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Google May Kill Chrome URL Bar (conceivablytech.com)
160 points by wiks on Feb 20, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 124 comments

Pretty sensationalist headline. "Google exploring ways to increase screen space for content" would be more accurate, but I guess that doesn't get clicks.

No, I think you're underestimating this potential change. It really seems that Google wants people to not realize they are using a web browser when they are browsing the web, and the URL bar is one of the last notable things separating typical browser UI with that of desktop applications.

Defaults are important because so few people change them or even notice them. Hiding the URL bar by default will make some new Chrome users not even realize it is there, and yet more will eventually neglect to use it properly. The web then becomes like a HyperCard stack, with Google as the top card (by default). I'm sure this is exactly how Google wants the web to be, but it's not going to help create knowledgable web users.

I'm sure you've heard of users that google "www.nytimes.com" to go to the New York Times, because they already don't know how to use the URL bar or what a URL is and equate Google with getting anywhere on the web. Think about how this change is going to influence people of that technical caliber.

That was my first thought as well but after reading the article I'm not quite so conspiratorial about it. Regular users do not understand or properly use the URL bar. They may indeed want to do what you say but part of it is definitely just clearing up even more screen real estate and this is a fairly clever way to do it. The URL will still be there but only when you want to see it. If I'm understanding this correctly it'll be while the page is loading or if you click the tab it'll turn into a URL bar. I'm a little torn on the idea because I like quick glances at the URL but it would clear up an entire row and I can still type/see the URL if I need to with an extra click. I think I'll have to actually use for a few hours to decide if I love it or hate it.

I did just think of one problem though. Phishing will be even easier so they'll really have to step up their detection and warnings for those.

But this redesign just hides the normal URL bar behind a button. So, basically, exactly the same as things run now except a click away. If things function exactly the same as now, how can people not use it properly? Even in your example, if people were to type in www.nytimes.com, they actually wouldn't search and be directed right to the website. It is actually a net win over the typical googling "facebook.com" story. The only thing that supports your idea is that the URL bar is accessed by a button that says "search", but I can't think of a better name for that. "URL Bar" would just be confusing.

Of course, I also think this is a pie in the sky mockup that won't ever make it to prime time due to numerous usability problems, but who knows?

The combined location and search field in Google Chrome has always gone directly to sites. This isn't likely to change.

Not to mention those window UI mockups have been on the public Chromium wiki for around a year. (Without watermarks, too :)

For the most part, Chromium development happens in the open. There are many interesting ideas, but more newsworthy would be actual (recent) developments.

It also looks like early days in the discussion. Software teams and designers demonstrate wacky ideas in mockups and wireframes all the time that don't actually make it into a shipping product.

True, but opinions expressed early on have a lot of significance. The direction can be changed much easier. I'm not saying I dislike the proposed changes, but I do think expressing feedback (positive or negative) at the design stage is influential and very worthwhile.

One of my favourite things about Chrome is its efficient use of vertical space. Here's Chrome side by side with Firefox on my laptop:


(in fact, when Chrome is maximised the space above the tab disappears, saving another 15 or so pixels)

Would be very happy with a little more room though. The compact mode looks good, as long as the keyboard shortcuts (Ctrl+k or Alt+d) still work.

Edit: Thanks, will look into your suggestions. These are the basic installs of Chrome and FF however, so I think it's a fair comparison.

It's amusing how the switch to widescreen monitors have made vert the limited resource now, rather than horiz. All our UI layout practices were invented on 4:3.

To combat this problem I've put by tabs on the left:


Since I'm using a 16:10 monitor it works out nicely. Opera also has a problem of not clicking the tab if you put your mouse all the way at the top of the screen when the tabs are at the top of your browser. However if your tabs are on the side you can throw your mouse to one side and be guaranteed to click a tab.

To me, your content area is just way too big. Though, it seems to be a common habit of Windows users to maximise everything, for some reason. I fit my Dock (left), browser, Twitter client and terminal on the same size screen as that, very happily!

I would guess it's because window management on Windows (at least until 7) was just Too Hard. 7 improves things a lot, but it's still not as good as it could be.

If you bring up a window, and it's too small, you could either: A. Drag it to where you want it, and then fiddle around resizing it so that it's big enough and doesn't overlap anything else important, or B. Maximize it in one click, do what you need, minimize it again.

