right, and not take focus.

        These were default behavior when tabs were the New Hot Thing. I don't know whose idea it was to have new tabs open next to the parent tab, but if you have tons of stuff open, I just get lost, especially since Chrome will tend to squeeze all the information out of the tab bar with lots of tabs open. In Firefox you can dig around in about:config and fix both of these.

        One thing I /did/ like was the beta for Safari 4 (http://browsers.about.com/od/betatestingdevelopment/ig/Safari-4-Beta--Mac--Preview/Tabs-on-Top.htm), after I got used to how to drag it without ripping tabs off and moving them around. It presented the least amount of UI chrome of any browser so far.

      • Jon says:

        I read that as "you're clearly an extremely unstable person a single tab-related question away from mass murder. SO TABS THEN"

        • skreidle says:

          Ha! No, it was more "I use them all the time, with their default behavior, and while it may have occurred to me that some of their behavior could be improved a little, I've had no expectations of their behavior being changed, or changeable by me."

          SO TABS THEN!

      • Roger says:

        It doesn't open tabs in a new process, and processes are limited to 1GB of address space before they go into 100% CPU use doing garbage collection. If you have a page of links (eg reddit, hacker news) and middle click/open in background tab, then the tabs are opened in the same process. A second feature is that the process then consumes more and more memory as more tabs are opened until it hits 1GB at which point the UI locks up and the process spends 100% CPU time doing GC. After a while it unlocks and you can open a few more tabs before the lockup occurs.

        I don't actually care about the memory usage. It is highly annoying having the lockup when only 6% of my RAM is in use and an order of magnitude more swap is available. And 7 cpus are sitting there idle. There used to be some way of forcing new tabs into new processes but it no longer works. I saw some post from a Googler somewhere claiming jamming everything into one process is required by web standards, but if you quit and reopen the browser then they all open in new processes anyway.

        Did I mention this is with a 64 bit OS? It can count way beyond 2^31 so this behaviour is especially idiotic.

    • Edouard says:

      Mozilla is so far down the path of political self-righteousness that they will never support h.264. Honestly, you could fork Firefox with the sole intent of fully and completely supporting h.264, and it would probably take over in the same way firefox took over from mozilla in the first place...

  12. Legolas says:

    Nice to know I'm not the only one left that dislikes tabs, and I can hardly believe Safari of all browsers is the one left with an option to turn it off. (If someone knows a way to turn them off in the current ff, I'd wish they'd tell me!)
    That gets it very close to me giving it a try, but I still dislike the apple policies even more, plus I hate safari's UI on iOS. Maybe I'll have a test on a mac at work or something.

    The result of that is that everything about Android feels like it was cobbled together by a kernel hacker.

    I always understood it was the one thing worse than that: cobbled together by several kernel hackers. But I don't use android, so I don;t know it's current state.

  13. Skreidle says:

    I have one deal-breaking beef with Safari, and that may have been resolved in the last few years of versions, since my Powerbook died and I reverted to company-supplied Windows: persistent, unresolved, hemmorhagic memory leaks, in every release of iOS/Safari.

    • Lun Esex says:

      As I posted above (in a message which you yourself replied to) they have fixed a lot of the memory leak bugs. I've found its overall RAM consumption over time, before closing any tabs, to be about equal to the total of all of Chrome's little web page processes added up. i.e. while there used to be runaway processes that would continue to suck up more RAM over time just by having a page open in a tab somewhere, that bug now appears to be fixed.

      Also, since they separated the UI process from the page rendering process, you can actually free up most of the memory Safari is using without quitting or crashing the app by force-quitting the Safari Web Content process. This will maintain all your open tabs/windows, but their contents will be purged from RAM and lazy loaded the next time click on any one. The bug still exists that Safari doesn't automatically free up all the RAM that a page took up when you close its tab or window, but this is at least a workaround, now.

      While Chrome, in comparison, unloads web page processes from RAM as you close tabs, I found plenty of phantom page processes stuck around in memory for a while after their tabs were closed. Plus you have to actually close the tabs to (try to) free up this RAM. In contrast killing the Safari Web Content process frees up all that RAM at once, while still letting you keep the tabs open to be re-loaded the next time you click on them.

  14. BP says:

    Would tabs be better if you could switch between them with "Control-x b"? ;-)

    On the UI consistency, its a little hard to tell the difference between Safari and Firefox these days...

  15. gryazi says:

    a) What's the deal with Camino? It still exists - http://caminobrowser.org/ - but people stopped all mention of it as soon as Firefox-for-OS-X Happened and I'm not clear whether it's behind on anything important or still a perfectly-acceptable alternate wrapping as it originally was.

    b) Safari-for-OS-X's hypersensitive "You are not connected to the Internet, go fuck yourself" behavior is Truly Annoying. However, in the one Mac configuration I ever deal with I finally traced this to an AT&T-blessed 2Wire 2701HG that was actually flaking out and dropping the DSL link (official explanation: pay no mind to hundreds of unexplained "ERR_DMA" being logged), and replacing it with a new Netgear off the shelf from a big-box retailer Fixed Everything. (For some reason the 2Wires also appear to have problems keeping up with the barrage of DNS lookups required when browsing modern sites with all their ads and tracking-buttons, which is another story that I have not bothered to diagnose fully yet.) Firefox, despite the fun of its insane internal-unto-itself DNS caching behavior, was much more resilient about not flicking itself into offline mode and letting TCP do its resiliency magic.

    c) Fuck all the tab noise, but as a heavy user, fairly recent Firefox has still had this little problem with becoming cripplingly bloated and CPU-bound with 100+ open, particularly as the session ages. Because The Future, it was cheaper to try seating 4GB more RAM and 2 more CPU cores than dealing with the problem; however, this still doesn't solve it. [I may be a few versions behind. Did this Finally Get Fixed In The Last Year?] This has pushed me back to Chromium, which has its issues but at least survives being as much browser as you'd think 4 CPUs and 8GB RAM just might be able to handle.

    d) In Linux Still A Third-World Problem news, Chrome extensions all specify specific versions of Chrome which appear to have no direct mapping to Chromium version numbers. Is any of this shit supposed to work with Chromium? Does Chromium have its own extensions archive? I've only fallen back into its arms for like a week.

    • Elusis says:

      Did this Finally Get Fixed In The Last Year?

      No. No It Did Not. [watches free RAM steadily trickle away thanks to Free Memory]

  16. Al Iverson says:

    So, why don't you just turn of t....oh, nevermind. Are there any drink specials at DNA tonight?

  17. I'm not sure you've properly expressed the horror that Android represents. It goes beyond unusable right into physically painful.

    Try developing for it sometime - we need to have 47 different handsets for testing. Forty. Seven.

    For the sake of the company I tried using one of them for a bit. Trying to navigate on it reminded of an old school UNIX rage nerd we had doing network security for us, who poo-pooed my offer of a Macbook, which everyone else in the office was using. He insisted on getting a Thinkpad, the specs of which he provided in exacting detail for me to order, then installed Ubuntu on it, with all it's 90's retro graphic stylings.

    He then proceeded to have nothing but stupid weird problems with it for all the months he was with us, like the screen backlight not coming on every fifth reboot, or no website ever rendering properly in Firefox, and always with the tinkering and fiddling and excuses, while everyone else just got shit done. Naturally he had an Android phone, and raved about how it was so great, but he couldn't watch videos because it was missing a codec.

    Using that company Android phone reminded me why I wanted to stab a fork in his eye.

  18. Dennis says:

    Exhibit B: Gnome 3

    Exhibit C: Windows 8

  19. Relgorka Shantilla says:

    I would like to challenge this person on his assertions regarding mobile Safari and the availability of other browsers in the App Store. The only alternatives are proxied clients or interface wrappers. Mac/PC/iOS versions of the Safari core are all different. There is not nearly enough consistency to make such dismissive statements.

  20. the_internet says:

    To me personally, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari are more or less equally usable. Similarly, the differences between Windows 7, MacOS, and (gasp!) various Linux desktops don't really feel that major to me. They all work pretty well, until they break, at which point it's a pain. I just don't get why people get so hung up on small things like what order the buttons are in in a dialog box, or what order things are in a menu.

