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I'm not talking about the Home on the website or an app but the home on the browser itself.

First of all, I saw no use for that button eversince I first touched a browser. Maybe it made no sense to me before why a button like that was needed and why I should go to Google (my home page) when I click it. To give a use comparison in the next section, we'll use the forward and back buttons.

Until now, some browsers offer the Home button, but still made no sense to me. It's even a visible button in the default toolbar for some browsers. As for the back and forward, we see users use the back almost always thus it was enlarged in some browsers. But the forward button made little sense that it was miniaturized or even omitted from display in today's browsers.

Newer browsers default home to the "top pages" or a page similar to the new tab page. If that's so, how would it differ in functionality with the new tab button?

So for home:

  • What was the original purpose of the Home button?
  • Was it good UX to have that button or was it useless to begin with?
  • Is it still relevant in today's usage of browsers?
  • If not, for what purpose is it being retained?
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up vote 8 down vote accepted

Here's some answers to some of your questions based on my personal experience over the years:

What was the original purpose of the Home button?

The home button stems from the time when the internet was a new thing to home computer users. Being a short link to the browser's default start page, it offers a way of consuming content and as such it was more comprehendable at a time when browsing interlinked media was not yet common.

Just like the front page of a common printed newspaper, front pages often were content aggregators provided by browser manufacturers (msn.com for internet explorer or apple.com for safari, for example) or teleoperators. The front page was, historically, a common point of entry for the browsing experience. The home button offered a way to return to a familiar web page that offered a collection of links to go to next as well as a familiar "surrounding".

Historically, the home page also refered to people's own web sites. Before the commercialisation of the internet, it was common place for people to have their own personalized web sites (much like social media profiles nowadays), which they also accessed as a point of origin of a browsing experience, with own content publishing interfaces and link collections. Thus folks used to also set their own personalized web pages to the home button. (Relying mostly on personal experience here with this argumentation, but at least the "home page" site on wikipedia seems to somewhat agree.)

Was it good UX to have that button or was it useless to begin with?

Personally, I think it was a good user experience. Just like the back button, the home button was one of those really reliable escape routes for the user - and in the early wild, wild days of the internet you'd sometimes just want back to the start of your browsing experience, so to say.

Is it still relevant in today's usage of browsers? If not, for what purpose is it being retained?

Today, I think the home button suffers a tolerated existance for the sake of many users that have gotten used to using it over the years, but it's importance in browser user interfaces has been in decline. Personally, I don't see it in on my Firefox bar, nor on the Chrome - that might be attributed to customized interfaces, but I do think also the standard distributions leave the home button away.

What remains current is the functionality the home button once offered, which was a shortlink to the beginning of browsing the web. Today, this just happens by opening a tab, and many browsers have adopted to showing a collection of most used websites as the "start page" - because users today are using the internet with more distributed points of entry they choose themselves, rather than through a start page with predetermined routes to content they like.

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What was the original purpose of the Home button?

To give a page to start with for a browser. Unlike now, IE browsers didn't have a 'Browser Home Screen' which will open when browser application starts and browser needed a URL to open.

Was it good UX to have that button or was it useless to begin with?

I don't use it anymore, but few years ago 'Home' button meant to me as 'www.Google.com'. I got so used to it that I didn't have to type 'Google.com' in the address bar anymore. I think it was more of a case of development of 'User Habbit' than being a good design or bad design.

Is it still relevant in today's usage of browsers?

If not, for what purpose is it being retained?

Nope, Safari and Chrome doesn't have it anymore by default and Mozilla opens the 'Firefox Start Page' instead of any other URL

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This answer is confusing. My post asks for the home button and not the home page. Also, IE6 does have a home page option which is displayed on startup. Firefox still has the button displayed on a fresh install. Safari and Chrome don't have them but still has the option to display them, which would be the root of the 3rd and 4th questions. –  Joseph the Dreamer Jan 17 '13 at 12:50
    
@JosephtheDreamer Please let me know what is confusing about my answer. <<IE6 does have a home page option which is displayed on startup.>> Home button is there to take you to the home page of the browser. IE6 wasn't the first IE browser. –  ripu1581 Jan 17 '13 at 13:06
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What was the original purpose of the Home button?

It was a quick way to get to a common starting point that a user would use. In the days before tabbed browsing, it was handy to quickly get back to your starting point with a single click. Most people used it for a search page.

Was it good UX to have that button or was it useless to begin with?

It's rare that having a button to quickly access common user behavior is a bad UI design.

Is it still relevant in today's usage of browsers?

That probably depends on the user, but probably not for most. The combination of having tabs where you can open a new tab and have it go to your home page (which maps nicely to the action where a user is starting a new thought process) or the search bar (which maps nicely to the desire to search for something new) largely supersede the home button in functionality.

If not, for what purpose is it being retained?

Lots of browsers haven't retained it. Those that do generally do so because some users may still like it. In the context where the home page is a dashboard, the tabs and search bar may not make as much sense as a single button. I know when I checked the news more often (as recently as a year ago) I had the home page set to my iGoogle page and I used it regularly. Based on the number of people who have objected to the termination of iGoogle, it is clear that a fair number of other people also like quick access to this dashboard like functionality.

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