Why Safari Sucks: 1. The Back Button

Don’t get me wrong. I like Safari. I use it almost every day. But some things about it just irritate me again and again and again…

First, the ‘back’ button.

The problem here is that Apple have decided to merge the ‘back’ function and the ‘back history’ popup-menu into one toolbar button.

If I quickly click the button and release, then I go back to the previous page. So far so good.

If I click and hold the button, then the history menu appears (after a delay). That’s OK too. I can drag down to the page I want, release and whoosh… I’m off on my way. The trouble starts when I held the mouse button down a fraction too long, and I really wanted just the ‘back’ function. In this case, I expect that releasing the mouse button should activate the ‘back’ button. But no! Releasing the mouse button just makes the popup menu go away… I’m back to square one! Grrr! Ok, so all I need to do is quickly click again, and I get the back function.

It gets worse. If I click on the button too long for the ‘back’ function, but not long enough for the popup menu, then a third mode appears. When I release the button, the popup menu appears! This time it’s in the Windows-style click-click mode. If I want to go back from here, I’m screwed. When I quickly click the mouse button a second time, all that happens is that the popup menu goes away. After two clicks, I’m back to square one! I’m forced to click the button a third time before the bloody thing will finally take me back to the previous page!

This behaviour is utterly infuriating. The time difference between the click lengths required to produce these three behaviours is tiny. There’s no visual cue to tell you which mode it’s in. Often I’m just reduced to frantically clicking the mouse until it does what I want.

Is this just me? No! I’ve observed other people having this difficulty. So surely Apple must have noticed that their ‘back’ button is hard to use? Why haven’t they fixed it?

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  1. Sam said,

    19 February, 2006 @ 17:57

    Just another example of how technology brings humanity forward.

  2. Matthias Roesele said,

    25 February, 2006 @ 13:32

    First of all, thanks for the great event calender-Plugin for WordPress.

    Why don´t you use Opera? With mouse gestures, you can navigate quicker than the back button ever could be. Press the right mouse button while moving the cursor left: “back”. Press the right mouse button while moving right: “forward”. While moving down: “New Tab”. Down, then right: “Close Tab”. Brillant ;-)

  3. alex said,

    25 February, 2006 @ 13:52

    Matthias: I’m not a great fan of mouse gestures. If they work for you, fine.

  4. Boris said,

    13 March, 2006 @ 19:31

    Mouse gestures in Opera are simply brilliant. I personally find Opera the best browser ever. If you search the web for performance and security among all the borwsers out there, you will see that Opera beats IE, Safari, FireFox… Why is it great? 1) Tabbed Browsing… the best thing ever. You don’t have tons of windows opened on the sys. tray if you are using Windows, with Mac it’s even harder. Firefox has that feature too, but the “close X” button on the very right side (not on the actual tab) simply pisses me off! 2) Mouse Gestures – amazing. It’s much faster than keyboard shortcuts, and after 5 secs of practicing, it just comes naturally. After that, i can’t imagine browsing the web with something else. 3) Security. Opera simply has the best security… Even FireFox has more leaks and bugs… IE – god, that piece of crap is a big hole in your computer’s security. 4) The Interface – Opera has a very nice, stylish, eye-catching interface. Firefox and IE – gray tool bars, too boring… With Opera you can customize the colors, buttons… basically anything you want. 5) Zoooooooooom! That’s the sickest thing i’ve seen ever! Opera has a Zoom! IE7 beta2 tried to copy that feature from Opera, but couldn’t even get it working right… Opera resizes the tables and images accordingly… The page still fits on the screen, but the content (including images and animations) become bigger or smaller… sickest thing ever.. really. Just press CTRL+Wheel up/down and enjoy.

    There are many more features, but the ones i described are only a few.. +!!!! OPERA IS MULTIPLATFORM!… You can get it on any OS: Mac, Linux, Win, BeOS etc.

  5. alex said,

    13 March, 2006 @ 22:05

    Boris: You’re going to love my next Safari rant. Safari has the close buttons on the tabs too, and I hate it. It’s a real misfeature.

  6. Phil said,

    16 March, 2006 @ 04:48

    Add to that the fact that as of late it seems to constantly crash.

