28 August, 2006

10 Small Improvements for the Opera UI

...because we're most critical of those we love

This is a series of small, seemingly innocuous changes that could be made to the Opera user interface that would really improve the user experience.

First off- don't get overly defensive, I'll say up front, that I love Opera for many reasons, most notably is the ability to customize the holy heck out of it. My menus, toolbars, searches and especially mouse/keyboard shortcuts are all tailored to how I approach "browsing." In other words, I'm not unhappy with Opera in any way.

Some things to note:

1) You might think I'm making too big of a deal about minor things, like for example when you read the "Clearing the quick find" part. Yeah, that's true, I'm a glutton for details when it comes to user experience. I've collected a series of quotes that might help to illustrate where I'm coming from.

2) I also realize that all of these have probably been requested or noted in the Opera forums and are nothing new. But a short walk through the wish-list, and you'll find a vast array of requests. These ten items are all centered around the existing dialogs (or bugs?) and don't stray too far from what we're using today.

3) Of course, not being an Opera developer, I have no idea if these are feasible at all, and that's fine. For all I know, they may in fact require a rewrite of some major backend code and are cast off by those familiar with the inner workings just as quickly as they are read. This is just a handful of things I think could fit in with the existing user interface fairly well while polishing off the user experience. In other words, I don't think I'm suggesting major UI overhauls... just proposing little details.

1- Text input in the mouse gesture UI

Entering "MouseGestureUp" is always prone to typos when I chain two more more gestures together. The existing UI would be easier to use if we could abbreviate those strings. It's currently either a cut and paste pain, or confusion when you type "GestureRight,GesutreLeft,GestureRight" and can't figure out off hand why it's not working. Why not just type: "GR,GL,GR" instead (or something similar)? Much easier to proofread. Of course, there's also Firefox's gesture capture, (in the mouse gesture extension), which is nice too.

Mouse gesture

2- Keyboard access keys in config UI

I'd like to be able to access each item in the UI with the keyboard. As it stands now, you have to tab through to get to it. Access keys would improve accessibility tremendously. Of course, it's a bonus for us keyboard users as well since we can easily navigate using access keys.

UI doesn't allow keyboard shortcuts in the preference UI

3- Search engine dialog

If you try to use a keyword that is already being used by Opera, there's no way to change it it or even see what it is without abandoning your current task altogether. I've found that the existing one is often something I don't want (in the case of some of the defaults) or no longer use and would like to overwrite it. Instead of this:

Can't edit or see search engines

...why not tell the user what's being used? Maybe include an option to replace the old search engine keyword ("erase" the old keyword association) with the new:

"Keyword is already in use by: 'Wikipedia'
Clicking 'OK' will remove this keyword from 'Wikipedia' "

4- Address bar searches (Implemented!)

I realize that if you type a single word into the address bar, there are numerous ways for Opera to interpret it. In addition, there's a processing order for direct URLs, .com resolution, nicknames, etc. Eventually, Opera runs out of things to do with your crappy input. But it seems to me that an error page should be the last resort. If the user entered a term that does not resolve to a valid URL, it would be nice to throw it to google? (but! make it a option like with opera:config). It should be optional because you run into a context/mode problem. You want a URL in some cases, so you want to see the 404 page when you screw up. I too get upset in IE when it defaults to a google search (because I'm not expecting a search), but Opera already is mixing contexts in the address bar (searching, nicknames, URLs) anyway.

Yes, yes...I know it's easy to throw the 'g' keyword there. I know, I use it probably a hundred times a day. Still, I quite regularly stumble on complex google queries like:

"g toothpaste caps site:my.opera.com/usability"

I'm prone to forget the 'g' in cases like this. Yeah, for some reason, it's only when I type multi-word or complex queries. It's (very mildly) frustrating to either re-type the query or copy and paste it again from the error screen. I mutter:"ahh... come on Opera. You know that's not a url!"

