User Experiences – Listen, Learn, Refine

February 15th, 2011

Your feedback is an essential part of how we refine the user experience for the final product.

The IE9 beta reached millions of users around the world (over 25 million downloads), and we received a lot of feedback – a total of over 17,000 pieces of feedback since the start of IE9. The extensive reach of the beta gives us the opportunity to learn how users really use the product. Your feedback and opt-in user instrumentation are used to better understand your experiences with IE9. By listening to your specific feedback, and learning more about how you use the features through instrumentation, we gain more insight into how users browse. With those inputs, we took action to improve the overall user experience, and you can see the results in the IE9 RC.

For example, one area that we heard a lot of feedback was to refine search queries from the One Box (the new address bar with built-in search). Users can type a search query in the One Box that navigates to a search result Web page. Typically, the search result Web page shows a large search box at the top and bottom of the page to refine the query. We heard during beta, that users wanted the ability to refine the query through the One Box, too. We learned that the user behavior of starting a task and refining the task are closely connected. This led to extending the One Box to retrieve the search query through selecting the search icon.

Applying your feedback to refine the experience

Listening is a key part of our design process, and your feedback is a critical piece in refining the experience.

We start the design process by defining the user goals. We use these goals to guide our thinking so that the focus is always on the user. During the design of a feature, we use the instrumentation and telemetry we have, and apply judgment to determine the specifics of a feature. Once the feature is implemented, we evaluate it through a series of user studies. The user studies help identify issues that may not have been found through our internal use of the product at Microsoft. Even with the thousands of internal users, this is too small of a sample size to be representative of our larger user base.

This is what makes the beta so important. The broad reach of the beta allows us to evaluate the design with real users on a massive and statistically relevant scale. We have a variety of channels for feedback – the Connect site, blog post comments, site visits, and unsolicited comments from friends and family. We went through each and every piece of feedback to understand the user intent and expectation. We then stepped back to see how the feedback aligns with the goals we set out for the IE9 release for site-centric browsing through Windows.

We also recognize the range of our user base – some users browse to a dozen different sites on a regular basis while more enthusiastic users browse to many sites in just one session.

We want to make the broadest impact possible for all of our users. Our approach is two-fold:

  • Invest in the areas where the default browsing experience is designed for everyone with sites at the center and
  • Extend browsing to enthusiasts while keeping the default experience focused for everyone.

Here are some of the changes we’ve made to the user experience for the RC release based on your feedback:


Less frame, more site content!

“Thank you for putting browser clutter in the background and letting the sites shine through.” – LovingIE9Beta

We are encouraged by the positive feedback on a site-centric frame that minimizes visual distraction from sites and significantly reduces the vertical space. The RC frame is now leaner with 5 more vertical pixels for the site content.

With more vertical space for the site, you can see one more email item, tweet, or news headline.

A consistent way to extend the frame

The frame layout shows only the most essential controls for navigation, giving you even more space for the site. For enthusiasts that want more of the browser controls visible can extend it through the frame context menu. At beta we heard that finding the right context menu is tricky – sometimes you get the system context menu depending on where you invoked the menu. We’ve combined the system and frame context menu so that you can consistently access the menu you want.

The menu bar is back

“I can press Alt to get menu up, but if I wanted to keep it there I can’t.” – acidtrance.

Now you can set the menu bar to always be visible.

One Box

Refine a search query

“Difficult to refine search terms, because search terms get replaced by the search page URL” – yasufs

When you search in the One Box, the last search query is available through the search icon on the right of the search box. This also works for the search keyboard shortcut, Ctrl-E.

Search using specific keywords like “:”

“As a power user I need to use advanced search operators like ‘site:’ or ‘filetype:’ very often. With the new address bar this results in an error message” – persident

Previously the One Box treated text with the colon “:” as a protocol like “mailto:” and “tel:” which triggered navigation instead of search. From the beta we learned that enthusiasts rely on these search-specific keywords to narrow down their search results. In IE9 RC when we detect the colon we first check to see if there is a matching protocol, and if it is not found we treat is as a search query.