Additionally, Windows windows have lots of chrome when unmaximized, and this tends to discourage heaps-of-small-windows layouts.

>...either: A. Drag it to where you want it, and then fiddle around resizing it so that it's big enough and doesn't overlap anything else important...

Try out Winsplit Revolution. The help page gives a nice overview of the functionality: http://www.winsplit-revolution.com/help

It's free and works great for positioning windows. You can position windows using hotkeys and create custom positions/window sizes. WIN+ALT+Numpad 7 will place and resize a window in the top left of the screen, WIN+ALT+Numpad 6 will place a window on the right side of the screen and take exactly half the width, etc. It's become second nature to me and I rarely have to worry about manually placing a window.

Also Divvy for OS X which does the same kind of thing.

I only want the windows visible that are relevant to the task. That usually means one window - possible two. I want everything else invisible including bits of my desktop peeking through the edges. It's all just clutter.

How on earth you work with Twitter always visible onscreen I don't know. Do you get anything done!?

It's not, I do all work in a separate space.

Well what this picture doesn't show is my second monitor which I'm using to run chat and other misc. programs. Screen space is not much of an issue for me but I try to be efficient with it by putting my tabs on the left.

Aside question: Why is it so hard to get 4:3 or even 16:10 monitors new these days?

Because the bulk of LCD panels come in HD-TV scales, which is 16:9 (1920x1080 for 1080p, for example). Its cheaper for the manufacturing plants to only have to deal with one ratio.

I thought it came about because screens are measuered in diagonal distance, and the diagonal distance for 16:9 screens contains less pixels than for 4:3, so they are cheaper to make.

4:3 vs widescreen seems to come down to its what most people are used to, and so its what the majority (sadly, not us nerds wanting as much vertical as possible) buy.

I was referring to the very few 16:10 monitors available now, almost all of them are 16:9.

Another thing you can do is buy a smaller 16:9 one and rotate it 90 degrees. If you set up two side-by-side in this configuration, you've got a display which is almost square.

It's not hard, it just costs money. Dell has an excellent line of high quality monitors (e.g. the 24" IPS U2410).

...which costs almost as much ($600 vs $800) as the 27" 16:9 U2711. 1920x1200 @ 16:10, or 2560x1440 @ 16:9. I know I'd prefer 2560x1600, but I don't know if the even make them. Apple's 27" and 30" displays are 16:9, too.

the 30" display is 2560x1600 (16:10), also, it's now supposed to be superseded by the 27" display (2560x1440) which makes me hope my 30" doesn't break down any time soon as I want my 200 extra pixels.

I haven't seen any news that the u3011 is being discontinued, where did you hear that?

I have a 16:10 monitor, I had no idea it is hard to get one.

When I finally made the switch from a 4:3 panel to something widescreen, I had to find some that were 16:10.

The compact size comes mainly because Chrome has discarded the default window format, title bar and menu bar. An interesting question to ponder is, What if every application did that? Wouldn't your desktop experience be much more confusing due to the inconsistencies in how each application was laid out?

Personally, I go back and forth between Linux, Mac OS and Windows so I'm used to inconsistency.

Also, the applications I use are already highly inconsistent:

- Gimp has an interface which discards the patterns present on every platform in existence

- Browsers are already all different - Safari, Chrome, FF

- Kate, Komodo and Notepad++ are all pretty different - then there's vi.

> Gimp has an interface which discards the patterns present on every platform in existence

Do you say that because of the multiple windows? If so Apple's Interface Builder seems to follow the same convention.

It is somewhat similar to Mac applications, but where's the menu bar at the top? Gimp doesn't even use the functionality present for that on Mac OS or Linux, instead putting a menu into each image window.

Gimp is an example of how much non-standard YX can hurt.

If every one did it that well, I say they're welcome to it. Few do / would, but despite all being capable of it now, few attempt. That probably wouldn't change much.

Most important is that by doing so Google is taking another step towards reinforcing the idea that Google is the door through which we access information. As typing in long URLs becomes less common (thanks to URL shorteners), shortening of the URL bar becomes less inconvenient. Furthermore, Google reinforces the idea that you should always type what you are looking for and then click on a link that Google finds for you.

