The Three Issues Keeping Me Off Chrome

By Loren Segal on December 7th, 2009 at 4:45 PM

Important Note: at least 90% of this is subjective and opinionated. You might love everything Chrome has to offer. I’d rather have a browser that can offer the best to everyone and not force its own opinions on its users.

Chrome is an awesome browser. I mean, it’s WebKit, it’s V8, it’s super fast. My problem with Chrome, as with every single Google product ever, is the UI. It’s extremely opinionated, and imposes a non-standard UI that simply rubs me the wrong way

Google likes to break rules. Unfortunately the best UI’s are ones that follow many rules and break only the ones that really need breaking. Apple has an OS that touts UI uniformity to the near extremes, and this works extremely well among reviews and critics alike. Google should be taking advice from companies like these, not attempting to blaze their own trail; they certainly don’t have the credibility in UX to set any trends. So what are my problems? There are three, and they are as follows:


Problem 1: The Tabs

Chrome has this obsession with putting tabs on top of the address bar. While this is an interesting UI choice, there’s no real benefit, and there are a few noticeable losses. Firstly, you lose out on long titles, even when the tab is active, because Chrome completely ignores the standard Windows/OSX titlebar concept (yes, it sucks on OSX too):

Long titles are for wimps

The only way to get the full title is to hover over the tab, waiting there for your mouse to show you something you could have read three times by now. Sure, this is really a minor issue in itself, but what’s the real benefit? The aesthetics are not nice enough to justify a breaking of the rules here. Simply put, this UI is being tailored to their Chrome OS, not to my OS. In OSX it looks even more broken, because of the dead gray space and window control buttons on the left side:

 This just looks weird.

I should also point out, Apple tried “tabs on top” in Safari 4.0 beta and then reverted the change. Google should have taken the hint.

You may have also noticed that 10-12 pixels of dead vertical space above the tabs that don’t go away (more pronounced in Vista/7). We’ll get back to that one later.

Problem 2: No Dedicated Search Bar

Yes, the address bar doubles as a search bar. I get that. But it’s not what I want. There is something beneficial about being able to have your search terms separated from your current address:

Dedicated Search Bar

This matters when I delve into long searches spanning multiple search results or pages, because I still have my search terms safely stowed away. I might realize, “hey, those aren’t quite the right keywords”, or even, “wow, this page is awesome, what did I search to get here?” – all that information will be available without digging in my history. It’s also great if I want to start back at square one, since I don’t have to re-type my search term or navigate backwards. Oh, and I didn’t even begin to mention the search extension support you get for free with a dedicated search bar.

You might like a combined address/search bar. I don’t. The thing is, there should be extensibility support for those of us that don’t. Unfortunately, Google’s extensions have no provisions to make any modifications to the UI besides horribly ugly, useless and limited theming support. Again, there’s no real justification for changing the standard browser layout here except the extremely minimal benefit of extra simplicity, and there at least a few drawbacks.

Problem 3: No Dedicated Status Bar

This one’s probably controversial, but I want a dedicated status bar too. I like having a status bar. It shows me when my page is loading, it tells me what I’m hovering over, but best of all, it does it without being visually disruptive.

Get out of my face, status bar.

The justification for this one is touted as “Look Ma, now you have 12 extra pixels of vertical space!!”. Great, I’ll add it back to the 12 pixels of vertical space you wasted with the tabs:

DEAD SPACE BE HERE

I just don’t buy this. Websites aren’t optimized for vertical space. In what situation have you thought, “damn, I wish I just had twelve more pixels so I could read that last line of text, now I have to scroll!”?

But even if you actually are like that, status bars have actual functional benefits beyond giving you the URL of a link. My Firefox status bar has plenty of “status”-like information for me:

What a real status bar looks like

Sure, the “Done” is somewhat pointless, but the rest of it is not. Plus, I imagine as Chrome extensions become more prevalent, they will need somewhere to put their “status information” too. The idea that the only use of a status bar is to show hovered links is a naive way of looking at the UI, and it shows you really don’t understand what the purpose of a status bar is in the first place.

They Would Fix It, But They Can’t

As mentioned before, the extension support in Chrome makes no provisions for modifying the UI. It might just be a product of its new-ness, but I’ve yet to see any official response from Google on these issues, so I’m doubtful anything will be done. In fact, from the stance they took on justifying the UI when it initially came out, I’d say these UX features are steadfast design decisions and are unlikely to change. Until then, I’m “stuck” with the slower, more bloated, Firefox (on Windows; Safari serves me just fine on OSX).

Questions? Comments? Follow me on Twitter (@lsegal) or email me.