    A lot of engineers never took a marketing class. (Why would they? Business school is dull.) So they don't understand how easy it is to manipulate people's minds-- even the minds of intelligent people. A lot of the Apple hoopla is just old-fashioned marketing. Once someone defines himself as an Apple user, he usually works backwards and tries to find reasons why Apple products are better than the competition. (After all, if Apple products weren't actually worth the considerable premium they command, he would just be a chump for buying them.) It's just like how when you tell someone a bottle of wine costs $100, they immediately start thinking it tastes better than one you tell them costs $5. It's all psychological.

    And "user experience" bullcrap like what color the logo is on a case, or what order the buttons are in a dialog box, is conveniently unmeasurable and unquanitifable. So you can easily retreat into comments like this if you're ever challenged. It's just psychology 101.

    • Lun Esex says:

      The price "premiums" on the products Apple made 76% of their profits on, last quarter (that is, iPhones and iPads) are now essentially zero. Current model iPhones, like the latest and greatest Android phones, start at $200 subsidized, or around $650 off-contract. Previous iPhone models are available for half that, or free (on contract), just like Android phones. The iPad starts at $500 for the latest & greatest, just like Android tablets. Or you could get the previous model iPad for $400.

      When "Ultrabook" spec laptops first came out they were actually MORE expensive than equivalent MacBook Air models.

      The "Apple price premium" argument is old, tired, and dead.

      • And yet it will never, ever, ever die. I hear people talking about it in reference to iphones and ipads for god's sake. "Apple is overpriced", like "Al Gore says he invented the internet", lives on in complete disconnection from the actual evidence.

      • Relgorka Shantilla says:

        No-no, Apple labels its products as premium and demands a premium price. $1000 vs $500 for an i5 laptop. The Air launched at $1800 with parts resembling an Acer Timeline that retailed for less than $1000, now a proper ultrabook starts around $600. Cheapest iPad is $400-500(?) vs $60 for no-name, $200-300 for brand-locked and $400-plus for premium unlocked major-brand tablet. Shuffle is great but the other iPods are spendy for the features. I think AT&T offers an older iPhone for just $50 with contract, so at least there is reasonable parity among smartphones. Missing premium features like SD card readers or full-size video ports are a base insult common to their products.

        If you like it, you pay the price. Just don't claim the inequalities have vanished, especially as they work to handicap upgradeability to force purchase of much more expensive parts when upgrading.

        • Lun Esex says:

          Apple doesn't labels its products as "premium," and they demand nothing.

          i5 laptops make up only a single digit percentage of their profits, now.

          The latest model MacBook Airs launched in 2011 with prices starting at $999. The first Ultrabooks launched in 2011 at prices that averaged around $1300. (Notice that they are not exactly flying off the shelves and manufacturers have been lobbying Intel to lower their component prices so they can bring them down in price enough that people will be interested in buying them.)

          No-name tablets ("brand-locked"? What does that mean? Do you mean carrier-locked?) are not comparable to iPads. The tablets that are most frequently compared to the iPad, like the Motorola Xoom and Asus Transformer Prime, launched at prices HIGHER than the equivalent spec iPads.

          The market for iPods and other media players is winding down, so price comparisons there are immaterial.

          As you said, there is a reasonable parity among smartphones (the cheapest iPhone is now actually free on contract, not $50).

          What fraction of people who have a phone with an SD card slot actually ever use that slot more than once? The vast majority simply only use it when they get the phone to put in a memory card that's necessary to increase its storage, since it came with only a paltry amount of built-in Flash because the manufacturer was cheap. It's a superfluous "feature" for most users. And more and more premium phones are coming out without SD card slots.

          What fraction of people who buy laptops ever actually hook up external monitors to them? Most don't. A lack of full-size video ports is largely a non-issue. (Oh, did you notice? Many of those Ultrabook-branded laptops don't have full-size video ports, either!)

          The price differences haven't "vanished." 24% of Apple's profits last quarter come from goods that can still be claimed as premium products at a premium price. Now, though, THREE TIMES as much of Apple's profits come from goods that are no longer premium priced compared to the competition--while the products themselves are still fairly premium goods.

          Yes, the "Apple price premium" argument IS old, tired, and dead.

          • Relgorka Shantilla says:

            Brand-locked devices are those such as the Fire. They are preintegrated to a brand's content market.

            When you say that most people do not use MicroSD it reminds me how many people take benefit from a backlit keyboard. Ultrabooks can ship with as many as 8+ ports, more commonly at least 4. Full size HDMi is common enough but that varies also.

            As to component futures, we shall see how Trinity does against Ivy Bridge in the ULV market. Target price is much lower, encryption and encoding handlers are now included, and you trade some CPU speed for a real GPU in its place. I hesitate to predict where ultrabooks are headed from here, especially with tentative ARM commitments also coming down.

            Between aggressive pricing and off-the-shelf replacement parts, a PC laptop can do what I need for half the cost of a Mac and can be upgraded with parts that cost as little as 1/3 the Mac equivalent. Having two external monitors is gravy because I don't need a separate desktop anymore.

            • Lun Esex says:

              "blahblah Kindle Fire blahblah"

              Not comparable.

              Where's the "brand-locked" tablet with a 10" high quality screen, 16 GB of built-in storage, front and back cameras, and a 10 hour battery life? For $400 or less?

              "blahblah some Ultrabooks have... blahblah"

              Doesn't address the fact that the average price of Ultrabooks when they came out was HIGHER than the prices of many similar MacBook Air models.

              "As to component futures..."

              Who mentioned "component futures"? What's that got to do with the price of tea in China, or how the products that Apple made three quarters of their profits on LAST QUARTER are no longer priced at a premium over their competitors' comparable products?

              "a PC laptop can do what I need for half the cost of a Mac"

              Good for you. Enjoy it. Apple's making less than one quarter of their profits from laptops (PLUS desktops, monitors, etc.), so the price premium they do still command on THOSE products is increasingly becoming an edge case.

          • vacri says:

            The apple price premium is indeed old hat now, but apple do market their products as premium. They don't literally label them 'premium', but they do figuratively do so, marketing them as generally being "the best quality you're going to get".

  21. the_internet says:

    To me personally, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari are more or less equally usable. Similarly, the differences between Windows 7, MacOS, and (gasp!) various Linux desktops don't really feel that major to me. They all work pretty well, until they break, at which point it's a pain. I just don't get why people get so hung up on small things like what order the buttons are in in a dialog box, or what order things are in a menu.

    A lot of engineers never took a marketing class. (Why would they? Business school is dull.) So they don't understand how easy it is to manipulate people's minds-- even the minds of intelligent people. A lot of the Apple hoopla is just old-fashioned marketing. Once someone defines himself as an Apple user, he usually works backwards and tries to find reasons why Apple products are better than the competition. (After all, if Apple products weren't actually worth the considerable premium they command, he would just be a chump for buying them.) It's just like how when you tell someone a bottle of wine costs $100, they immediately start thinking it tastes better than one you tell them costs $5. It's all psychological.

    "User experience" bullcrap like what color the logo is on a case, or what order the buttons are in a dialog box, is conveniently unmeasurable and unquanitifable. So you can easily retreat into comments like this if you're ever challenged. It's just psychology 101.

    • MrMickS says:

      You're right in a way, lots of engineers get lost in the detail and don't give a damn about consistency and usability. In an unfettered world this leads to UI issues that they can't see, except in everyone else's software. Apple, on the Macintosh and now iOS, has had fairly well defined human interface guidelines from the start. This is more than just marketing, its an overall approach on how the UI should work.

      You only really see the pain when you try and talk a novice computer user through stuff on other platforms and had to try to explain the inconsistencies, say why shortcuts to do the same thing differ between software products, that you really appreciate it. Please don't ask for examples, I've given up collecting them, and things probably are better than they used to be, I really don't care anymore. I'm happy to pay to have a computer system that just works for me without me having to relearn things when I upgrade or patch. If you are arrogant enough to dismiss that as me falling for the marketing that's up to you, but I really hope that you don't develop software for a living for your user's sakes.