I may be reading you wrong, but your post implies Google has some ulterior motive or that there's some trade imbalance by reinforcing that behavior. I find my interactions with Google to be pretty fair and explicit (they're going to attempt to monetize the information I give them, in exchange for pretty awesome services).

My experience might be dated, but I remember having a Windows desktop around 2000 where each and every application tried to introduce "skins" to look distinctively not like a desktop application. Remember WinAMP? There were tons of applications like that then. Damn, even the same InstallShield installers looked different by application!

I've customized my Firefox to be more compact than Chrome: http://i.imgur.com/fPG3k.png

How did you do that?

The blue icon to the top left shows that this is Minefield[1] (codename for nightly builds of Firefox). Also, it has a dropdown arrow, showing that this is probably using the Hide Menu Bar[2] addon. The lack of usual menubar/chrome of the browser can be explained by the use of Awesomewm[3] or dwm[4]. Firefox 4+ builds all have the same tabbing as in the screenshot. Also, the bookmarks toolbar has been dragged to the same line as the addressbar and all bookmarks and bookmark folders have no name, thus only showing their favicons, which is the default behavior. Also, the grandparent comment has apparently moved the status bar to the top, on the same level of the tabs. This is new to me, and maybe the default behavior in current nightly builds of Firefox.

If I may be so bold, I'd wager this author is using Arch Linux, since awesomewm is very popular with that group of users, and because of the rolling-release cycle nature of Arch, resulting in the latest builds of Firefox.

[1]: http://www.mozilla.org/projects/minefield/

[2]: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-us/firefox/addon/hide-menubar-...

[3]: http://awesome.naquadah.org/

[4]: http://dwm.suckless.org/

> Also, the grandparent comment has apparently moved the status bar to the top, on the same level of the tabs. This is new to me, and maybe the default behavior in current nightly builds of Firefox.

That's not the status bar, it's a couple of toolbar buttons dropped on the right side of the tabbar. Minefield doesn't have a status bar anymore. It's renamed to "Add-on Bar" and is used only for placing addons' icons.

Sweet, didn't know about the new change in Minefield. Thanks for the heads up!

Firefox 4 (out-of-the-box and on the surface) is going to look more and more like the current Chrome. A new breed of Firefox extensions will surface very soon to hack away a lot of ui stuff back to 3.6 (Namoroka) branch. ("classic" status bar, "classic" tabs, things like that...)

Close! It's actually Xmonad on CrunchBang Linux and I'm using the Compact Menu addon. There is no status bar, I just placed the icons to the tab bar.

Just by moving stuff around. Addons to the tab bar, bookmarks to the address bar. I used an addon to compress the menu and moved it to the tab bar as well. I then removed the empty menu and bookmarks toolbars. I'm using Firefox 4. Oh and having no window decorations helps too.


Firefox 4 (Minefield) has the option to stack tabs on top.

Does it do that always though, or only in full-screen? The 4 betas do it in full screen on Windows, never explored in OSX. I essentially never browse full-screen, there are too many 960px fixed-width websites out there, so it's just wasting 500px where I can have other things open.

On Windows, Minefield nightly does it in normal mode. In full-screen mode you don't see any ui element at all. By the way, "Tabs on Top" is an option accessible by main context menu. You can enable/disable it just like menubar and bookmarks toolbar.

sorry, meant "maximized". Full-screen is a bit different, yes.

I don't know that I've seen the "tabs on top" preference... they're always on the top, with plugins doing side-tabs. I'll look for it some time though.

Yes, you can see them also with maximized window. Here is a screenshot to find the option: http://i.imgur.com/6JJcU.jpg

I think they enabled it by default a while back to further match Chrome ui.

Me too (http://min.us/mvj29Ld), mainly using Pentadactyl[1].

[1]: http://dactyl.sourceforge.net/pentadactyl/


If space is important, have you considered moving Firefox's menus around so it's more compact? The whole point of using Firefox over a less customizable browser is to make it fit your own needs. For example, this is what I use on my laptop:


The most significant improvement I've seen is the ratio of vertical to horizontal pixels introduced by side tabs. I have been using these on my cr-48 for a couple of weeks and I'm completely addicted. My only complaint is that the developer chose a stack metaphor instead of a reading metaphor, so new tabs appear above, instead of below. I and others have complained about it in the bug tracker, so hopefully that gets fixed, but over all, side tabs are a great re-use of all the wasted horizontal pixels on a laptop.