    Is it just me or has anybody noticed that on site with heavy Javascript, Safari is like extremely slow. Try using FedEx shipping portal on Safari versus IE for Windows as a comparison. Literally a night and day difference. (I’m a diehard Mac user!!)

  7. tezkah said,

    15 April, 2006 @ 06:42

    Alex: did you know that Firefox is moving to putting the close button on every tab? Opera has already done this…


  8. alex said,

    15 April, 2006 @ 11:59

    tezkah: Ha! That was going to be my third and final rant. Close button on every tab is terribly annoying. If Firefox do that, then at least there will be an extension to disable it.

  9. Mark said,

    5 July, 2006 @ 21:46

    Firefox can meet everyone’s needs.
    Want mouse gestures? Install the Mouse Gestures extension “https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/39/” .

    Want close boxes on every tab? Install the “Tab X” extension “https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/785/”.

    Want the back button and history functionality separated? You can choose this too – check out the Brushed theme’s options to enable or disable “History drop markers” – “http://temporaer.net/open/themes/#options”

    The dynamic, open nature of Firefox’s UI (XUL based) lends itself to customization by the user in ways that Opera, Safari, Konqueror nor MSIE can match.

  10. James Cornell said,

    30 August, 2006 @ 09:31

    Just go and get Saft for Safari if you like Safari but are missing features such as:

    Blocking Ads/Popups/Animations/Scripts/Plugins (Even regex ad blocking) Full screen mode (Like IE, Firefox doesn’t have this though) Blocking HTML refreshing Enable dragging tabs (Like Firefox) Auto closing the download box (You can tell it how soon in seconds) Crash protection Type-ahead Set HTTP timeout Use Aqua style instead Force all windows into a tab (Yeah, I know Firefox has this) Stop scripts forcing windows to come to the front Tab orientation (Right left, next to, etc)

    Check out http://pimpmysafari.com/ for more plugins, such as search ahead (Like customizegoogle but on the actual search box), and other similar extensions like Saft (Which is more of a kit/package)

    I benchmarked Safari with the standard BenchJS and it runs about 8x faster then IE on the most intensive loop with Javascript.

    Firefox is hardly native, and Camino while it looks good enough for me, lacks extensions. If I had Server Spy and CustomizeGoogle I wouldn’t use Firefox ever again on a Mac except for compatibility testing, period. I have used Konqueror in the past on FreeBSD and Linux, and didn’t like it, but did notice that it renders fast, and displays ACID2 better then Firefox. Opera and Safari support CSS and web standards more then Firefox. It appears that Firefox and OpenOffice for instance like to shove Mac users onto the sidelines, so my retaliation is to ignore them and use NeoOffice (And iWork) and Safari (Which for me works with everything Firefox does)

    Use Onyx to unlock the debug menu so you can disable Javascripts, change the user agent, show render and DOM trees, import bookmarks, disable protocols, etc.

    I know I’m gonna get flamed, but if you don’t like how Safari does something, and you know C++, Cocoa, C, and HTML/CSS/Javascript, just grab a copy of the various core kits used for Dashboard and Safari (WebKit for instance) and fix it, send the patches upstream and make Safari better at whatever you think it currently doesn’t do right or well.

    I really can’t stand the lack of integration and nativeness of Firefox, and that’s a big selling point fox Macs.

    I’m not an idiot, I came from a decade of Windows, later to Linux for a few years, and have a little Solaris and FreeBSD behind my belt, and am on my 3rd Macintosh, first Intel. (17″ MBP w/ 2GB Ram)

  11. Matt said,

    28 September, 2006 @ 18:59

    One thing I hate about Safari is the combination of the ‘stop’ and ‘reload/refresh’ button. If a page is loading, and I want to tell it to stop, I move to hit the stop button, if however the page finishes loading at that instant, suddenly I’m reloading the page completely. ARRRGH!

  12. Dig T said,

    1 February, 2007 @ 03:09

    I totally agree that having three settings for the back button is too much, especially since the in between stick is subtle but I’ve never seen anyone have this problem. They should either take away that subtleness or remove that in between behavior.

    At any rate I can’t believe this is a pet peeve. At first I asked myself if this one was for real, how can you have a problem clicking? And this is coming from a big Firefox user!

