No new browser windows... ever??

Subject: No new browser windows... ever??
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 14 Feb 2002 08:18:17 -0500

Jenise Cook wonders about a strategy she's using in her online help: <<The
"Related Topics" button at the bottom of our topic pages works in one of two
ways, per RoboHelp: 1. If only one related topic is listed, user selects it
and the new topic opens within the current browser window. 2. If several
related topics are listed, user selects one, and the new topic opens in a
new browser window.>>

This is not something I've ever tried, but it makes a certain amount of
sense and it's something I'll consider in my next project. One annoyance
with opening subtopics (as opposed to wholly new topics) in the same window
is that I often lose track of where I've come from and how to get back. (The
"back" button doesn't always do what I expect it to in WinHelp.) Your
approach sounds particularly attractive if I'm working with a main screen
that serves as a table of contents (TOC) for a section of the Help rather
than for the whole Help file; I could leave that mini-TOC open in the
background and follow links without having to return to that page down a
long trail of clicks on the Back button. Of course, you don't want to open a
new window for every click, but used judiciously...

<<Well, our eBusiness/Web development team has loaded our compiled project
on the dev server, and they've told us to conform to the corporate
standards. This means all Related Topics must open within the current
browser window (change setting from _blank to _self).>>

Opening topics in the same window is not necessarily a bad thing, and
consistency within a corporation is a _very good_ thing. So unless you can
demonstrate usability improvements that would justify changing the corporate
style, it's probably wise to follow that style for now. Long-term, you may
be able to drive changes in that style.

<<we went to to see what Dr. Jakob Nielsen says. Sure enough,
he listed "Opening New Browser Windows" as number 2 in a list of "The Top
Ten New Mistakes of Web Design." >>

One strong caveat about Neilsen. While he started off by backing up his
assertions with good usability research, of late he's taken to pronouncing
ex cathedra upon issues he hasn't actually researched; his "Acrobat is
useless for online information" rant was a textbook example of this. His own
Web site is a textbook example of "sites that suck" because the information
there is useful, but good luck finding it. This also suggests that while
he's happy to tell the rest of us what to do, he doesn't need to pay any
attention to his own advice.

So while Neilsen's pontifications often contain a grain of truth and always
contain lots to think about, by no means is he in the class of Jared Spool
and William Horton. Spool, in fact, has published clarifications and
emendations of his work when a reader (including me) wrote in to reveal a
problem with his recommendations, and I haven't heard of anyone catching
Horton out. Neilsen, on the other hand, doesn't even reply to letters from
critics in my experience.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

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