Zenji: towards a simpler web browser (from 2007!)

Browsers, Innovation, Mozilla, Mozilla Labs, Open Source, Ramblings, Web, Work 8 Comments

Robcee and I spent a bunch of time thinking and talking about alternative browser designs back in 2006/2007. He recently posted his idea from back then, so I figured I’d dig through the archive and post mine. I call it Zenji.

Note: Where it says “[EMPTY PAGE]” that’s where the actual Web content or Dashboard would be. So that’s just a lie.

zenji1

Zenji was an attempt to re-envision the browser as something smaller and simpler. Some of the ideas have actually shown up in modern browsers, which is gratifying. Other ideas are just terrible (no back button? whuck?). Were I to sit down now and put together ideas for Zenji 2, I would do a lot of things differently.

That in mind, here’s a quick overview of Zenji. The long version is a 13 page PDF which you can download.

Goals
The primary goal of Zenji was to be “as simple as possible, but no simpler.” It encompassed a pared down feature set that would let most users use the vast majority of the Web without being overwhelmed.

While Zenji was to be as simple as possible, it also had to be able to grow with the user. Novice users become expert users over time, and what they need in a browser evolves as well.

Features and UI

What Zenji doesn’t have:

  • Traditional tabs
  • A URL bar
  • Any form of bookmark organization
  • Back/forward buttons (2010 editorial comment: yeah, what?)
  • A “home page”
  • Context menus
  • Most preferences or customization options
  • Traditional “addons”

What Zenji does have:

Search: Search is the primary focus of Zenji, with the main search bar stretching across the entire top of the window.

Toolbar: The Zenji toolbar does not appear at the top of the window, but rather on the side. Default toolbar buttons are: Dashboard, Stars, Timeline, Subscriptions, Zoom, Widget bar. Additional buttons include: Downloads and Archives.

Dashboard: The dashboard was envisioned as a new breed of “start page” that is local on the users’ machine, but that pulls information both from the browser and the web. It could include things such as: recently starred pages, most frequently visited pages, latest subscription updates, Zenji tips & tricks, help/support info, new widget promotion, user polls & feedback requests, etc.

Stars: Stars are Zenji’s simplified bookmarks. Clicking the “Star” button opens/closes the Stars sidebar, which includes the user’s starred pages sortable by recency and/or frequency. Includes a search box.

zenji-stars

Timeline: Timeline is a hybrid of history & tabs that can be viewed as a list (with favicons) or thumbnails.

zenji-timeline

Subscriptions: Subscriptions are essentially fully integrated feeds. If you subscribe to a page, Zenji shows you the most recent updates to your subscriptions in this sidebar.

zenji-subs

Zoom: Apparently I thought zoom was important enough to have on the main toolbar. This would probably be different now :)

Downloads: Sidebar of stuff the user has downloaded through Zenji, all neatly organized. Everything goes into a single directory, which can be sorted in Zenji in various ways.

Archives: Archived pages (basically saved web pages) are stored in a single Zenji archives directory.

Widget bar: This is where the user can add things to Zenji’s UI and functionality. Widgets were envisioned as a new breed of add-on, being small, very task-specfic, and allowed to change nothing about Zenji’s UI beyond, at most, displaying a panel when clicked. Examples would include: Gmail bookmark/icon with new message count overlay, Facebook w/ overlay, Current weather + temp, Flickr RSS stream and uploader, Personas, etc. Widgets would be a simple drag/drop to install and uninstall.

zenji-widgetbar

Page actions: Star, Subscribe, Archive.

zenji-pageactions

And et cetera. There’s more detail (and more craziness) in the PDF. Turns out thinking about browser design is a lot of fun :)

Check out the Mozilla Labs Chromeless browser experiment if you haven’t — the team is working on making zany experiments like this as fast and easy as possible, which I think could lead to an amazing period of exploration and innovation.

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