Artemy Lebedev

§ 43. Window in, window out

November 8, 1999

Opening brand new windows against the user’s will is a cardinal error.

Monitor is the central computer control panel. It is the only means at the user’s disposal to communicate with computer and get immediate feedback whatever he or she does. There is no other way to learn whether the text you’ve been typing is in place, a program has been launched, the cursor moves, or whether your PC operates but through looking at the monitor.

Browser window is the central internet control panel and the user’s major information channel. The browser window is virtually self-sufficient, being able to display any type of data (text, graphics, video, sound etc.) unaided by other windows. The browser window is geared with a navigation bar featuring among other things the “Back” and “Next” buttons.

Housekeeping tip

An average user tends to use the “Back” button many times as often as he does the “Next” button. Moreover, the “Back” button’s daily use means that the “home bias” of the Web (that is, users’ assumption of “home” as a starting point of navigation) is still there. Kicking off from some page, the user will intermittently return to it, although the starting page may change within one browsing session (today’s use of the “Home” button thus differs from its original designation).

The “Back” button is the second most frequently used element of the browser interface after the cursor. This, by the way, is the very reason why it mustn’t be hidden unless a window without navigation tools is supposed to be dragged to other pages, say a poll window with a couple of text lines.

Opening a new unrequested window in a browser is the same as plugging another monitor into the user’s PC without his or her permission. Of course, sometimes having two monitors to work with may be far better than one. Of course, sometimes opening a brand new window in a browser is all right, too, if you are going to check out the links from the parent window. Either way, it is the user’s voluntary choice that should become the one and only source of new windows.

In which cases is one allowed to use new windows?

For adverts, polls, control panels (made to look like TV remote controls) etc. But here there’s a risk of running into the user’s reflexes that move him to close any unwanted window before its download is complete.

Also, to create an alternative method of navigation (say when a site was made to fit the 300×400 area with free space around to be removed as superfluous). But this model is somewhat old-fashioned, since the user is always better off using standard navigation tools rather than those made up by the site builder.

Also, to create a logical divide between “proven” and “unproven” information. It may make sense for a serious analytical site providing a link to some page with content beyond its reasonable control. The link is then opened in a new window, while the analytical site should attach a note to this link, reading something like “here is a link worth checking, but I have no responsibility for it and will open it in a new window.”

The author believes that the latter case is the only legitimate way of using new windows. But a note warning the user of opening the link in a new window is a must, because the supply of unsolicited information to users is qualified as spam.

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