Tree style tabs are awesome. Wish Chrome had them

If you want to reduce the vertical space taken by the interface in Firefox, you can easily turn off the menu bar and use something like the LittleFox theme for smaller icons.

Here is my setup with a comparison to yours:


I put the start bar on the left. My chrome window also seems to be more compact. The vertical space extends all the way to the bottom of the screen (no bars).

For comparison, Safari vs Chrome (made a while ago, because I found it an interesting phenomenon): http://dl.dropbox.com/u/363028/temporary/height.png

I frequently use Safari with the URL bar collapsed (cmd-shift-| [that last character is a pipe]) and no bookmarks bar (cmd-shift-b). I love the extra space for content and the reduced distraction. It really gives web pages the appearance of floating documents on your desktop.

I used to do that as well (mostly before switching to Safari), and I would also remove the status bar (Cmd+/ to toggle it). Cmd+L would bring the URL bar when needed. A very zen look overall.

The one thing that I missed the most in the status bar was not seeing the URL links were going to. Chrome actually has a good solution for that. (it shows on top of the page at the bottom when hovering a link)

An even more minimalistic browser is Plainview. (http://barbariangroup.com/software/plainview)

Try the gentle status bar extension. (Available in the Safari extension gallery.)

There are a fair number that do this. I've been using Invisible Status Bar: http://dbergey.github.com/

Try dropping window decorations. I did over a year ago and after the first day haven't missed them at all.

Dumb qn: What are window decorations?

The borders around a program, including the title bar.

Some examples of a desktop without window decorations: http://awesome.naquadah.org/images/screen.png http://www.linuxlinks.com/portal/content/reviews/WindowManag...

The Firefox 4.0 beta is much better on Windows 7. http://i.imgur.com/iFGU8.png But for some reason the menu bar still shows up by default on Linux (you have to press the Alt key to show the menus on Win7).

Have you tried FF 4? You're comparing the most recent version of Chrome to an older version of Firefox. That does highlight, of course, why FF is looking to change their release schedule.

Incidentally, the original NCSA Mosaic browser had no URL bar. In its place was a drop-down list containing the browse history. To type a URL you would select "Open URL" from the menu, or hit Command+U.

Likewise, early versions of Netscape also hid the URL bar by default, and used Command+L to present a URL dialog box (behavior that's still present in Firefox today, when the URL bar is hidden).

This will have the effect of further decreasing the positive feedback for HTTPS'd websites. Browsers already have plenty of negative feedback, but have always been sorely lacking positive feedback and this will only exasperate the problem.

Another issue regarding security, is the fact that a phishing website will look a lot more convincing if you're by default only exposed to its page title.

You bring up a great point. For this reason, I really hope Google makes improvements for his. It would be great to have a notification area on or right near the tab that alerts you to possible phishing attempts.

Do you really think that Google are going to hide their https signals? If anything, hiding the URL gives phishers less to use. So marlinspike demonstrated that you can 'spoof' "https:// and fake a secure looking favicon. But can you spoof the browser detecting a secure connection and then turning the page tab bright green? I don't know how they are going to do it but I bet their positive feedback signals are going to be strong and very hard to spoof.

"But can you spoof the browser detecting a secure connection and then turning the page tab bright green?"

The important part of what Marlinspike showed is that you don't have to. He ran his setup on a Tor exit node, the users of which are presumably more security minded than the rest of the general population, and not a single user balked at the lack of positive feedback.

HSTS is a real solution, but not a scalable one.

I have serious doubts this information is up to date. The mockup for the interface without a URL bar was made something like a year ago, when Chrome OS was first announced. It had an actual implementation of the said compact navigation that was removed soon afterwards. That document existed at that time and I think they just haven't updated it.

If I recall correctly, Compact Navigation looked like IE9, with a mini omni box that fit on the tab row. I thought it was ugly, and the tab strip is cramped enough already without the omnibox, navigation and certainly not extensions.

Also, the multiple profiles thing isn't new.

As a random note, does the Chrome team have something with ponies? The mockup shows the url google.com/ponies (just checked, 404). One of the Cr-48 hardware versions is named Pony.