      • Lun Esex says:

        There's an amusing set of videos out there on the tubes where a guy films his father, a staunch Windows user, trying to use Windows 8 and Mac OS X Lion for the first time. His dad can't figure out the new Windows Metro UI, and he's confused by when and how it goes away and comes back, revealing the more "classic" Windows UI. He also has trouble with changes they made to that classic UI once he gets it. On the Mac he actually figures out pretty much everything the first time. He has an iPad, so that gives him an advantage as he sees consistent and familiar icons. He should still have even more advantage on Windows, though, because that's what he actually uses on his own computer.

    • "User experience" bullcrap like [...] what order the buttons are in a dialog box, is conveniently unmeasurable and unquanitifable (sic)

      This is why you fail.

      You'll find, if you care to look, that UI design issues like that are, in fact, quite measurable and quantifiable. Moreover, if you actually do the research, you'll find that much of the prior art originates at Apple, circa the original Lisa and Macintosh projects. A hell of a lot of bothanspeople diedburned a lot of hours in rooms with one-way mirrors and cameras and stopwatches to bring us this information.

  22. Karellen says:

    [Firefox] still feels like a cross-platform open-source program, which it is. But I don't want your Linux in my Mac.

    Interesting. It always seemed to me (Linux user) that the dominant platform paradigm in Firefox was Windows.

    • greenhorn says:

      exactly! the dominant design paradigm in firefox, no matter who you are, is "other".

  23. mediapathic says:

    In talking about the Mobile part, you mention in passing something that I've been thinking about a lot lately: it increasingly seems like software choices (most notably in the mobile arena but also in other areas) comes down to a choice between Ideologically Correct and Functional. As someone who's been riding this merry-go-round for a while, I'm curious to hear you expand on this, if you have anything to say beyond "Fuck it, use what works".

    • Sploggle says:

      Just google 'jwz pizza' if you want an example of him going beyond "Fuck it, use what works."

      I find it interesting to see geeks adopting a lot of the arguments they decried years ago to justify their use of Apple products. Jamie gets a pass from me on hating Microsoft because, well, duh. But for those who have not been personally wronged by MS, there seems to be no coherent reason why one currently would avoid them and not also avoid Apple and Google.

      Of course, someone might prefer the Apple ecosystem for its elegance or the Windows ecosystem for its developer-friendliness or the Google ecosystem for its webbyness, but apart from GNU vs. the world, I feel the ideological wars are kind of over. Sure, there are skirmishes (I refuse to use Facebook), but the cold war days are over now the Evil Empire has lost its preeminence and its rivals found interesting new ways to be more anti-freedom than it ever was.

      • gryazi says:

        The Evil Empire got everyone used to the idea that every device should always phone home and beg permission before being allowed to, y'know, operate.

        This is now status quo, but if the monopoly hadn't tossed it out their at the height of their monopoly, the market just miiiiight have had a chance to say something about it. (Probably not, but a boy can dream.)

  24. Edouard says:

    That was a thing of rare and delicate beauty. And the comments! Oh, the comments. "I ... became a programmer in the first place because I have difficulty understanding people". Good times, good times.

    Perhaps a "gruntle" tag? You know, for old times sake?

  25. piku says:

    I wouldn't focus too hard on web browsers and which one renders best, or which one you personally and religiously like. That's like arguing over which brand of hammer works best. They're tools, ultimately nobody cares because we have choices.

    Instead, apply your points to the deeper problem - the websites we view in our browsers. Namely Facebook and Google+. With the modern software companies decide to force their latest UI abortions on the entire world with a single page refresh. There are no hidden tick boxes to mess with, no hidden about:chromes to play with, it's all "Welcome to the new cool way of doing everything, watch this video to take a tour... Never mind you were only here to waste five minutes we want 15 as you now learn our site again".

    You have infinite browser choice now, but it's irrelevant because they all render Facebook one way (grease monkey does not count).

    And like our subtle OP says, this is not the actual problem. I don't care that in 48h I will be used to the new layout and won't care any more. The actual problem is they keep moving the stuff about and I have no choice but to put up with it.

    Seemingly random change is the main problem with computing - it really pisses users off if things move about for no obvious reason or explanation (popup explanations do not count, nobody reads them, years of popup dialogs have trained us to shut them on reflex). My computer is a tool, I do not like having to relearn tasks that I used to perform without a second thought. I have more important things to think about - I.e. the task I am using my computer for.

    • gryazi says:

      The only people left designing desktop interfaces are the people inexperienced enough to think designing a new desktop interface is a worthy cause. CADDT and all that.

      (This is an oversimplification, but there is that difference between 'pushing shit around on your plate' design and 'researched and justified' design. The former is why everything suddenly needs a new skin every 3 years, the latter is how we finally got indispensable shit like type-ahead find. Both Apple and 'FOSS' have lowered the bar to toe-level here, because Apple has that slight worship problem and 'FOSS' has fuck-you-it's-free to fall back on.

  26. nikita says:

    Anyone who truly understands UI design realizes that every preference option is an admission of defeat...
    By this token [X]Emacs designers are very far from starting to understand UI or they are proud of defeats.

    • jwz says:

      To paraphrase myself, making fun of the Emacs UI is kind of like kicking a puppy... a puppy who's been dead since 1981. And yes, tabs are reminiscent of full-screen emacs windows. Leave that puppy alone already.

  27. tak3z says:

    You guys who are for "nothing has to change in the UI" (or wherever), don't you know that you are softly killing your adaptative skills? Changes and the efforts to handle them and to find the "new solutions" make you smarter. Moreover, in the time you are striving to discard your habits and learn new ways, you are forced to think about what are you doing, and why: in that lapse of time when you have to discard aged automatisms for new one, you are human again. Then, you become again a clog wishing to spin fastly. Your life, your job. Those make no justification for blind automatisms and constant hurry up; that make you a worse human being. By the way, dictatorships work a lot better than true democracies with respect to a lot of things.
    And about tab, I am very annoyed by multiwindowed applications (though they exist and I use them, e.g. Gimp): the window, the size I choose, is the only space I have decided the application can exhibit itself. Tabs make it possible to keep it more easily inside its own borders. It's the most logical thing. And yes, I don't care about your opinion on this, if you think it's really logical or not... and if you wonder why then I wrote it: it's because of the same reason you wrote the post trying to prevent criticisms. What we prefer and what we like, despite all the reasoning we try to inject, can't avoid the criticism of someone else likes and preferences (with bundled arguments); the point is: if you don't care about what people might have to say, why do you communicate???

    • Lun Esex says:

      You get in an automobile you're never driven before. You have to hunt around for various things you need to know the locations of just to safely operate the car. You adjust the mirrors, the seat, and maybe the steering heel. You start driving.

      It gets dark. You have to hunt around for the headlight controls. It starts to rain. You have to hunt around for the windshield washer controls.

      You get in an automobile you've been driving every day for the past year. You don't have to hunt for anything, you know where it all is. You don't even THINK about the operation of the automobile. All you consciously think about is that you need to get somewhere. The car has become an extension of you as motile being.

      The software I use on my computer every day is my automobile. It enables me to get to work. The less I have to think about what's between me and my work, the better I am at getting that work done.

      If people had to switch to an unfamiliar automobile every few weeks, there'd be a lot more accidents.

      When the software I'm familiar with changes arbitrarily, I have accidents. I'm slowed down. I'm less efficient. I'm annoyed.

      Some changes are good. Frequent, arbitrary changes that you don't find to be improvements are not.

      In software, change can, and does, happen at a rate that is much faster than human beings are historically adapted to. A "stable" software UI already is something that exists for only a very short period of time. A desire for "stable" UIs is a desire to rein in the pace of software change that can easily overwhelm the average human's capacity to adapt to change.

      • John Bloom says:

        Well, there are two sides to this problem. One side is the developers making changes for changes' own sake. The other side is the user who doesn't want to have to learn new things.

        If you're a developer (or have influence over developers, UI designers, HIG writers, etc) you can improve the situation by trying to move things at a more reasonable pace and to only make positive changes.

