in User Interface

Firefox 3 – Back Button UI Annoyance

I’m currently using Firefox 3 RC2 FireFox 3 and absolutely loving it – I love the new tags feature, the overall faster browsing experience, everything…

Well, almost. One thing that I find quite strange is the location of the control for jumping back several pages:

Firefox Back Button - actual

I remember the first time I needed to go back several pages and saw this and sort of looked at it like “hmm, seems like you can jump ahead several pages, but how do I jump back several pages?” But after clicking on the little control, it turns out that to go back several pages at once, you click on the control next to the forward link:

Firefox back button clicking on multi page control

Unintuitive indeed. Would it not make sense to have this control be next to the back button, maybe something like this?

My version of the Firefox back button

Here, the location of the control maps to our mental model of where we want to go, as in backwards.


  1. This was really bugging me. It seems every time they upgrade I have to spend days tracking down the plugins I use for newer versions,( and no, they are not always on the auto update yet.) I had to reset my url bar settings again and of course I have to re-opt out of the ad networks. I hate upgrading.
    Thanks for telling me this, I never even tried the forward arrow, since gee, I was trying to go backwards like I am used too doing..

  2. See NoUn Buttons addon:
    You can place dropdowns where you want…
    Doesn’t work with any theme, but does with most…

  3. Man, this is stupid.

    They should have at least made the “history drop down” another toolbar object. amirite?!!11

  4. It’s a terrible design and very annoying. With the old method, if you wanted to go back two pages, you select the second item below the back button. Now you need to click on the dropdown, find the dot, and then click on the second item below the dot (or is it above?).

    I continue to stick with SeaMonkey, from which Firefox is a fork. The drivers for Firefox love to say that everything can be fixed in a plugin and it doesn’t belong in the browser, but installing insecure plugins is a risk, even if you can find just the one you want (I can’t find any that fix this problem).

  5. I like the idea, but it should be an larger button between the two to indicate that this is a new fancy thingy, correctly placed chronologically. That’s intuition to me.

    BTW right-clicking the back-button shows the history as well. I’m using it in the transition period and it doesn’t “cost” more mouse clicks.

  6. Yes, this is a bad UI decision. Reminds me of the Microsoft menus that constantly reorder (and truncate) based on which operations you do most often. Consistency is important in UI design and not having an intuitive forward/backward is a large mistake.

  7. A work around extension is available – NoUn button. It almost restores the FF2 operation – instead of holding the mouse on the back/forward button to get the drop down list, it adds another drop down to the left of the back button which you have to click on.
    But at least its intuitive (to me at least).

    A disadvantage is that it reportedly only runs on Windoze.

  8. The new way is stupid, non-intiutive, and a load of bullocks. The FF 3.0 “fix” smacks of Microsoft in that there was a fix for a problem that never existed. It’s like “here’s your new car…it only has three wheels now, but you’ll get used to it.”

  9. I agree with Josh. Firefox 2 has a dropdown in the back button and a dropdown in the forward button, so it’s intuitive to go 3 pages back, or 2 pages forward. With the new system (which has irritated me for 2 reasons: it is new, it is inconvenient in my opinion and finally the 3rd, I thought it had been copied from IE7 -now I see it may be the other way around, since I just upgraded to Ff3-
    Maybe it’s just a question of getting used to it. Thanks for the explanations

    And to Philip: but you can move the buttons around, put them to the right if you prefer. That’s the beauty of Ff customization (you cannot move anything in IE7, for example)

  10. Why are those buttons on the left side of the browser to begin with? Vertical scroll is on the right, so instinctively most people keep their mouse on the right. Then they have to go all the way over to the left side of the page just to hit back. Why not put those buttons on the right side? Or, why not design a browser where we can put multiple instances of these buttons where we want? Like in the bar on the bottom (on the right).

  11. I figured out how this worked after a couple minutes, but I still don’t like it. It would be nice if the forward/back was not all one button, so I could at least move them around if I wanted. What I would really like is for there to be 2 different drop downs, one for forward, and one for back, so when I know I want to go back 2 pages, I won’t have to figure out where that is in the list. Like Ed, I wonder does anyone know if there is an extension to change it back?

  12. I find James’ comment uncalled for. *I* had – and still have – trouble with the lack of the back button drop down list. His statement of “Just because you don’t understand a feature doesn’t make it an annoyance, it means you should learn your tools better” is a slam at all people who believe that their TOOL should learn THEM.

    I was forced to rip Firefox 3 out and restore Firefox 2 because of this.

    I’m the sort of person, who if they change cars, takes up to six months or more to relearn where all the controls are on the dashboard. Yes, that may earn me scorn from the children, but I’m old and set in my ways. Don’t tell me that I have to learn a new browser, give me a browser whose User Interface can be set to someone old and familiar.

    I don’t want new and better, I want old and comfortable.

    Having said that, is there ANY way of restoring the back button drop down list behavior to the 2.0 standard? Perhaps someone can write an extension that will put it back the way it was?

    Someone, please HELP!

    Ed Becerra

  13. I agree it’s a total annoyance. Software makers shouldn’t be always fiddling with their software so we don’t have to keep learning everything all the time.