> It is somewhat surprising that Google is not pursuing the sidetab navigation version [...]. The company said that this layout would waste space for users who do not use many tabs, that it only works nicely on screen layouts that are 1366 pixels wide and that the layout does not relate well to Chromium browser overall.

Yeah that's a nice list of reasons not to do the obviously right thing.

Take that very page. Its viewable area is 985px by 4701px. Even my little 1280x800 screen has huge gray bars on the left and right sides to fill up the wasted horizontal space. I have to scroll vertically seven times to see it all.

Do Chrome devs not use widescreen monitors? What makes them think cramming weird, non-idiomatic UI elements into the window's precious vertical space makes any sense at all?

That sidetab version is beautiful.

Makes a lot of sense for netbooks where screen real estate is at a premium. I hope that if they make changes they will be user configurable though.

it will probably be configurable for a few versions of chrome. Probably permanent by Chrome 20 though...

I bet chrome 20 will be out by the year end.

That Sidetab mockup looks great. Back before I switched to Chrome from Firefox, I used vertical tabs in Firefox, and it was awesome.

You can enable it in Chrome right now with the -enable-vertical-tabs command line flag. For reference, here is the source file where most of the switches are laid out:


That's some nicely commented code. Also, at the very bottom there's:

    // You were going to just dump your switches here, weren't you? Instead,
    // please put them in alphabetical order above, or in order inside the
    // appropriate ifdef at the bottom. The order should match the header.

I was under the impression that that will not lay out your tabs in a vertical tree, only vertically. Is that not the case?

Boy are those ugly with no graphical distinction between tabs.

I find this easier: about:flags

Not every flag is in there though. I wasn't aware that the vertical tabs flag had graduated to about:flags status but now I see that it has.

Fwiw, I've used OmniWeb (MacOSX only) for years and they've had thumbnailed sidetabs for a looooong time. The tabs display in a scrollable drawer. I found an inferior sidetab plugin for Firefox when I was on Linux for a while and have found no comparable thing for IE (I don't use Chrome); I feel vaguely lost with top-tabs because they're too squished, can't be read, and are hard to scroll around. ;P

It's possible today. about:flags.

What release are you using and on what OS?

I'm running '11.0.672.2 dev' on OS X and don't see such an option.

o_0 They either removed it, or it's a cr-48 only option. I'd check but it's not around at the moment. Sorry.

It's on every OS but OS X, for whatever reason.

That is frustrating. :(

Maybe they should move the unreadable mess of microtabs I have on the top of my window to the vast swath of blank area on the left or right of my widescreen monitor (yes, I have 30 or 40 tabs open at any one time, rendering the top bar almost useless).

Does Chrome send back (anonymized) data about usage? Or are there instrumented versions of Chrome/Chromium that do do this?

I wonder what the usage numbers are for how often you focus on the URL bar and change it within one tab. I notice in my own usage, I pretty much ALWAYS open a NEW tab to go to a new site and never touch the URL bar, so compacting it or hiding it behind an extra click seems like good UX design if it's backed up by usage data.

In preferences there's an option to send usage statistics and crash reports to Google.

Interesting changes. Not gonna have a real opinion either way until I get to try it first hand, though. Maybe I'll move to the dev channel when the new UI hits there.

Reading the article, though, I'm very interested with the way they're going to handle multiple users - mainly this:

> If a user closes three windows with three different identities and the reopens three windows, the windows would assume the identity of the three identities again, Google said.

I agree the multi user aspect is an area that could use improvement. This would imply that you'd be able to have a different set of cookies in each window - something that forces many of us to use multiple browsers or incognito mode to achieve.

One of my biggest gripes about Google's account management, is that you are logged in automatically across all Google properties. I use multiple accounts all the time. Just because I'm logged in to one account on Gmail, doesn't mean I want to use the same account when I visit AdSense, or Google Checkout.

This new capability would at least allow me to work around Google's flawed global account sign-in.

Interesting. Never really thought about this. I have multiple Google accounts, but never really sign in with both on any device besides my Android phone.

This will be a nice experiment. As a UI designer, I am always looking for part of the interface that are not used much and replace them with what is used more often - so this thing totally makes sense.

