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Optimize Firefox’s Browser Navigation Controls

The location of navigation controls in Web browsers seem to have become less efficient over the years. Originally clustered together on the left-hand side of the URL bar to minimize the amount of mousing required, the Back, Forward, Stop and Reload buttons are now widely dispersed and inefficient. Fortunately, this can easily be altered in the Firefox browser.

Improving efficiency

For the past several months, I’ve been trying a radically-different layout and, after a short learning curve, have found the following optimization to require a lot less cursor movement while surfing.

Step 1: Enter the navigation toolbar’s customization dialog by right-clicking (or control-clicking on Mac) on the navigation toolbar and select Customize… from the context menu.

Step 2 (optional): Remove the search box by dragging it from the toolbar back into the customization dialog. More information about this aesthetic and functional tweak can be found in the post, “Remove the Search Box in Firefox for a Cleaner Look“.

Remove the (mostly) unnecessary search box

Step 3: Drag the combination Back/Forward button to the right-hand side of the URL bar.

Back and Forward buttons on the right-hand side

Note that placing the Back/Forward buttons between the URL bar and the Stop/Reload button will cause the Stop/Reload button to appear outside of the URL bar. If you prefer to keep it where it was, simply drag the Stop/Reload button to the left so that it is beside the URL bar. It will embed itself back in there.

Alternatively, move the Forward and Back to the right of the Stop button

Step 4 (optional): In the customization dialog, select the Use Small Icons check box if you prefer to have the Back and Forward button appear the same size and shape.

Firefox has the option to use the same size Back and Forward buttons

The outcome

You may be thinking, “So what?” Well, now all the commonly-used browser controls (bookmark star, stop, reload, back, forward, home, bookmark list, and even the scroll bar) are within close proximity to one another on the right-hand side of the browser window.

After opening several tabs, most of the tab controls (scroll tabs right, open new tab, list tabs) are also nearby, as shown below.

Tab controls are also within easy reach

By default, new tabs appear on the right side of the tab bar, to the right of existing tabs, which puts them within easy reach as well.

Just as kitchens are designed to maximize efficiency by reducing the area that must be traversed to move between the refrigerator, cooktop and sink (also known as the work triangle), the changes illustrated above reduce the area of the screen that must be traveled to operate the most commonly-used controls in the Web browser.

Although these screenshots were taken on a Mac, this can be done on the Windows and Linux versions of Firefox as well. On Windows, since the minimize, maximize and close window buttons are on the right-hand side of the window, this arrangement is even more spatially-efficient. On Linux desktops, the location of the window control buttons may vary with different desktops and/or themes.

As with any user experience modification, testing is important to determine effectiveness. So, try it on your browser and, after using it for a few weeks, report back in the comments with your findings. Love it? Hate it? Why so? Have a better idea? Chime in!

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