It used to be typical of most computer programs to have File, View, Options etc. across the top of the application window. I have noticed that, starting with browsers, many programs have gotten rid of this and now have one big button in the top left. For example, Firefox has a big orange button and opera has a red one.

Firefox screenshot Opera screenshot

Is there a reason why this change was made? What effects does it have on productivity and usability? Aside from web browsers, the only other program I've noticed to follow suite is Microsoft Office 2010. Has anyone seen others? By the way, is this there a name for this type of menu, since it's not displayed on a user event it's not a context menu?

To clarify here is Internet Explorer 10 which has the way I'm used to seeing

does have horizontal menu

Here is Firefox with an arrow pointing to what I'm talking about

Firefox has single button

  • What menu are you talking about?
    – rk.
    Jul 11, 2013 at 17:40
  • I first noticed this change with chrome. I recall it being part of their marketing strategy if I remember correctly. Firefox and ie followed shortly afterwards.
    – Chris N.
    Jul 11, 2013 at 17:46
  • I just noticed Chrome have the tabs right at the top, making them much bigger targets to hit with a mouse.
    – Toni Leigh
    Aug 13, 2013 at 18:26

2 Answers 2


I think in the context of a browser there is a strong UX case to gain as much vertical space as possible for the viewing window. The main reason for a browser is to view websites, once on a website most of the interaction is with the website itself and not with the browser, so the less the browser can display the better.

This is particularly important when considering elements that take up vertical space as many screen dimensions are horizontally oriented (extremely so in the case of widescreen laptops). Websites also are usually vertically oriented, so any vertical space that can be reclaimed from the browser is a benefit. You can even remove the address bar if you like, to gain some extra space, another purposeful design decision.

By using a big button with essentially infrequent commands in it, such as settings, about etc. browser vendors were able to shift that entire horizontal bar into one section of another horizontal bar, reclaiming the space for more important website display.

I cant find any references, but if that isn't part of their rationale on this decision I'd be very surprised, it's a very good reason for doing so.

Microsoft Office unfortunately went the other way (at least between office 2003 and 2007), introducing a horizontal menu, on a horizontally oriented screen, in an application designed for work on vertically oriented documents (pages of text). In my opinion this is awful for the user experience as they are left being able to view fewer lines of the document they are writing.

  • 1
    Looking at this blog post, it seems their original intention was to "streamline Firefox’s menu interface for Windows Vista and Windows 7". The heatmaps there show that bookmarks was really the only menu used a significant proportion of the time, and they pulled that out into it's own menu accordingly. A heatmap after the change.
    – Brendon
    Jul 11, 2013 at 19:36

The main reason is organization, having all/most options in one single place. it makes the browser cleanner, and less space needy, there for improving the usability of it. At least that's how i see it.

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