Mozilla Labs has cranked out an interesting new experiment dubbed Home Dash, a Firefox add-on that removes the standard web browser interface — the location bar, search bar and tabs — and leaves behind just a Firefox logo. Click the logo and you’ll be presented with a dashboard where your most-visited sites are found.
It’s not an entirely new take on browsing, but Home Dash is definitely an extreme departure from the traditional web browser interface. In its current form, Home Dash is a bit like the idea pioneered by Opera’s Speed Dial feature — present a user’s most visited sites and eliminate the need to search. But Home Dash goes further and eliminates most of the browser chrome as well.
If you’d like to take it for a spin, head over to the Firefox add-ons site and install Home Dash (you’ll need to be using a Firefox 4 beta release for Home Dash to work). For some tips and help with Home Dash, see Mozilla’s follow-up post.
The idea behind Home Dash is to move from a search or recall-based browser to a “browse-based” browser. The web browser as we know it is primarily a recall-based experience. Much like the command line of yesteryear, it’s up to you to remember URLs and websites (or create bookmarks and shortcuts). But a browse-based interface works on recognition rather than recall — you see a thumbnail of where you want to go; you click on it. The burden of remembering names and URLs, or even creating shortcuts, is removed. Mozilla’s Head of User Experience, Alex Faaborg, has a nice piece with some more background on the difference between these two approaches.
With Home Dash you browse to the sites you like, rather than typing in URLs or search terms to find them. For now that means Home Dash pulls up your twenty-four most visited sites as thumbnails. When you hover a thumbnail the actual site will load in the background, but for anything beyond your most-visited sites you’re back in the search bar, recalling. The usefulness of Home Dash will depend entirely on how you use the web. For those that typically visit the same sites over and over, Home Dash may be a better interface. But if you more frequently search new information, and land on new sites, Home Dash may get in the way.
Eventually, the team behind Home Dash is planning to let you customize the dashboard by adding and removing websites, as well as resizing the thumbnail previews the way you see fit. Plans also call for Home Dash to broaden the range of “sites” so you can add web apps, widgets and even people. For now though Home Dash is very experimental and limited.
Home Dash is also buggy, UI elements flashed and occasionally disappeared in our testing and overall experience felt more like a step backward than anything else. In fact, it may well be that the URL bar is the command line perfected and we don’t need a browse-based experience. After all, once you’ve moved beyond your twenty-four sites, Home Dash offers nothing you can’t already do with the URL and Search bars.
However, while the traditional desktop experience may not be the ideal setting for Home Dash, it isn’t hard to see the appeal on touch screen devices like the many Android-based tablets that are due to arrive in the near future. The Mozilla Labs announcement makes no mention of tablets, but a touch-based version of Home Dash seems inevitable.
If you’d rather not install something as experimental as Home Dash, check out the video below which covers the basics (requires a WebM-video-capable browser):