It will be interesting to see what it results into - a frustrating experience or more vertical space and distraction free UI.

Chrome is my primary browser, and while I applaud increasing space devoted to content, I wish Chrome had better support for alternate search engines. My primary searches are (in order of use) Google, Wikipedia, Amazon. By better support I mean I don't like the way it works in the omni-box. I think the old-fashioned way done in IE8 and FF of having a dedicated search box is much more convenient and easier for most users to configure, but I'm open to other alternatives. I understand IE9 has jumped on the bandwagon and dropped the search box too.

[EDIT] My biggest beef: remembering to substitute underscore for space in Wikipedia search terms.

Aren't keyword search sufficient? Like "w something" to search wikipedia for "something".

OK, I take this one back, but only because wikipedia fixed the problem on their end. If you do the Google Omni-box key-word > tab > search term it formerly worked only with a single search term. If you tried searching for "casey jones", for instance it broke because the omni-box only creates a url, it doesn't use the site's native search engine. So you end up with "%20" between the terms. Apparently wikipedia saw this problem enough times to build in the smarts to redirect to "casey_jones".

Regarding the underscore problem, it should be possible to write an extension to fix that using the new OmniBox API.

(I don't think plain OpenSearch descriptors can do it themselves though)

Exactly my point. Outside of the tiny number of users who have the skill and inclination to write a hack, there are countless more who simply want it to work from the get-go. "Browser" is an unfortunate term for what we do with this kind of software component. Browsing may be the number one thing we use it for, but the second is clearly searching.

I personally use firefox with pentadactyl, which by default removes the URL bar. It was a bit akward at the beginning but it's a major gain of space (especially in fullscreen mode) and there's nothing I could do with the URL bar that I can't do with keybindings.

For instance, if I want to edit the current page's url, I type "y o <cmd v>" to paste it in the status bar.

You might be interested to know that pressing "O" does the same thing as "y o <cmd v>" ;-)

Mid last year there was a tab option to hide the url bar, I can't remember if only for pinned tabs or regular ones also. For some reason that got removed and now we have separate app windows in recent releases, which in my opinion, are somewhat annoying mostly due to tabs originating from app window being opened in separate browser window.

Along the same lines I was thinking of the following alternative:

having no url bar at all but if you press let's say Ctrl+g (put whatever is available here) the url bar appears in the center of the screen and it disappears when you press Enter. Do you think that something like that could make sense?

Safari already does this. You can reduce the Safari UI to just a window and a title bar; the location bar will appear automatically when you hit Command+L or open a tab, and disappear automatically when you hit Return.

Thanks! Sorry for rediscovering the wheel :)

I think it would be neat if browsers worked more like mobile browsers, where they are full screen by default and you press a button to make the ui appear. I am thinking about Dolphin browser for Android specifically.

They're focusing on the wrong things.

The compact UI is very confusing. The current UI is fine, don't screw with it just to save an extra 10 pixels of vertical space.

How about freezing feature changes for 3 months and fixing bugs?

I wrote about this at one point. Here's a link:


I would've thought better tab management would be first priority, as nameless mountains are really grating. Tab groups can't come quickly enough.

This is probably based on the usage data the Chrome uploads to Google. People are perhaps not directly using the URL bar that much.

Am I the only one that after looking at the mockup tried going to google.com/ponies and was subsequently disappointed?

If I don't have the URL bar, how can I tell the difference between a legitimate site and phishing site?

If google really wanted to do something about the space, they would look towards the download bar.

You can just close that...

Yes but the next time you download/save something it appears again (and can be a pain if you are downloading a few things in one go) compared to Firefox where you can hide its download manager behind the window.

As well as the height of it is over what it really needs to be, The download bar in Chrome really shouldn't need to be any taller than the tab bar.

They'll have to pry my url from my cold dead hands!

Seriously, no always-visible url and I go back to firefox.

Then I'm sure you'll be back in FF soon enough. When they talked about ceasing to display the protocol, I thought surely it would just be a default and I could put it back. No such luck. I'd expect this to go the same way. It's their way or the highway.

I'm still running Chrome, but only until I get around to switching. I won't install it again. Not that Google cares at all what J. Random Hacker thinks.

Looks like how tabs and location-bar is intermixed in MSIE9. Must admit I'm not too happy about it.

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