Address bar fails on obvious serach term

It's a tricky situation- users want the browser to act in accordance with the task they are trying to accomplish. In Opera's case it could be either a URL or a search. The down side, as I mentioned, is the unexpected behavior, but there are other considerations:

5- Delete private data

How often do we want to delete all of our history or private data? I'd say the larger portion of the time, we'd like to just delete a "session" of private data. This is the most "wish-listy" (ie: pie in the sky) of the bunch I'd say. Opera has a good handle on sessions as it is, if the user could somehow demarcate a session 'start time' (which would be defaulted to when the browser was started), then when you go into the delete private data dialog, you'd have an option to delete all private data, or just the last "session."

6- Top 10

Top10 should become top "n". The Top 10 fills about 90 percent of my favorite sites and makes the need for a personal bar go away. I've always liked the idea of the personal bar...but I don't have enough links to merit the wasted screen real estate it takes up, vertically, or horizontally. If I could make the top ten into the top 15 or 20, I would probably never need to worry about missing my 11th favorite site. I've read differing studies saying that most people visit from 15 to 20 sites on a regular basis (No reference- if you know of a study that proves or disproves this, email below). Perhaps Opera could allow an opera:config option to set the number of items to show in the Top'N' list.

I'd be remiss if I didn't deviate slightly and get a little "Wish-listy" while I'm visiting this topic: allow us to pin a handful of items so they never leave the list. I'd be happy with a .ini option like a boolean flag or something to keep a url in the top10 always. Here are some good points from the Office 2007 User Interface blog. This is slightly different (as it pertains to "most recent" instead of "most accessed"), and I realize that word documents are a little different than web pages, but I've found the ideas expressed here similar to how I use Top10.

Top10 should be larger

7- Bookmark "sort by visited"

If you've selected "sort by visited" in the bookmark panel, it should update as you browse by moving the bookmark you've just clicked to the top of the folder it's in. The history panel moves the last page you clicked on to the top, why can't the bookmarks do this? Either this is a bug, or something specific in my browser install. Fixing that would probably alleviate some the of the concerns with Top10 and "most recent" that I've already mentioned.

8- Clearing the quick find

When I find an item in my panels, I'm done with it. I want the UI to clean up after me. It's probably more likely than not that after a user has found the item they are searching for in bookmarks, history, notes, etc.. that they no longer want that search term hanging around. Sure you have the "clear" option, but selecting that after each search seems to be a speedbump in my browsing because it takes me out of the task ("find that page I bookmarked") and into the adminstration ("clean up"). If I ignore it while I'm performing my task I have to clear it out next time I want to search. Still, I also realize there are times when you'd always want that search term to be there. For instance (a tip!), a kludge I've used is to put metadata in the description of my bookmark like "Eddie_daily" and do a quick search on that... then all my bookmarks regardless of folder would show up. But the point of the QuickFind is to find something quickly. Presuming we've found it, aren't we done searching? At the very least, a keyboard shortcut that we could put in the "application context" that would clear the quick find would be nice.

Top10 should be larger

9- Session management

Give session management the attention it deserves. Merge it with bookmark management. At the very least make it managable in the same fashion as bookmarks. Let me have the option to put them in a side panel. I'd like the "Open tabs inside current window" to be remembered. I'm not sure if that's a bug, or if it's supposed to be like that (why?), but for guys like me that never use another window, sessions always present a problem, in this case, we have to check that box each time.

Session Management UI is cumbersome and hidden

10- Wand management

I love wand. But I've always come across a site where I'm not quite sure if I want to save the password or not.

Existing wand UI

Rather- I know I want to save it, but I'm just not sure if this is the right credentials for this site. So... I've often been in the situation where I've logged in and clicked "Save" only to find out that my password was wrong. So I have to try again. Opera makes this a pretty minor gripe by just letting you easily delete your old junk right there the second time you log in, but it would be nice if you could decide after you login whether or not you'd like to save it.

I imagine something like the "pop-up blocked" notification. It'd look something like this:

Proposed 'Save login' pop-up

Wrap up

So there's my list. Nothing too terribly big. Minor gripes... errr... room for improvements as far as I can tell. You might be thinking "man, this guy likes to complain about silly things..." -and well, that's true. I do tend to do that quite a bit. But there's a fine line between a "good" user experience and an "amazing" customer experience. It's the little things that get you there.


Contact: moug at el73 dot net or find me in the Opera Community- My profile

Minnesota Opera Users group

User Centered Usability group