A Web Browser With No Visible UI?

Designers of Web browsers often say “the interface needs to be about the content, and not about the browser UI” or “content is king.” In this episode hosted by Aza Raskin and Alex Faaborg, we take that idea to the extreme and introduce a design challenge: how would you design a Web browser that has absolutely no visible UI?

Please add submissions in the comments below, or email them to conceptseries@mozilla.com

Students interested in competing in the Mozilla Labs Spring 2009 Design Challenge can find more information about the program here: http://labs.mozilla.com/2009/01/introducing-the-design-challenge/

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Music by Jonathan Coulton


  1. It is more about user expectations. If I can manage DVD without chrome on screen, I can do the same with browser. Obviously, all I need is some convenient way to call functions.

    One possibility is more buttons on mouse (exactly like remote control). My mouse has back and forward button, and I don’t feel like I need any chrome for that.

    Other possibility is some gesture based controls with touch screen. Like if I flick left or right on screen, I go back and forward.

    But without change in hardware, removing chrome from screen will just cause confusion.

  2. I usually use my keyboard to navigate trought shortcuts. Navigation trought content like backspace (history:back) or spacebar (scroll:down). Do usefoul things like recall/add bookmarks (command+B/D), open a new tab (com+T), search (com+K) or go to urlbar (com+L).
    I know you already know these shortcuts, but i want to focus on that i can do these actions without the UI. Let me explain: when i want to find a word in the page (com+F) the find-bar appear from the bottom. May the urlbar acts like this only when i hit “com+L”? obviously, YES!
    Only one thing: i love tabs (one-window mode) and there will be a feedback that inform me how many tabs i have… Chrome’s tab on top is one of the possible solution.
    “Disappearing panels” of the mobile version of firefox (Fennec) are a great solution!

    P.S. Sorry for my poor english,

  3. I use StrokeIt (“http://www.tcbmi.com/strokeit/”) gestures. Mostly in browsers, but it works with any application. As a result – I do not use chrome except for address input and tab selection. I simply click a right mouse button and “draw a line”. Draw a line to a left – Back command. Right – forward. Up then down – refresh, left then right – new tab, etc. And you almost had the same set of possibilities with a pie menu mockup – right click and drag in the direction of a command that pie menu shows.

  4. I for one would use a firefox without a user interface. All I needed was something like Ubiquity taken to the extreme, the usual shortcuts (ctrl+t, ctrl+w, alt+back alt+forward) and hitting the alt key to bring up the usual file menu…

    But what am I saying? Just look at Links and rebuild it using gecko and add Ubiquity on top. Preto: ui-less browsers done. Of course a system similar to “exposé” for tabs would sweaten the deal tough.

  5. Nice video, interesting concept. I like that you’re doing mockups and testing up front.

    Please build in accessibility up front as well. Remember there are established APIs for informing AT (assistive technology) of what’s going on on-screen.

    Similarly, don’t tie me to just one method for input. If my hands are on the keyboard, I want to use the keyboard and if I’m moving between fx & other apps then I’m prone to use the mouse.

    One more complaint: clicking on nothing is easy on some pages, difficult on others. It’s unnatural to move the mouse to a place where I’m avoiding all controls and interactive components.

    Sorry if this sounds like a gripe, I really do appreciate that you’re putting in the effort to make artifacts that explore new ui ideas. Thanks again for the effort.

  6. I like a minimalistic browser ui and I all ready have firefox running with almost no user interface… I like to mouse my way through the internet so i have only 1 bar with the adress bar some buttons like forward/backward and menu button. futher i have a combined status/tabbar with some icon
    if you want and you surf with hotkeys there almost no need for any menubar or so

    but I don’t think there ever wil be een browers with no ui at all

  7. When it comes to browsers, i’m more moving in the opposite direction; MORE controls, to compensate for all the sites with crappy navigation.
    For example: the FF addon “Locationbar” turns the URL into a breadcrumb navigation.
    Very useful, and unfortunately increasingly necessary.

    The less controls outside the page, the better the navigation inside it needs to be.
    And right now the web is moving in the opposite direction fast, with more and more flashlike mystery meat rot spreading.
    Who can tell what are clickable links on a page these days without mousing over every single pixel?

    Interesting that you mention the
    “chromeless” flash player you use here.

    I actually gave up trying to watch the whole video because of the useless way it works.

    A perfect example of how designers more and more tend to create shiny pretty looking POS software with just bare bones controls, if any.

    No info about how long the video will last, no decent controls, no real full screen, nothing, and you’re stuck with it.

    Am i the only one who miss the pre-2.0 days when you could watch videos on web-pages by just clicking a link, and then watch it in a decent player of your choice?

  8. I like the ability to just call up Ubiquity with a simple (and unique) ctrl+space combination. The only way I can think of creating a chrome-less browser window would be to hide menus and functions until they’re called up by a keyboard combination (I guess it would have to be sufficiently unique, like ctrl+space).

    The only real drawback to that method is that you’d have to bring up the menu each time you want to access a command or function. Instead of simply hitting alt+left/right arrow to go back and forth, you’d be calling up a menu to access the function. Depending on how often people go back/forward/to their homepage/to the URL bar, your appearing menus could potentially become as annoying to users as the UAC pop-ups in Windows Vista. In the podcast you stated a great way to help avoid this – a video (or even text) walkthrough explaining the keyboard commands the first time chrome-less Firefox is run. That would inform people that they don’t have to call up menus for every function, rather, there are loads of commands already at your fingertips – no mouse clicks required.

    I think that’s the danger of trying to reach an extreme on any given scale (“way too much visible UI” on one end, and “no visible UI” on the other). Maybe a better solution would be to minimize the chrome and place it in pre-existing UI space (for instance, that title bar up at the top of a window that’s got the minimize/maximize/close buttons – sort of like what iTunes does on Windows).

    I think that’s fairly economical, considering you’re stuck with that window space already, so you might as well utilize it. Of course, it would disappear when you enter full-screen mode, which is a problem. Plus, if you don’t cut back on what you’re placing up there, it might appear crammed and cluttered.

    Well, I hope that helped you guys out. You’re all doing a wonderful job with Firefox (I switched over to FF about 3 years ago, and I’ve been a Firefox evangelist ever since), and I like the direction that Firefox is headed in (especially when it comes to the chrome/UI). Keep up the great work! It’s always a pleasure to see an Alex Faaborg blog post pop up in my Thunderbird newsfeeds. Can’t wait for the next one!

  9. Hi Alex
    I think you should read this:


    it’s important to you, i believe.

  10. First of all I think you need a transition from the actual form of the browser to a chromeless one, by adding a step when you make the controls transparent (like gadgets) – let the users get use to it for a version or two … make some statistics and then decide if you want to hide/show the controls.

    If it were to be a chromeless new tab – you need to replace the Blank page default with some kind of “invitational” thing, so that the user don’t panic when he sees a blank page.

    Chromeless browser will be a downside for the extensions, because they tend to be placed in status bar, menu.

  11. Benjamin Dobson

    I disagree with a great deal in this video, particularly the bits where you downplay discoverability, and I half-disagree with your bit on MobileSafari, but this has inspired me to significantly improve one of my designs. Thanks!

  12. Everything is very open and very clear explanation of issues. was truly information. Your website is very useful. Thanks for sharing.