One of the features we improved in IE8 is the ‘new tab’ page, which is the page you see by default when you click the New Tab button on the Tab row, or if you hit CTRL+T (the keyboard shortcut that does the same thing). We’re the Program Managers for this page and would like to walk you through the history and evolution of this feature to what it is today in IE8 Beta 2.
When IE7 was released in 2006, many users did not know what tabs were, so our new tab page didn’t really do anything except say “I’m a tab” and offer a link to help content for folks who were interested in learning more. Now it’s 2008, and web users are even more sophisticated and tab-enabled browsers are ubiquitous, so we decided that it was time to start making the new tab page more useful than just saying “I’m here.” So what kinds of tasks do we add to the new tab page?
We started with our first goal for this page: provide easy access to tab-related tasks. We recognize that when you open a new tab, you’re probably on your way to go do something else in the browser like visit a new site or start a new search. So, it seemed logical to make this new tab page offer up tab-related tasks to the user, especially given our desire to make navigation easier in IE8.
However, as we looked at all the tasks and links that we might put on the page, it became clear that not all tasks were suitable. For instance, we could have added a search box to the new tab page, since we know a large number of users issue Internet searches with some frequency. However, IE’s search box is already visible and available to the user, as are any search toolbars the user may have installed, so adding yet another redundant search entry point was uninteresting. We considered adding links to commonly-visited sites (or maybe your very favorite Favorites), but again, that seemed duplicative – that list was already a click away with the new Smart Address bar autocomplete dropdown.
So here is our second goal for this page: be a discoverability aid to cool features that might otherwise be hidden, and its corollary, don’t bother with features that are already visible to the user. We know this page would be a good advertising surface for features that users might not otherwise discover. The ability to restore a closed tab from a window was new to IE8, but many users might not even know that the feature existed (our customer feedback data indicates that most users don’t right-click tabs to see what menu options are available to them).
With our two goals in mind, we created a page that showed what this might look like. Here’s an early, early version for comparison in case you’re curious:
This was essentially IE7’s new tab page rearranged, with some new IE8 functionality thrown in. It had a few tab-related tasks (re-opening closed tabs & windows), and a new feature now known as InPrivate browsing.
First, we’d heard feedback that even in IE7, this page looked a lot like an error page, down to using the same color scheme and fonts. Some users might see this page and assume that something was wrong. So, we knew we needed to differentiate the page from the product’s error pages.
Second, we thought it was visually distracting. While many users would certainly use and welcome the functionality of this page, often times users don’t care what it says and just want to go somewhere else. Having large, colorful icons on the page, lots of text, and a complex layout created a page that drew your eye towards it instead of letting you focus on the task you were about to undertake.
This feedback and our early mockups led to goal #3: Don’t let the page distract users if they’re not going to use it. We knew we had to tone the page down a bit. It had to be visually serene, so it wouldn’t be jarring when users opened a new tab.
We’ve iterated a bit in our designs to take our goals & concerns into account, and so here’s what the New Tab Page looks like in IE8 Beta 2:
As you can see, we’ve changed the theme of the page so it doesn’t look like an error page, we’ve eliminated the large & colorful icons (although we kept FavIcons in), and simplified the layout. The help link at the bottom will take a user to a help topic that explains all the features on the page, tabs, and shortcuts if they want to learn more (although our help won’t be finalized until later, so for now it goes to a placeholder topic). This new look is also consistent with other IE8 informational pages, like the one you see when you start a new InPrivate browsing session.
Here’s information about each section of this page:
Reopen closed tabs
On the left, the user can easily restore a tab they’ve closed in that window just by clicking on the title of the web page. In our internal testing, this was the most commonly-used action from the new tab page, which is why it’s got the prime location on the page. When you click any web page from that list, the tab will reopen (with its entire travel log, meaning that you’ll recover the pages associated with that tab’s forward & back buttons too). The tab is then removed from this list. If you click ‘Open All,’ then all the tabs in the list will be restored, and the list will be cleared. “Reopen Last Browsing Session” will re-open the last full non-InPrivate IE window you’ve closed, with all its tabs.
If you click the green header or the arrow to the right of it, the list will be visually collapsed. This helps when you’re concerned about over-the shoulder privacy (so people in the room can’t see what tabs you’ve closed). The open or collapsed state ‘sticks,’ meaning that if you like the list to be closed, just leave it closed, and if you like it to be open, just leave it open, and it will (almost) always show that way (see the exception to the rule below).
Start InPrivate Browsing
Click the green header text to open a new InPrivate Browsing window. This launches an InPrivate Browsing session just as if you launched it from the command bar Safety menu, or via the keyboard shortcut, CTRL+SHIFT+P.
Use an Accelerator
We’ve provided a handy way for users to get to their default Accelerators via this page. Just click on any Accelerator to launch it as if you’d launched it from the Accelerator menu on any page. We’ll automatically grab whatever’s on your clipboard and send it to that Accelerator. You can click “Show Clipboard” to view what’s on your clipboard in case you’re nervous that you might send personally sensitive information before you click on an Accelerator. Like the list of closed tabs, you can ‘stick’ the list of Accelerators open or closed, depending on your preference.
This is also a handy way to use an Accelerator on text from other applications, not just from web pages. For instance, you can copy a line of text from a document in Microsoft Word, then open a new tab in IE8, and use the Accelerator with that text.
Over the shoulder privacy concerns
We know that people don’t always want to show everyone around them what’s on their machine, which is why we’ve taken care to give you ways to protect your privacy. Lists on this page will stick open or closed, depending on your preference. And, while in Windows Vista’s presentation mode, we’ll automatically collapse both lists for you whenever the New Tab Page is opened. That way, if you’re projecting your screen in a public setting with Windows Vista, you don’t have to worry about IE8 exposing your list of installed Accelerators or closed tabs to your audience. You can of course pop them open while presenting, but changes made to their open/collapsed state won’t affect your preferences when you’re not in presentation mode.
Here’s the new tab page while in Windows Vista presentation mode:
Changing what happens when you open a New Tab in IE8
If you wish to change the behavior when you open a new tab in IE8, you can set IE8 to open the page we’ve described in this post (the default), a blank page, or the first page of your home page set. Just go to Internet Options (off the Tools menu on the Command Bar or classic menu) and select the button on the General tab to change Tabbed Browsing Settings.
This screenshot shows the dropdown that you can select your preference with:
Side note – corporations can lock this behavior down via Group Policy if they choose.
In IE7, there was a checkbox on the new tab page that said “don’t show me this again,” which flipped your default new tab page to the ‘blank page’ option. We removed this in IE8 because the IE7 behavior was a one-way road for less technical users – if they clicked the checkbox they had no obvious way of reversing their decision, and weren’t likely to discover the settings dialog to change it back on their own. By consolidating the option to change the behavior to one place, a user who changes the option will know how to change it back if they need to.
Finally, because we believe that this new tab page has a lot more value than its IE7 counterpart, we’ve made this new page the default new tab page for all IE8 users, even if you had changed this option in IE7 (which is especially useful for those people who accidentally checked the box in IE7 without meaning to). More technical users (like, for instance, those of you reading this blog) know how to change this setting, so you can change it back if you wish to.
That’s how IE8’s new tab page evolved, and where we are today. We are interested in your feedback about the IE8 New Tab Page so please leave us a comment in this post. Thanks, and enjoy IE8 Beta 2!
Christopher Vaughan & Harel Williams