Experiences on the Front Lines of User Interfaces and Web Development

Web Browser UI differences: the address bar

As a web developer, I am used to developing and testing in multiple web browsers. If not part of my job, I honestly do not know which browser I would use on a daily basis. I find myself switching back and forth between Firefox and Chrome, with the occasional use of Safari because it's "native" and supposedly the fastest on the Mac, and now that Gmail finally supports hierarchical labels I don't need to rely on browser extensions for that, etc etc. But I digress.

What I have been surprised by is how different all of the browsers are with the most basic of functions.  In this part 1 of a multi-part series, I would like to focus on the address bar.  Each of the three major browsers on a Mac behave drastically differently!  I find it extremely confusing whenever I switch between browsers and quickly want to go to a specific site.

The simple test:
type "reader" in the address bar and hit <enter>.

The results:
Chrome 5
  Google search for "reader" - Google Reader is the top result

Firefox 3.6
  Goes directly to google.com/reader - does not show a google search, it takes you to the best result [this may be based on my viewing history]
  Note: this was the result I wanted in this case, and in general it is very accurate, but sometimes it can take you to pages you don't want to be at, in which case you need to use the google search toolbar in the top right

Safari 4,  5
  Autocompletes what you type to add ".com", and goes to http://www.reader.com

Internet Explorer 8
  Google search for "reader" as well

Summary:
For me, Firefox's behavior is the best, because in the past couple years that is the browser I have used the most so it's what I have come to expect.  I like how it seems to know what I am thinking in regards to what site to go to.  It also saves typing and saves extra clicks by going directly to the site.  The second best option in my opinion is to do a Google search (Chrome, IE8), but the extra click annoys me when the top hit was where I wanted to go.   When wanting to go to sites with a slightly longer URL, Safari's behavior is the worst because it forces you to either fully type out the URL, or switch over to the google search box.  And since Chrome doesn't even have a search box, I have gotten used to not using it on other browsers!

 Stay tuned for part 2: navigation usability.  (Hint: the "go", "refresh", and "cancel" buttons are all over the place, and in some browsers not user-friendly at all!)
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