        If you're a user on the other hand you have a couple options to help fix the situation. You can vote with your dollars by not upgrading when you're not interested in the changes. This has limited impact in a lot of cases, especially when you're later forced to upgrade for security or compatibility reasons.

        The other thing you can do as a user to improve your own sanity is to develop skill in learning new systems. In the same way that people who know two languages find the third easier to learn, I think there's a lot to be said for learning new or different software just to train this skill. Now, you don't have to like how quickly software changes, but the pace of change probably isn't going to slow down for a decade or two. The people who train their ability to adapt will be the ones that have the least stress through all of this.

        • Lun Esex says:

          "develop skill in learning new systems"

          Do you think most of the people reading this blog are somehow deficient at this?

          Could it be that they are perhaps actually better than average at this?

          If I were a wagering man, personally I'd bet on the later.

          Now, there's a side between those two sides you describe. It's the side where lots of time and effort has been spent on designing and testing the features and functionality of a software product, by people who are specifically skilled and experienced in that area. Then, once those resources have been spent, further significant changes are not made to the features and functionality of that software product without being sure that those changes have gone through the same degree of rigor of design and testing.

          The average programmer or graphic designer is not one of the kinds of people who are specifically skilled in the area of designing and testing the features and functionality of a software product. They are, however, the people who wind up making the majority of the changes to 90% of the software that's out there.

          Some of us prefer the other 10% of software. We are not opposed to changes in our software. We are opposed to poor, ill-conceived changes that are uninformed, unjustified, and unproven. This is not to say that the other 90% of software doesn't frequently get things right, too, or that this 10% of software still doesn't ever get things wrong. There's just a (much) higher incidence of significant negative impacts from changes in that other 90% of software.

        • Relgorka Shantilla says:

          Friend, the thing responding to us is not human. If trying the new is not fun and gaining fresh tools and abilities is not fun..apparently we are being trolled by some asshole that still uses Wordstar. I'm getting out and you should too, for brighter skies where people believe in a future.

          The robots can stay here.

      • tak3z says:

        Driving a car is a totally different task (or, maybe better, it's just the part you don't need your thinking brain too much); like playing basket or soccer, involved things to use the commands of a car are physical body movements and reactions: the reptile part of our brain, so to say. That task can be done by a robot, more efficiently and safely, and car as we think of shouldn't exist at all, they still do because of limits in urban infrastructures and technologies (and likely because of lobbies and money).
        The analogy could hold if you compare not with the software but with the hardware interface. I mean, mouses, screens, keyboards... And those are not changed! So you can use your reptile part of the brain to drive your mouse in every corner of your screen, as you do since GUI and mouses went spread.
        Software you use is more like what happens around when you drive car: what you see from your windshield is everyday different, to be a good driver you must be able to adapt to things that change - even a broken traffic light, a jaywalker, and so on. You use your engraved automatism to react properly and in time (hopefully) to events which are not under your control (like GUI changes in software you're not developing yourself).
        Unless GUIs change every a fraction of a second, they hardly can overwhelm the average human's capacity to adapt to change. We are not talking about biological adaptation of course. Human brain is (was!!) rather good at reacting to small silly and simple changes and causing a change in behaviour.
        The fact that you can't believe it and you find annoying a changing GUI once in a while (not at that high speed!), it's because ... Well, I leave conclusions to you, blindly fast the-less-you-think-the-more-you-produce spinning clogs.

        • Lun Esex says:

          You are not listening.

          You appear to be under the impression that many people here are arguing that all change (in software UIs, or elsewhere) is bad.

          That is not the case.

          Please read this part from the OP again: "the years have taught me that you, my dear readers, do not do nuance."

          • tak3z says:

            Your answer is odd. I am following a stream, a flow, or a game if you prefer, that you accepted to play with your first reply to my post. My reply to your reply, it's just a "reflection" of your reply. This answer you've given now, you could have written it before, in place of the first reply. It seems to me like the one who is not listening it's not me.
            Anyway, I am arguing that the changes that are implicitly or explicitly described in the article are among the kind of changes that can't be so sharply despised.
            Stop playing, if you can't catch the kind of game I tried to do: it's not a matter of nuance at all. It's a matter of taste. I am not interested in reading high opinions and cultured dissertations about a taste, and I am always annoyed by people that spices their taste as a smart product of (long time) experience, not losing the chance to stress their privileged position (sort of "sure I know well how thing are done, I am expert, I am advanced, so it's not a question of taste, but of smartness")...
            I've used the word "feature". Changes in UI can be as bad to you as good they could seem to me (and I like changes in UI, always, I repeat: always!). Tastes. That's obvious. And I am disserting just because it's bothering and because it is very obvious that such a post can attract strong agreements and strong disagreement, and since the author is not interested in such "opinions stretchs". Years have taught him and you about readers, but anything at all about writers. That's strange.

            • Lun Esex says:

              I believe the "game" I am playing aligns more closely with the playing field that we are on (jwz's blog) than the "game" that you are trying to play.

              If that is the case, which one of us should "stop playing"?

              • tak3z says:

                "Stop playing" was addressed to me.
                I am selling my opinion, which has nuances though sold as truth (the same way the article, it seems to me); but my long experience with people taught me that if you put stress into nuances, people more likely think you are wrong.
                I can't see too much nuances in "tab sucks". The game of the place is the search for nuances? :) Just joking now, I am not a troll but I can understand why trolling exists.
                The basic fact, no jwz's fan is interested in, is that I dislike article like this. When I've finished reading, it seems I've lost totally my time, and learned no thing. But about human kind, of course.

    • Matt says:

      It's my computer, not an effing puzzle box. If I feel the need to stretch my mind I'll go build Legos or pick up a weird puzzle toy - when I sit down at my computer I need to get something coded on a deadline, work on servers that are broken, chat with coworkers or friends, import and touch up photographs, and dozens of other tasks that just need to get done. I've preferred OS X for years now because it just works. (Well, that and spring loaded folders. I love spring loaded folders.) Any laughable amount of "smartness" I might get out of hunting out a UI change is going to be immediately negated by frustration and impatience.

      I have to tip my hat in thanks, jwz - I read your post thinking "well Safari is great, but I have to use Chrome because FF is garbage but I really can't browse without ad blocking anymore." I paused for a moment realizing that decision was made a LONG time back, punched a search into Google, and discovered with joy that the AdBlock guy puts out a Safari extension as well. Now I can even drop Chrome, many thanks!

      • tak3z says:

        Your computer, their software. Make your own software and be happy with it. No seriously, I don't know which kind of work you do with your computers, but my experience in working environments is that "working software must not be updated if you don't really need to". So, it tends to change even slower than the need, indeed.
        Weren't this post focused on web browser's GUI? Do you use it to code? Web browsers GUI changes made you pass beyond your deadline? You fix broken servers with a web browser (o, ok, you could use it to remotely access a server, though I bet, you won't notice the changes the post is talking about in this case!). I know people using OS X, I see them working on it ... it "just works" as Windows do; problems may occur, as in Windows (and of course in GNu/Linux)... if a GUI and GUI policy you like is your rule to justify the "it just works" fact.... well, no words.
        You need to slow down. Sit and think, about everything, and in particular about what you see on your screen.
        I have tried to scatter bits of wisdom, but I couldn't expect clogs can understand it for what it was.

        Btw, I am a user who uses from w3m to Opera, through FF, Chrome and whatever it happens to be suitable for a task... NOT because of UI, but because of features. When it comes to use common features, it happens I use FF, Chrome, Opera, IE, without bothering about the different UI / UI concepts/philosophy/changes. I admit I have no tried Safari, but I bet is not that different ... (webkit, right?)

        • Lun Esex says:

          "Make your own software and be happy with it."

          The fact that you're saying this, on jwz's blog, in a comment thread about web browser design and development... (!)

          Well, nothing more really needs to be said, does it? :)

          • tak3z says:

            So, since jwz is/was involved in web browser design and development, does it mean every reader here scattering his/her opinion has the same status? ...
            And why not talking about that? If you (programmers included) want the perfect software, get involved and make it happens. Or, it's an option, pick the one that fits better your need, and stop complaining about the others (software) and with the others (programmers and their policy about changes and UI). (*)
            About listening, no seriously, you stopped and commented only about the first part of the line before no seriously! Did you?
            Well, exactly, it's true, there's nothing more that can be said, but nuances of course.