Directly navigate with copied text (Ctrl-Shift-L)

“I know I can paste and then hit enter, but to do 2 steps instead of 1 when I use it all the time is frustrating.” – larune

In the IE9 beta, we updated the keyboard shortcut Ctrl-L to set focus in the address bar to navigate quickly. We learned that enthusiasts want even more ways to efficiently navigate. We extended this keyboard shortcut to directly navigate with text on the clipboard – copy text or a URL anywhere on the system and use Ctrl-Shift-L to navigate/search directly without needing to set focus in the address bar.

Tab enhancements

Dedicated tab row

“I prefer the tabs to be in a separate row, and I agree it should be an option so each person can choose.” – Jeff Yates

“What others said: speed and UI is great, just need an option for advanced users to move tabs into separate row. Keep up the good work!” – Vilius

We’ve heard from many avid users who want the option for a larger address bar and more room for tabs. There is a new option for a dedicated row of tabs to maximize the room for the address bar and tabs if you need it. Tabs use the entirety of the horizontal space – edge-to-edge.

Visible active tab

“when you have a couple of tabs open its hard to know which is the tab that is in focus or selected.” – LiquidBoy

When you have a lot of tabs, we heard that it was hard to find the active tab, especially when there are tab groups that use color to indicate a group. We’ve increased the contrast between the active and inactive tabs so that in a glance it is easy to find the active tab.

Close button on inactive tab

“I would like to be able to close any open tab by click on the “X” of that tab without bringing it to the foreground.” – osu940

The close button is available on an inactive tab so you no longer need to select a tab to close it. Alternatively, you can middle-click using your mouse on the tab to close it.

Pinned sites

Pin a site with Taskbar on the right or left

“my taskbar is actually docked at the left of the screen. when I want to pin a tab to the task bar, it does not recognize the task bar anymore.” – umhan

Pinned sites is a way to have your favorite sites at your fingertips through the Windows 7 Taskbar, simply by dragging the tab to the Taskbar. The most common configuration of the Taskbar is at the bottom. When a user drags a tab to either the left or the right, we treat this as Windows 7 Aero Snap to view tabs side-by-side. We realized that when the Taskbar is configured to the left or right, it was in conflict with Aero Snap. For RC, you can now pin sites to the Taskbar regardless of your Taskbar location. You can continue to use tab Aero Snap by redoing the snap motion (the first one motion is treated as pinning to the Taskbar, the second time it is treated as Aero Snap for a side-by-side view).

Pin a site with InPrivate Browsing

“why not make it possible for the user to choose to make InPrivate the default browsing mode? I may want to be InPrivate all the time, for example.” – Paul

If there is a site that you prefer to browse using InPrivate Browsing (does not store history, cookies, temporary Internet files, or other data) like checking Web mail on a shared computer, you can now pin the InPrivate Browsing site to the taskbar.

Pin multiple sites

“Pin a group of favorites as a single pinned entry” – Andy Jacobs

I saved the best for last. We received lots of positive feedback on having sites on the Taskbar just like any other application. Users found this to be a faster way to launch their everyday sites. We also learned through feedback that enthusiasts often use a set of sites together – for example banking sites, shopping sites, entertainment sites, etc. With the IE RC you can now set multiple homepages to a pinned site (right-click on the site icon). Each time you launch the pinned site the related sites are also available.

Shopping sites – Adding Ebay to my Amazon pinned site

The dozen changes described in this post are a small subset of improvements we’ve made for the IE9 RC. Please give it a try. We couldn’t have made these changes without your thoughtful feedback.

Thanks to everyone who tried the IE9 beta and took the time to share their thoughts. You helped us design a better product for everyone who uses IE9.

—Jane Kim, Lead Program Manager, Internet Explorer User Experience