Comparison of web browsers’ window targeting

A web browser full of tabs is a pain to move around. The worst offenders in this category in Mac OS (11/12/13) are Opera and Chrome. It’s easy to see why.

I should be able to move my web browser application window around, easily, regardless of its state. In the Gnome desktop environment in Linux, there is a global “move a window” hotkey — press it and click on a window, and it’s simple to move the application window. This provides excellent utility across all applications.

On Mac OS, there is no such “move a window” hotkey, and users are forced to click in tiny regions of web browser application windows to move them. At least some browsers in this environment do it better than others.

I’ve highlighted usable areas of application windows where I can grab with the mouse and move the window. Evaluation for Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, Brave.

Firefox with full tabs:

Application window header for Firefox Browser on MacOS

Firefox has two accessible areas to the left and right of the search bar and URL bar, which disappear if the browser is resized. The two smaller zones in the corners are somewhat clickable regardless of the browser window size.

Targeting is acceptable for the small browser window

There’s one reliable zone next to the “Maximize” window button for targeting when the window size is reduced. My rating: 2/5

Safari with full tabs:

Targeting with large browser window size is very good. There are large areas in the application window for clicking to move the window around. My rating: 5/5

Safari web browser usability when the window is small

When Safari’s window size is reduced, there is one small area of the window bar that is in a reliable location. However, that’s all there is. Collapse all the functionality icons in the top bar to improve targeting. My rating: 3/5

Chrome with full tabs:

Chrome browser on Mac OS has only tiny places to click to move the browser window

It’s “every user for nemself” here. You will need very precise targeting skills to click on the window itself without clicking on a tab, creating a new tab, interacting with the browser profile element, or accidentally closing, resizing, or maximizing the browser window. My rating: 0/5

Opera with full tabs:

Targeting is poor with Opera Browser

Another “every user for nemself” situation, where targeting the window to move it around is challenging and requires precision, or else accidentally close a tab, create a new tab, open a context menu, or close, resize, or maximize the application. My rating: 0/5

Brave Browser

Brave browser has good targeting at large window sizes

Brave has one consistent targetable area when tabs are full. It would be nice to have a dedicated area on the left, too. My rating: 3/5

Brave has great targeting at smaller window sizes

Brave has excellent window targeting at small sizes. My rating: 5/5

Summary

It was not always this way. Mac OS used to permit application title bars on application windows, making it simple to move things around. Removing application title bars just to eke out 32 pixels of screen space for content has a negative effect on usability. The implementations across web browsers are executed differently on the same operating system, yielding unpredictable interface patterns and making it hard for Mac OS users to settle in on interface expectations, which ultimately affects productivity.

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