            (*) Of course, I am not saying one can't say his/her opinions. But as I've said in another reply, what I dislike it's that "nuance" that makes it seems your selling a "technical truth", ... nonetheless, it's still a matter of taste to me. If we want to talk about something, let's talk about features, not UI. I know many people think that UI is very very important element... nuances... The details these posts are talking about are not in my set of core features a UI "must" have, but they are in the collection of tinsels.

            • jwz says:

              Well, I've already stopped listening to both of you. Go fight somewhere else.

              • tak3z says:

                I am sorry if it seems a fight. I would call it entangled monologues, not a fight.
                I am also sorry that, being both polite, we are sort of banned by the owner of a public blog with almost public comment possibility - owner who is not forced to read every comment we do though of course has the right to purge unwelcome comments and commenters.
                Another oddity.
                Anyway, my fault.

        • nooj says:

          Shut the fuck up.

    • Mike Hoye says:

      You guys who are for "nothing has to change in the UI" (or wherever), don't you know that you are softly killing your adaptative skills?

      In the same vein, central heating has put a serious crimp in my ability to skin a wolf for its pelt.

      Changes and the efforts to handle them and to find the "new solutions" make you smarter.

      And digging holes just so you can fill them up again makes you stronger.

      • tak3z says:

        At the end, someone who got it. You agree with me, right?
        In fact, central heating is a change (isn't it?) and our ability to skin a wolf was changed too, through an adaptive process, in the ability to fix a pipe. In the future, it will be something still different.
        Who wants the same UI, wants that his/her ability to skin a wolf won't become obsolete.
        It's time to adapt to the changes, every time everywhere they happen.

        The second part is surely a nice suggestion, in fact in this modern society where we are forced to be sitting for hours and we do not have long walks, we need some kind of physical activity. Though, I prefer gym, or park walking, rather than digging and filling. But everyone chooses his/her own preferred pointless aimless activity to be stronger.

        • Lun Esex says:

          Are you really that bad at detecting snark?

          It wasn't even that nuanced.

          Do you see what I did, there? No?


          • tak3z says:

            Again, ... I think that the one who is not good at detecting whatever, it's not me!! Funny.
            I don't see what you did here, but I know exactly what I did with the reply to Mike Hoye's answer and why. I think it's a pity it was misunderstood; subtle zenlike, or maybe my english is not so good as I thought!

  28. Thom York says:

    I have derived much pleasure from the blog, but it seems the indignance and sarcasm are increasing, especially with regards to the commetors here, but maybe I've grown more sensitive. I've never commented before, yet I half feel as though I should apologize. Honestly sometimes it's funny, but at some point I have to wonder if you simply are inclined to act that way, and then it's just a crochet.

    • LafinJack says:

      Look at the very first comment in this post and you'll see why his indignance and sarcasm are increasing.

    • Nik says:

      I come here mostly for the indignance and the sarcasm. Our gracious host's rage at the cruel world is highly entertaining.

  29. Sheilagh says:

    In Lion, were you surprised/annoyed by the removal of the scroll bar arrows? I can't get my Dad to consider upgrading because he knows the lack of them (with his eyesight, trying to grab the ever-shrinking scroll bar) would angry up his blood.

    Apple has a nice little honeypot on their support page where they promptly ignore all who care:

    • jwz says:

      I barely noticed the scrollbar change. But I did immediately find the "don't turn my mouse upside down" checkbox.

      • Dear Apple:

        When you have to put a dialog box as the first thing when you log into Lion that forces your users to scroll down so they know the world is upside down now, you're doing UI wrong.

      • Edouard says:

        I simply unplugged my mouse and thew it away. I replaced it with Apples trackpad. I strongly recommend it as a better experience for everything except Photoshop dinking, where it fails on the pixel level control while depressed front.

        Then again, I remember recommending VLC to you here, so yeah.

  30. chad says:

    I recently switched back to Safari under macosx because the beta Chrome versions were regularly breaking parts of the internet I needed, and once you go beta, you can't go back without throwing away your `profile' and starting new.

    Since moving back into Safari (under 10.7), I discovered a feature that makes it worth-while to stay: two-finger double-tap in safari implements a close-enough version of the context-sensitive zoom-to-fit-text that makes browsing on the ipad enjoyable. Since then, I have happily stood atop a pile of dead-to-me useless toolbars, sidebars, advertising spaces, blogrolls, frame-padding, and other ejecta, quietly reading a version of the web with ~60% less crap. And it was good.

  31. John Bloom says:

    So here's a quick question (or two): Did you intend to leave comments open for this post? If so, what kind of responses were you hoping for?

    • Lun Esex says:

      Are you not enjoying this?

      These kinds of threads are the E-ticket rides on jwz's blog.

      • Ben says:

        Oh yes - I'll often mark things unread just so I can come back for newer comments.

        On that note, is there an RSS feed of comments that I'm not seeing? 'Cause that'd save some cycles. Am I just blind?

        • jwz says:

          In Safari, if you click on the RSS box in the URL field it shows you links for all three feeds. It may not surprise you that I'm not sure what Firefox does.

          • Ben says:

            Ah-ha - that's what I get for using Chrome (that, and the fact I kept hitting the 'RSS' link at the top, since Chrome doesn't appear to have any built-in RSS handling). Much obliged.

  32. miguel says:

    This reminds me of something about you jwz. Yes, I like a lot of your writing and love the Netscape lore, you sleeping under your desk inventing some obscure Netscape feature that influences us to this day, great stuff. But I don't know if I can forgive you for giving up the fight when things got hard. I remember how you bailed on Mozilla right when things were most desperate. The whole future depended on that project. And for years it was a lost cause, one of the most important battle of our times, the future of the most important invention of our lifetimes was in danger of dying in Microsoft's monopolistic maw. All hope was lost. But a few idealistic programmers, the rebels fighting the lost cause, wouldn't give up. They needed all the help they could get but you were nowhere to be found. Luckily for humanity Mozilla somehow pulled it off, after ditching most of the Netscape code and several rewrites, and yes, by changing the UI. Those gloriously consistent Safari browsers? Only possible because of Mozilla wrestling the World Wide Web away from Microsoft. And the thing is that that was your God given purpose, it was you that should have led Mozilla to victory, but you shrank from the battle to go play with your little bar. And now you sit here shitting on Firefox, but you know what? Mozilla won't die, it cannot die, it's too important, for humanity. Keep using your mega-corp software, Mozilla will keep fighting the good fight for you, for all of us.

    • John Bloom says:

      So, I'm gonna go out on a limb here and guess that you haven't contributed any code to Firefox?

    • Edouard says:

      Wow, if I had to put up with people with your level of pompous self-righteousness in the Mozilla community, I'd start looking in the direction of alcohol myself.

      Also, the browser engine that most people actually use was actually written by the KDE guys, also around 98/99, and opened up for use by others (like Google with Chrome) by Apple. But, you know, facts.

    • nooj says:

      Dude, y'all lost that fight a decade ago. What you're doing now is discussed in the then-current song "The Distance".

    • jwz says:

      You know, I can somewhat sympathize with your disappointment, because I've also been annoyed when the plot in a story didn't take the turn that I wanted or expected it to. The difference here is that I actually exist. I'm not a character in some movie you're watching. My life is not for your entertainment. You don't get to tell me what I find rewarding or fulfilling or or what makes me happy.

      • pepe@suckit.net says:

        Your life starts being for entertainment when you are a famous nerd with a blog. You are hardly a private citizen, comrade.

    • I work for Mozilla currently, and I don't feel angry at jwz at all. He put in his time. He probably spent more hours hacking on Mozilla at Netscape than anyone who's currently with the project. He saw things through to the birth of Mozilla, which was hugely important. It's really easy to say that he should have done more for the cause, but he did a hell of a lot, and I don't blame him for being burned out at the time.

