In 2005 this was implemented on Mozilla Firefox for the following reasons:
The backspace key was mapped to the browser ‘Back’ function in Mozilla for consistency with Internet Explorer. However, to improve consistency with other applications running on Linux, it was decided that this mapping should be optional—and set based on which platform the browser was running on. As a compromise, this preference was created to allow the backspace key to either go back/forward, scroll up/down a page, or do nothing.
- Is the standard default behavior too strongly established to reverse course?
For almost ten years of internet browsing history, this is the default behavior. We may dislike it, but it will prevail a lot of Internet forums anger about it. There is a setting, which one can use if this is frustrating enough. Sometimes it's better to just accept things the way they are, take the minut it takes to change the default action, and forget it. I do this every time I download a new browser, since default doesn't work for me. Instead I see these options as a way to customize the browser to work the way I want, since I'm an unique user.
Developing a browser to work for all users, the way all users want is impossible. Instead one need to test how the browser is used to come up with a default setting, which can be customized. There is probably no good reason to keep a bad default setting.
Sometimes things live on even if the original meaning have since long disappeared. This may stand in your way, if your trying to change things. Reference: Save icon, is the floppy disk icon dead?
- Can we change it if we establish that no-one uses it? (And how would we establish that?)
It's always possible to change things, but the longer an action has been around, the harder it's to change. You need to prove through scientific valid user testing that this setting really is a bad behavior. It takes time and effort, but you could definitely make it happen. Just remember to not test your friends. Test a large enough random user group, make your statistical metrics public, and convince Firefox governator that this should be changed.
Keep us posted on your progress and Good Luck!