  13. alex said,

    1 February, 2007 @ 08:34

    Dig T: It took me a long while to notice that there was something wrong with the back button. It really hit me when I noticed a friend of mine have the problem. He clicked ‘back’, paused… clicked it again, paused… frowned, and then clicked a few more times. I don’t think he even consciously noticed, but it made me realise that I’ve done the same thing many times.

    The point isn’t that it’s a huge problem, but that lots of tiny problems like this degrade users’ experience of the whole system. Apple are renowned for their quality user interfaces. They should have found this problem in usability testing, and fixed it.

  14. Tomis said,

    13 February, 2007 @ 05:51


    Problem solved

  15. Ned Kline said,

    11 May, 2007 @ 17:44

    My back button has completely disappeared!

  16. Mathias said,

    13 June, 2007 @ 12:13

    For Mark and for evryone who thinks that Firefox is greater than Opera just beacause “modular”: why the hell should I install about ten or more files for extensions, messing up basic configuration, and having to repeat the same operation on every PC I use, when Opera installs all this fabulous features in just one click??

  17. James said,

    13 June, 2007 @ 19:28

    Hi, i’ve solved the back button problem for Safari beta 3 on windows.

    This worked for me and I hope it does for you too.

    I’ve always used the navigation buttons on my mouse to flick backwards and forwards between pages while browsing in IE. and in safari it doesn’t work…

    Well, here’s how I fixed it.

    firstly… i have a media keyboard that uses browsing buttons (forward and back) as well as other functions like a button for media player and email etc… many people have these now.

    I also have a programmable mouse. With most 5+ button mice you get a program that you can change the function ofr the buttons on your mouse. I’ve got a Razer Mystify Boomslang “Boomer” mouse, and that comes with a good little program to change all the buttons… ANYWAY

    I load the program up and tell it i want to change the function of the back button on my mouse and it asks me to press a key, so I press the back navigation key on my keyboard and save the config, and hey presto, it works!!!!!

    Then I changed the forward button for the forward button on my keyboard too.

    I can’t be more specific than this because every mouse uses a different bit of software to program the buttons on it. I uses the part of my program that says “assign a key” to the button.

    hope you guys have some luck

  18. R Taillon said,

    15 June, 2007 @ 15:50

    My back button has completely disappeared too. I know I can hit command-{ but how do I get my back button to reappear????? Please email me if you have a solution.

  19. Steve said,

    22 June, 2007 @ 04:18

    My back button is gone too. Help.

  20. Meredith said,

    8 August, 2007 @ 21:50

    My back button disappeared also, but if you go into view and customize address bar you can get it back.

  21. Mushilele said,

    22 October, 2007 @ 11:10

    Thanks Meredith. My back button is … well … back.

  22. Bread said,

    26 November, 2008 @ 18:18

    I don’t find it that hard to just move the mouse a little downward and let go. Or I just use the keyboard shortcut (I’m a keyboardholic)

  23. Mike said,

    25 February, 2009 @ 20:34

    i hate safari because i can not get to work my optional buttons on my mouse to go back or forward!

  24. joeband said,

    23 June, 2009 @ 21:37

    I admit Safari is one hell of the fast browser. But it’s useless when a browser has no back tools tabs. I like the simplicity but it just over done and make it useless in windows OS.

  25. Anica said,

    9 August, 2009 @ 16:10

    Are you too retarded to click a button more than once? You click it once, you get a menu – so click somewhere else and try again.

    This “for a fraction of a second” bullshit is ridiculous – I click back on Safari, I go back. I click forward, I go forward. If I hold the button, I get the menu – I never get “stuck in a mode” and can’t get back. Why? I’m not over-thinking this – you are and you’re making it something you won’t like because you have a bad attitude and feel like technology should “just work” for you.

    You’re a moron.

  26. Matthew said,

    4 October, 2010 @ 20:19

    Yes I know this topic is probably alredy done now. but when i use Safari i’ll be on chat websites and such and if i push the backspace button it takes me back TO THE LAST PAGE. This is getting me very irritated and making me want to switch back to firefox. If this is only windows problem (I use windows) tell me and ill switch back. Unless it is a total fail in my book on things like that such as chat. Other than that it is fine I handles fine and no lag unlike IE8 and Firefox. If this is for regular use (no chatting) than this is definetly a great web browser.