      Do I wish he used Firefox? Sure, but not everyone is content to use software purely for noble reasons. He wants software that meets his needs, and it's clear we're not doing that on Mac. I think it's possible that we could do that and still serve our mission, so I think we ought to keep striving to make the best goddamned browser we can. Hopefully we'll hit a point at which we're as good or better than Safari for what jwz needs, and maybe we'll win him over. Browbeating users isn't how you win them over. You win them over by shipping good software, so that's what we ought to do.

      • Sheilagh says:

        Do y'all print out comment threads like this one and carve them down into useful feature targets? The thread just below (re:pdf) sounds like you're likely losing an otherwise rabid-OSS audience in the math/science academia realm.

    • pepe@suckit.net says:

      Very well said. Apparently, Mozilla won't give you a bar to play with - it's easier to bitch about rms and Netscape than going out and trying to fix things a bit. As a programmer, jwz is a great beta-tester and bar owner.

  33. Anthony says:

    I don't use FF for many of the reasons you and your commenters mention (except tabs), but this is completely wrong:

    Anyone who truly understands UI design realizes that every preference option is an admission of defeat: it's there because you couldn't just get it right the first time.

    Every preference option exists because humans vary, and some will really, really hate your choice that happens to match what most people prefer, or find easier to work with, and it's not usually worth telling them to go to a competitor.

    • Lun Esex says:

      "Every preference option exists because..."

      MANY preference options exist for a wide variety of reasons that are less than useful or necessary, such as:

      A) The developer couldn't make up his/her mind on a new feature
      B) The developer really didn't know whether a particular new feature was useful or not ("This is AWESOME! But maybe not.")
      C) The developer made a change that enough of the software's users screamed about to get a switch to change it back
      D) The developer is/was too busy adding new features to take the time and/or effort to test their usability
      E) Marketing wants a particular new feature or change. The developer doesn't want it. Solution: Add a switch to the prefs.
      F) "There are POWER UZERS out there!!1! They want the POWER OF GREYSK--I mean, OPTIONS!1!one!"
      G) There's room left over in the prefs box. Better put something there.
      H) "People can't really complain about having too MANY options... can they?"
      I) "Hey, kids, MORE OPTIONS! Iz BETTAR!"
      J) It's [X]Emacs

      Quick rule of thumb: If NO ONE is complaining about your software not being configurable enough, your options have gone too far. (See J., above.)

      As for the "admission of defeat" line: Truth is, sometimes it is impossible to "win." Thus, even UI designers who are the most staunchly against preference options admit that there times in which they are necessary, and thus they have "lost" those particular battles. They will, however, continue to strive for the MINIMUM possible necessary preference options.

      • jwz says:

        As for the "admission of defeat" line: Truth is, sometimes it is impossible to "win."

        Absolutely. But that doesn't mean it's not a loss.

  34. David Levine says:

    Great article. Interesting take that makes sense when you think about it. I'm sure Apple would have rather not added extension support to Safari. Makes me think it was added to compete with other browsers from a feature perspective.

  35. mpl says:

    I stopped using Firefox on the Mac as well, mostly because it keeps breaking PDF support.

    Every update, Firefox breaks pdf support, and it takes about half a release cycle for the plugins to get fixed. I'm in mathematics. PDF is an essential part of my (and everyone else's) workflow. A browser that only works 3 months out of every 6 is useless.

    • Yeah, PDF support on Mac is a mess. We have, however, enabled a native HTML/JS PDF renderer (bug) in Nightly builds, which should make it to release in a few months.

      • mpl says:

        If you don't mind me asking, why do the plugins which use other viewers to render pdf seem to get broken every upgrade? That doesn't make much sense to me. I can't immediately think of a technical reason why the apparatus for handing a document type off to a third party program to render should be that unstable, but IANAE.

    • Richard Mlynarik says:


      pdf.js is an interesting theory, and the code (which I've browsed recreationally) is rather nice (but dear god somebody will have some answering to do for Javascript being what it is), and it may well amount to something in time, but I'd rather have had basic real-world browser functionality working for the last couple of years over a future canvas-based rendering possibility.

      It's hard for me to imagine how this was allowed to happen; it's not as if links to PDF documents are uncommon, even for people who don't spend their time reading mathematics.

      I guess the story of Mozilla is that breaking user interface is always "allowed to happen", and it's always the user's problem.

    • Holy crap this. This and the incessant, never-fixed memory leaks and freezes were what drove me screaming into Chrome's arms once its multi-profile support firmed up.

      It's particularly inexcusable on OSX, since PDF rendering is a core OS feature.

  36. Richard Mlynarik says:

    Score a win for dictatorship!

    You may recall that I am banned for life from reporting Mozilla bugs exactly because of having had it with "let's randomly break basic UI and then blame the end user" crap.

    I'm back to using Thunderbird, thanks entirely to JWZ and resulting dictatorial hurting of tender feelings of Special Needs free software "contributors".

    Bug 478468 ("i'm a super kewl ui expert so fu") fixed, thanks to Brendan Eich kicking some cretins in the head. No way it would ever have been fixed otherwise.
    Bug 576114 ("filtering messages should pop up random crap with no hint of how to undo it") finally fixed, after only two years of having basic, fundamental mail reader functionality completely broken.
    Bug 668615 ("break fundamental Get New Mail shortcut") resolved acceptably after totally breaking it for no reason. WTF? WTFFFFFFFFF?
    Bug 579372 ("break command-F message search compeltely and then shit on the bug reporter") fixed, thanks to Brendan Eich kicking some cretins in the head. No way it would ever have been fixed otherwise.

    Back on topic, I'm currently using Safari rather than Firefox for exactly one reason: the useable PDF plugin was broken, with no chance of repair, by the typical Firefox "upgrade" that only brought grief and no improvements to me.

    My experience with Safari is that it is the worst memory-sucking memory-leaking pig on the planet, and that browsing without any sort of cookie management (Safari goes out its way to reinstate cookies that you manually delete), and without Noscript is a disaster. (Safari adblock works OK-if-not-great, though, as much as Apple's non-fixing of lowjack-yourself Webkit bugs allows.) But I'm sucking it down, not because of "mobile experience" or hatred of tabs or liking 0mb of free memory and constant spinning-beachballs-of-doom, but solely because the Apple PDF plugin works in Safari. Sad.

    I'd much prefer to be able to use Firefox.

    • Fiercekiwi says:

      Wait Safari sucks MORE memory than FF!? I didn't think that was possible.

    • drew w. says:


      you're right, it's hard to understand why you were banned. now you can go back to writing letters to the editor of the cedar rapids gazette about the malfeasance of the local trash collectors during certain celestial conjunctions.

  37. Jonas says:

    I actually use my computer as a tool, I need it to "just work". That's why I absolutely (by a mile) prefer a Linux desktop to get that work done. YMMV, of course, and we have wildly differing views of what constitutes "work".

    I just wanted that said before I say that I agree 100% with you concerning Firefox. That's true for the Gnome desktop environment as well. I prefer my UI to stay put. Muscle memory ftw.

    • James C. says:

      I actually use my computer as a tool, I need it to "just work". That's why I absolutely (by a mile) prefer a Linux desktop to get that work done.

      By any chance, does your work involve writing software that runs on Linux? If so, then you are Part of the Problem.

      I quit using Linux because my work has nothing at all to do with writing software that runs on open source operating systems. My work involves linguistic research on endangered languages. Sometimes I need a Unix shell and associated tools to get my work done, like hacking up some throwaway sed scripts to chunk apart data. I don’t want to be a Unix sysadmin, ever! Dying languages need my attention, not some twisty little maze of config files, all different. Using Linux as my desktop (I did so from circa 1996 to 2004 when I was a professional programmer) is impractical because it distracts me from actually getting my work done. This is because my work has absolutely nothing to do with writing software on open source operating systems.

      My point is that people with your narrow worldview are the main reason that shit sucks if you’re not a sysadmin or open source programmer on Linux. Most people want to customize their operating system as little as necessary to get work done. Their idea of ‘customization flexibility’ is the ability to change the desktop background and screen saver. Recompiling kernels to enable interesting features, or installing libraries to support other libraries, is the exactly the antithesis of what most people need to get work done in their lives.