    This was the first site that came up when I searched for Firefox 3 restore back history. Now that I know that the dropdown that’s attached to the forward button has all history, it’s all cool. Glad to know how that works. But as far as intuitive, this gets a ZERO. In Firefox that dropdown triangle is definitely part of the forward button, so I would have never guessed to press that

    Some poster said above to “learn your tools”. The trouble is when you have 30 some programs to know, and if all 30 of those programs made such drastic changes, that’s its impossible to keep up. I’m putting Firefox 3 in the same league as Office 2007 in regards to swapping a bunch of stuff around that didn’t really need to be fixed.

  14. I stumbled upon this entry trying to find a way to revert to the Firefox 2 behavior. In my opinion the correct solution, if they insist on keeping this piece of UI as a single button, is to put the dropdown list *BETWEEN* the forward and back arrows.


  15. Hey Kevin – thanks for your very heartfelt thoughts about this – I actually have to admit, that now that I’ve been using the feature for a while that it is starting to make more sense (tho, yes, maybe having the arrow on the left, even though it would continue to work for both forward and backward, would be better) I like the idea of placing it underneath as well.

  16. Is it intuitive? Yes and no. Even though I previously posted that the position of the drop-down arrow makes sense, I don’t think it’s completely intuitive. However, hand a pair of dice to an aborigine and see if they are intuitive! There is obviously some level of understanding that is expected.

    Simply placing the drop-down next to the back arrow doesn’t solve the problem either, because, as I pointed out, the drop down works both backwards and forwards. However, I concede that it is more often used for going backwards–and even if you are going forward it is still to a “previously” visited page! So, locating it next to the back arrow may make more sense.

    On the other hand, (in our right-handed society) drop-down arrows are traditionally always on the right side of a control. I view the back/forward arrows as one control since they are within the same “3-D” inset. So, the right hand side makes sense as well.

    Inevitably, there may be a better design that has not been invented yet. Maybe placing the down arrow underneath, or, a separate “history” button?


    Bottom line is it took a few minutes to figure out, but now that I understand it I’m not going to revert to another browser simply out of principal-based protest. That would be dumb. It is completely functional even it it’s not exactly as I would have done it. There are much bigger annoyances in life–like SPAM!

  17. Hey James – thanks for pointing that out – I agree, super-annoying – I guess it’s a conflict between the theme I’m using and the Did You Pass Math? plugin. I never noticed it before, since I haven’t tried commenting twice on the same post. I’ll try tooling around with the theme a bit to see if I can fix it.

  18. Hey Anders, I have another UI annoyance for your blog :) I’m sure you’re starting to love me by now. I left a comment the other day in response to your comment. It was actually agreeing with you and the fact that we were sort of on the same page.

    I came back this evening to check and see if there had been any more responses and much to my dismay I didn’t even see my last comment. I wondered if it had been deleted or something. I posted a comment to that effect and again it looks like it’s going to post except for that tiny text telling me to answer the math question.

    The problem is after you leave a comment and revisit the site the comment fields are hidden and it says “Welcome back [username]”. But even though the comment fields are hidden and your name is remembered you STILL are supposed to answer the silly math question. You have to click on the “change” link next to your username, expand the fields, answer the question, then post your comment.

  19. I notice IE 7 has the same UI feature (I was annoyed by that too, with that same misunderstanding, until reading the comments here). I wonder did IE rip this off of Firefox or the other way around (IE 7 was out before FF 3, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t stolen from some early pre-release). Or did they both steal it from somewhere else? Just curious if anyone knows.

  20. Thanks for pointing out the “UI Annoyance” with my comment form – should be fixed now.

    I have to completely disagree with this statement:
    “Just because you don’t understand a feature doesn’t make it an annoyance, it means you should learn your tools better.”

    This might be true for something very domain-specific, like an accounting system, in which if you can assume that users have a level of accounting knowledge. But the browser back-button, which is the diametric opposite of domain-specific, should be a completely intuitive feature, and there really is no excuse for making user have to think to understand how it works.

  21. As Kevin said it’s actually in the perfect spot because it allows you to navigate forward and backwards. Just because you don’t understand a feature doesn’t make it an annoyance, it means you should learn your tools better.

    What is an annoyance is that I had a much longer, more eloquent comment on this but because “Name”, “Mail” and “Website” are bolded, I assumed that was all that was necessary to publish a comment. “Website” should be unbolded and the addition problem should be bolded. That’s a UI annoyance.

  22. That was really irritating me, not having a back drop down to go back several pages. I was on the verge of reverting back to an older FireFox.

    I’m just glad I found this site first.

    Thanks people.

  23. I think I’ve figured it out, and it actually makes sense: The drop down history list works BOTH backwards and forwards. It’s easy on the surface to think of it as a past history list, but go back several pages and you will note that the FORWARD history is still retained–there is a black dot next to the page you are viewing, and there will now be pages above and below the dot.

    It may not be initially intuitive, but now that I understand it I’m happy with the design. What I thought odd was that the back/forward buttons don’t appear by default on the toolbar and I had to add them.

    San Luis Obispo, CA

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  • The Blog of Harald » firefox 3 back button June 18, 2008

    […] extremely annoying! This finally bothered me enough that I performed a Google search, and found Firefox 3 – Back Button UI Annoyance which explains that that little arrow next to the Forward button is actually a history menu for […]