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).
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