      The exact same perspectival problem applies to Firefox versus Safari (or Chrome, Opera, etc.). Firefox expects its users to be web developers who like fucking around with configuration options and JavaScript bullshit. This is because its developers are its user targets. It’s not designed for ordinary people to use for ordinary daily tasks, it’s designed to be used by people who want to fuck around with the internals of web browsers. Then those same developers get offended when people tell them that they are overly omphaloskeptic. A classic example of narcissistic, egocentric nerdview. “Of course everyone out there is just like me! If they aren’t, then they just need me to teach them!”

  38. "I hate tabbed browsing. I'm sure you think tabs are awesome. Good for you. Go forth and tab in peace. In Safari, there's a preference that lets me turn off tabs."

    "Anyone who truly understands UI design realizes that every preference option is an admission of defeat: it's there because you couldn't just get it right the first time."

    • gryazi says:

      Technically, tabbing even exists as a browser "feature" is there because the authors of WMs and other platforms' equivalents failed to make it a general purpose transparently-use-or-ignore feature of the interface.

      But to preserve the convenience of CTRL-T / CTRL-N, there'd need to be an API for likely-to-open-dozens-of-windows apps to pass that intent through to avoid the Novelty WM Customization Nightmare, so eh.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Technically, tabbing even exists as a browser "feature" is there because the authors of WMs and other platforms' equivalents failed to make it a general purpose transparently-use-or-ignore feature of the interface.

        This, hard. Tabs were a great little bit of design for grouping control elements into pages. As a second-level taskbar, most implementations suck in one way another, none are consistent, and they're inconsistent with their proper widgety elders.

        Ctrl-Shift-T (or however you stab in "unclose" in your browser of choice) would also have been a nice gain to generalise out to all applications.

        • jwz says:

          "OS-level tabs" means "tiling window manager". There have been many, starting with Xerox Star, I think, though the one that traumatized me the most was Andrew. They were terrible, and it was a great step forward when Apple put overlapping windows in MacOS 1.0. ("But spending all that RAM on frame buffer backing store is crazy!")

          • Lun Esex says:

            s/overlapping windows/self-repairing overlapping windows/

            s/MacOS 1.0/Lisa OS 1.0/

            There were overlapping windows before the Lisa, but without a frame buffer backing store so they couldn't redraw themselves in the background as you moved foreground objects away from them. This had a negative impact on their usefulness.

            [And just for OCD shits & grins from knowledge of useless historical minutiae: s/MacOS 1.0/Macintosh System Software 1.0 (.97)/]

            It's at about this time that Jean-Louis Gassée or some other BeOS fan needs to show up and exhort the usefulness of the ability in BeOS to dock windows together so that background windows' title bar tabs would rearrange and remain visible as a strip of tabs alongside the current window's title bar. (Or was this only a beta or preview/demo feature?)

            • Nick Lamb says:

              BeOS doesn't do this for you, but because the window title tabs stick up above the window (making the furniture non-rectangular) you can do it yourself tolerably well for windows whose titles don't constantly shift and change.

              Haiku (which was once OpenBeOS, ie it's a Free Software reimplementation of BeOS R5 by people not smart enough to know better) integrated a patch from some researchers who'd automated all this, so you can stack windows together and have their title tabs do something "sensible" automatically.

              None of which matters in the least bit because there was never any application software worth running on BeOS, so you'll be using those tabs to switch between demos that, like the digital watch, seemed like a pretty neat idea at the time, a basic web browser and a terminal. (For cash money you could buy yet another generic all-in-one office productivity suite that isn't compatible with any of the actual documents you receive). But hey - it boots up pretty fast.

              JLG is unlikely to show up and trumpet BeOS. Having been a disaster at Apple and then allowed Be to go up against Microsoft for market share, he got himself a job running Palm's failed software spinoff, and then moved to some other startup you haven't heard of and don't care about. He's still getting gigs writing and speaking about how to run a technology company, proof that it's not important whether you're a good example, so long as you're an example. On the upside I have heard that he treated his employees well at BeOS and PalmSoft.

          • LionsPhil says:

            No, if you want a tiling window manager, that'd be Windows 8 (sigh).

            Picture The GIMP prior to v2.6 (yes, I know, off to a great start---although it's a layout common to some classic Mac apps too). That separation of application control window (the tool palette) and document windows (your images)? I want those semantics kept, and that's 80% of it. I want a WM where you can stitch document windows onto your control windows, and get a common tabbing widget. And for people who don't like tabs, they can just peel their document windows apart (or, rather, tell their WM not to stitch them together in the first place). The application developer doesn't even have to make it a preference because all the tab management is the WM's job. As are all the things that people fuss over that not every implementation lets you adjust, like "do they have Z-order, or just switch to nearest on close?"

            (The control/document separation is an important distinction vs. what BeOS and some X11 WMs tried.)

          • gryazi says:

            "OS-level tabs" means "tiling window manager". There have been many, starting with Xerox Star, think, though the one that traumatized me the most was Andrew. They were terrible, and it was a great step forward when Apple put overlapping windows in MacOS 1.0. ("But spending all that RAM on frame buffer backing store is crazy!")

            Actually, not to start crap and I think others clarified it already, but it just means regular overlapping windows that can optionally dock with "tab-ified" titles. There was a semi-popular ugly X11 WM that did this and is surely still around, but the cleverness couldn't quite overcome the ugly, and the need for the WM to predict/guess/otherwise-force-user-to-predesignate desired spawning behavior rather than just having programs pass both [New free-floating window] [New tab-docked window] verbs is a subset of "Novelty WM Customization Nightmare."

            Now, modern actually-tiling window managers are even more prone to "Novelty WM Customization Nightmare" to deal with things like dialog boxes and drawing-program toolboxes, and I reconsidered my dogfood on that issue before ever eating it. [Also, as others have alluded to, window position and size state can possibly be useful for instances of the same program/interface - hence some people liking tabbed browsing or tabbed terminals - but just becomes an artifact if you're spawning a completely different program's UI into the space that happened to be occupied by a previous one.]

      • Lun Esex says:

        Tabs are recognized as an application-level feature rather than an OS-level one.

        If they were so great as a general-purpose UI widget then many more applications would have implemented them in their own custom code, and the OS developers would have found it worthwhile to add a standard tab style and UI behavior into the OS's UI libraries. But that hasn't happened.

        • nooj says:

          > OS developers would have found it worthwhile to add a standard tab style.
          > But that hasn't happened.

          True. I may be missing the point, but you seem to be arguing that tabs aren't so useful outside of browsers. But tabs is only one way to skin that cat! Many applications use window docking techniques, which also solve space and window priority problems. Examples: IDEs, Office suites.

          Also, every major OS system preference pane and task bar has tabs or a similar "click this icon to access associated content" design.

          OSes *have* universally added several standard ways of grouping windows: multiple windows for the same application; persistent memory of minimized window icon location; application-switching gestures for bringing forward all windows for a given application; auto-sorting the global application window list by application; multiple desktops; multiple heads; and multiple logins / DISPLAYs.

          Along with tabs, all these solutions help the user define and organize classes of windows. I agree that few of the form factors involved manifest as literal tabs.

          • Lun Esex says:

            I said nothing about the usefulness of tabs being limited to browsers.

            What I am arguing is the following:

            A) Unlike menus, windows, buttons, scroll bars, etc., browser-style tabs are not so universal a feature
            B) OS developers have rightly found it not to be to the greatest benefit and interest of humanity(/their codebase/the company's bottom line/etc.) to add browser-style tabs to the standard UI libraries of all OSes
            C) This is not a failure on their part (as gryazi claims), it is a conscious decision

            • nooj says:

              So jwz says tabs in browsers are a failure of the WM. You say lack of tabs in the WM isn't a failure of the WM.

              What's the solution (on Mac or an ideal WM) (to the problem of lots of open browser windows)? Aggressive minimization and lots of screen real estate? A WM window docking feature?

              • jwz says:

                No, not really. I'm just saying, tabs suck.

                Tabs are fundamentally a window management task. That much should be obvious.

