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Friday, March 18, 2005
  Tales from the Dark Side... of Usability #2 - Firefox

Middle-clicking a link in Firefox will open the link in a new tab, which is quite handy. It's much easier than having to right-click and find "Open in New Window," which is the closest equivalent in IE. But did you know that middle-clicking the tab in Firefox will close it? Like Ctrl-D both creating a bookmark and deleting a bookmark, I discovered this one by accident. One of my relatives can never remember when he's supposed to left-click something and when he's supposed to right-click something. Once you've developed a cognitive model for clicking behavior, the problem is more tractable. My cognitive model is roughly, "A left click will execute the default verb associated with the object being clicked. A right click will open a context menu displaying other verbs that can be performed on the object." This serves me pretty well in all contexts. (Of course, this cognitive model also requires a collection of associations between objects and default verbs - "file" and "open", "menu" and "display", "text input box" and "put cursor here", and so forth.) I find it fascinating that so many (well - at least two) Firefox shortcuts perform the inverse operation depending on context. I haven't yet developed a cognitive model that permits a single shortcut to be both a "create" / "open" operation and a "delete" / "close" operation. I wonder why these particular design decisions were made.

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