I liked just about everything about this Tim Bray post from a couple of days ago. It’s called “Browser Sedimentation,” and it’s about the layers of non-content (sometimes called “chrome”) that have built up in today’s browsers. Here’s what my Safari looks like most of the time:

Safari layers

Title bar, tool bar, bookmarks bar, tab bar. The main difference between this browser sediment and river sediment is that these layers accumulate at the top instead of the bottom.1

The one thing I sort of disagree with is this:

The problem is that people like me (and I bet most readers here) can’t even see that there’s a jumble; the sediments of infrastructure are clearly separated in our understanding and thus our eyes. But occasionally I get a flash of how it must look to civilian eyes, and it doesn’t make me happy.

As one of his commenters, Ben Meadowcroft, said, the browsers of non-expert users usually have even more layers. I was reminded of this bit from Mike Lacher’s epic tale from McSweeney’s on fixing a non-expert’s computer:

With a resounding click he opened Internet Explorer 6 and gazed deep into its depths, past the Yahoo toolbar, the MSN toolbar, the toolbar, and the AOL toolbar. And then did he see, at long last, that The Google did load.

My mom’s computer has some awful, branded version of Internet Explorer running on it, and the toolbars take up so much of the window it feels like you’re looking at the web between the slats of Venetian blinds. But she likes all that crap. When I’ve suggested getting rid of some of the tool bars, she’s been horrified; it wouldn’t be her familiar web experience without them.

I’ve always thought this was the real story behind the software that John Gruber highlights in his occasional User Interface of the Week posts. It’s not so much that the designers of these applications have no taste, it’s that their users have no taste. There’s something about an ugly, cluttered user interface that says “computer” to the great majority of users out there.

  1. Except for the status bar, which I forgot to mention.