Saturday, March 12, 2005

Mind Your Back Button

Browser Wars

Your browser is not only your window on the World Wide Web it is your dashboard. The browser is one of the most useful and user friendly applications you will find on your computer and many, many hours have been invested in making it so.

Years ago Netscape and Microsoft were battling it out in what have been called the browser wars and it is safe to say that Microsoft won with their Internet Explorer. Not so unanimous is the opinion that Microsoft won because their browser was better or more user friendly. Internet Explorer may have been better than Netscape Navigator but that was not the deciding factor.

The fact is: for most people, Internet Explorer is the browser they are familiar with and in typical circular reasoning it is therefore their preferred web client. In a similar fashion website design has tended to follow certain trends in page navigation and as we become familiar with the techniques employed by the designers we expect websites to behave in the way they design them.

The truth is: we have been led by the nose. Holding up our hands and chanting 'I am not worthy' we have been sold short by those clever designers who should know better and taken for granted the humble browser our true friend and servant.

Mind Your Back Button

We are all familiar with, and sick and tired of, the ubiquitous pop-up and many of us take advantage of our browser's pop-up blocking features to stop them. But many of us put up with other rudeness such as having our browser suddenly change size without warning or having a link open in a separate window. "But", I hear you interject, "I find that quite useful."

However, that is not the point. Using your browser you can open any link in another window yourself. And if you get a decent browser you can open it under a new tab thus keeping 2 or more pages in the same window. Using your back button you can step your way back to a previous page or forward to your most recent page.

You can bookmark pages, view your browsers history, even change the way the page looks, it's fonts, colours and images. That is, unless the clever designer has broken the back button, fixed the font sizes and insisted on resizing your browser window.

Learn how your browser works and remember that you are the customer, the browser is your client and websites are there to serve you not the egos of their designers. Ultimately you can decide not to visit websites that dictate your browser experience just as you can boycott a store with poor customer relations.

My final word is: get smart, get the best browser in the world - the one that's giving Internet Explorer a run for its money, get Firefox.