                So we've got this sucky feature (tabs) that has in the past been implemented as a part of some window managers; and today we've got a bunch of apps each implementing their own idiosyncratic window management within the app.

                Either way, who cares, the feature itself sucks.

                I just leave a bunch of windows open, and occasionally iconify them. If there are enough that my dock gets hard to read, I'll use "Hide" to combine all the window-icons of one app down into one icon. Or I'll take that as a hint that my "to do" list has gotten too long, and I'll go prune it.

            • gryazi says:

              What I am arguing is the following:

              A) Unlike menus, windows, buttons, scroll bars, etc., browser-style tabs are not so universal a feature
              B) OS developers have rightly found it not to be to the greatest benefit and interest of humanity(/their codebase/the company's bottom line/etc.) to add browser-style tabs to the standard UI libraries of all OSes
              C) This is not a failure on their part (as gryazi claims), it is a conscious decision

              Hey, this is a great way to not get work done! Other people brought up Windows's MDI model, and... quite frankly that often amounted to the same thing [see the Xircon IRC client for a good example]. I just want to refute the apparent assertion that it's such a terrible idea that it's been consciously rejected time and time over:

              Mac already had grouped applications and the window list pulldown. It solves most of the same problem but in a different way (tradeoffs both pro and con: the entire screen is the playground, you don't get a visual indication of exactly how many thousands of windows are open if they're occluded until you pop the list) already familiar to their users. "Solved enough" to not throw resources at until Safari and iOS became projects.

              Windows has all the MDI crap buried somewhere but there were some silly quirks that knocked it out of vogue: Rather than tabbing, the MDI setup creates a whole mini-desktop-in-a-window and even the single problem of having multiple "Close" buttons for internal windows and the entire program right next to each other was a nightmare for ordinary humans. Poorly-designed MDI apps would open as a blank "desktop" forcing the user to instantiate something with a File->New type command to actually start working. MDI apps that threw in a proper window-switcher taskbar tended to put it at the bottom where it "competed" with the full OS window-switcher taskbar - I'm not sure if this was ever more than a mild aesthetic issue but it could get visually cluttered down there, especially when rendered exactly like the Windows taskbar itself.

              MS in particular loved the heck out of the idea and there were/still are occasionally good implementations. Mozilla/Firefox's more constrained reimplementation as "tabs" brought it to a program where there turned out to be high demand for it [particularly on OSes with no concept of window-grouping when screens were still small], but it's more a simple twist of fate that it was a cross-platform mega-app forced to rely on its own independent UI code.

              In retrospect, it's pretty amazing that MS didn't stick a MDI mode into IE first, but they seemed to be having some particular "inertia" issues at that time. [And since many Windows apps that could benefit from it actually *did* already utilize the MDI business on Windows, the 'market' was satisfied until the one 'foreign' app showed up. Hell, Wordperfect 9 for Linux reimplemented the same MDI interface across platforms, possibly before anyone even said "tabbed browsing", didn't it?]

              • Lun Esex says:

                "Browser-style tabs are a slightly less sucky version of MDI" is hardly a ringing endorsement.

                I'm not saying that browser-style tabs are a terrible idea (disagreeing with Jaime, here). I'm saying that most OS developers consider browser-style tabs not so good and/or effort-worthy an idea to spend the resources necessary to add built-in OS-level widgets for them to the UI libraries in their OSes.

                It's not black and white, it's grey. "Go ahead, do tabs in your app if you want. We are neither going to help nor hinder you."

                They have consciously decided to leave them as an application-level feature, rather than an OS-level one.

                This is not a question of failure or success. It just is.

                • gryazi says:

                  I think it turns out we're all being lunatics here given that tabs within certain dialogs have been a thing since forever*, and now everywhere.

                  *Certainly must be prior art before that; OS/2 was the first thing I touched that had it baked-in.

                  • Jon says:

                    There's a fundamental difference between the two examples you provide and the concept of tabbing browser windows together, or email client windows together, or arbitrary windows from different apps together.

                  • jwz says:

                    Ok people, everything there is to say about tabs has now been said.

                    Let it go.

        • LionsPhil says:

          If they were so great as a general-purpose UI widget then many more applications would have implemented them in their own custom code

          Anything that handles multiple documents leans that way: terminals(!), text editors, browsers, IDEs, even some mail clients (thanks, Thunderbird, for making that an arse to turn off)...office suites might still be lagging but I mostly avoid using those myself so I'm not sure what the state of the art is in badly typeset WYSIWYG. Photoshop is presumably also still a last bastion of proper MDI.

          The thing is Opera basically had a nice enough way to do it all the way back in version, what, five, when Firefox was still busy trying to work out what to call itself. The tab bar is just a window switcher for MDI, the latter, hard part of which is already core OS functionality outside of scrummaging around in the sticks and mud of Linux. If MS had a crystal ball and had promoted that to a common control to just slap down in your parent window, then not only might it have looked and felt the same across browsers, but by 7 they could have had it leaking out information to the Taskbar so that, say, the feature whereby an application icon can show a tab list and jump straight to one (or show a thumbnail of it, etc.) would have worked completely generically, rather than being something that needs extra work on the application developer's side for. (Of course, then IE wouldn't have got it first.)

          (Thinking of tabs as streamlined MDI also helps you make a clean distinction between "these are the bits of state which are not-per document, and go outside the visual affordance of a tab/child window, and these are the bits of state which are and go inside". If you're going to put the address bar outside the tabs, why actively mislead by using the tab affordance in the first place, having a little 3D effect that says "this tab sets a context for everything inside it"?)

  39. joe j says:

    Why do you insist on not thinking like me? You are making me angry!

    I do enjoy the FF sync among my many machines. I like safari too. And chrome. All on OS X.

  40. nooj says:

    No one has commented on privacy comparisons: Safari + anonymizing proxy, versus TorBrowser (a FF derivative). Is there a Safari setup that's significantly better than using FF?

  41. vacri says:

    Shit doesn't "just work" in Safari. Full-screen mode? Sorry, you're not allowed to do that. Why not? It's a feature I want, both for the machine running our 'display wall' big screen, and also for collaborating with others at my desk, to hide other crap on my desktop, avoiding distractions. Nope, it has been Decided that this is not A Feature that fits The Plan. Because it's missing this incredibly useful (to me) feature, Safari is more broken than the other browsers. You hate tabs, but at least you admit there's a 60% chance of turning them off if you try. I've asked a bunch of Safari users and it's not possible.

    Searching just now, it seems that this feature has (finally) been added with the advent of Lion. Yet another feature in Apple's litany of "you don't ever need to use this feature... no wait, we've implemented it now, how could you have lived without it" list. Apple's UI may indeed be coherent, but I strongly disagree that Applestuff 'just works', due to frequent excluded features.

    • vacri says:

      (short form is: 'usable for you', not 'usable in general')

      • jwz says:

        And that's why the subject of this post was "Why I demand that vacri use Safari".

        Oh wait, that's not what the subject of this post was.

        • vacri says:

          Sure, let's talk about reading comprehension:

          " and the usual suspects wanted to turn that into a referendum on the healing, cleansing power of Open Source. So, since you obviously care, here's why I use Safari."

          In that referenced blog post, pretty much everyone is commiserating with you or offering plugins for your existing (or perceived) Safari setup. There is one comment saying to use android, and one comment saying FF/chrome doesn't suffer (against a number saying it does), with neither of these even making a whiff of an allusion to its open source nature. Apparently this constitutes enough oppression from the open-source movement to pen a spiel over a thousand words long in passive-aggressive response.

          Reading comprehension? Pot, Kettle, Black.

  42. x says:

    I'm not going to waste any time detailing what a waste of time your post has been. Just tell you this: grow up.
    If you're already a grown up, then I'm afraid there's not much that can be done.

  43. Oliver says:

    Does anyone else besides me regularly use multiple browsers? I use chrome and firefox at home and chrome, firefox, ie, safari and opera at work, every day. Is it really that hard to keep track of the differences? Is it really that hard to make small adjustments to how you do things every few months? Technology constantly changes all the time. If you're using Apple to avoid that issue (or because Apple UI makes sense to you) okay, but do you really get that kind of consistency anywhere else in your life?