  27. Michael said,

    13 January, 2011 @ 16:51

    It is 2011 and this back button problem still exists. It is worse on my MacBook Pro because you have to push the darn touchpad hard to make a click. (The touchpad is a whole other problem, but I’ll skip that.)

    I use a lot of different computers and a lot of different browsers but Safari is my favorite. If I used one machine and one browser always and a regular mouse, I am sure I would just get used to this behavior and wonder what the heck was wrong when I went to another computer.

    So, calling people morons or retarded or “solving” this by programming your feaking 5-button mouse is hardly helpful. (But, at least the programming reply was an attempt to be positive.) Maybe, just Maybe, the purpose of this forum should be to give helpful advice or discuss the design issue constructively.

    But, I am here because this this “back button” behavior drives me nuts and the touchpad behavior exacerbates it and I am finding no alternative except going to Firefox full time. (I never use IE or any MS product if I can avoid it.) The real solution, as suggested in the original post, is for Safari designers to change the timing or other aspects of the behavior OR give the user the ability to set/hack this feature.

  28. Rational Db8 said,

    13 September, 2011 @ 01:06

    The ‘back button’ issue with Safari, along with ungodly clunky bookmark function, are both huge problems for me. I have an older macbook pro – and the clickbar is very prone to sticking which causes enormous problems, so I avoid using it as much as I possibly can. I can’t find any way to use the touchpad to get a drop down tab “back” menu/history.

    It’s a royal pain in the rear having to go back one page at a time and hope I’m recalling the correct tab to get back to a page I want. Not to mention being unable to effectively toggle back and forth between various pages in a tab’s history – without having to load every page in between first.

    Before someone tells me just to fix the clickbar, it seems that once they start having problems, the only fix is to replace the entire top case, and the part alone is over $300. If anyone here knows of some way to fix it, I’m sure open to hearing it – as long as you’re pretty sure you know what you’re talking about. I’ve taken the top case off before, and the clickbar appears to be integral to the case, no apparent way to disassemble it. Unfortunately after multiple spine surgeries here in the last few years, no way I can even begin to consider replacing the mac.

    Then what is the deal with bookmarks in Safari? Some tricks I haven’t figured out? I can’t find any way to add a new folder without loading the blasted bookmarks page/tab first… and no way to FIND a bookmark without doing the same. Is there no drop down menu to allow you to find a desired bookmark as one can in Firefox? In firefox I can not only see all my bookmarks easily that way, but can even “right click” (ctrl-touchpad) to get a menu allowing me to copy the link without ever having to navigate away from the page I’m on or load the bookmark page… very useful if all I want is to copy the link into a comment form or email. It seems like there’s got to be an easier method for Safari too… otherwise bookmarks are incredibly & frustratingly limited.

  29. KenJr said,

    12 April, 2013 @ 23:37

    I couldn’t take the Microsoft OS aggravation anymore. I switched to Apple and found that I truly loved the clarity, simplicity, and consistency .. But not anymore. Now changes in Apple software seem to get made arbitrarily (clarifying factor: I look at Safari and Apple as one in the same). Now I keep running into issues like the one you so aptly describe. They’re happening on both on my mac and on my iPad.

    Apple software design engineers nowadays seem to assume that everyone is like them. They should all be given training on the various thinking styles and age group characteristics that are found outside the Apple complex. One thinking style is “The Analyst” The majority of engineers fall in this category. Most analysts are straight line thinkers (very uncluttered – very methodical). But out here here in the real world are “The Synthesists”, “The Idealists”, “The Pragmatists”, “The Realists” .. “Analysts” too.

    It’s hard work to design in clarity and simplicity (the simpler it is on the outside, the more complex it needs to be on the inside .. Simplicity requires complexity). It used to be that Apple people were masters in that respect. In the past if it was found that, if, for instance, a good number of people out there wanted a history list when they hit the back arrow a certain way, the Apple design engineers would have set up that capability .. but .. they would have offered it as a simple to toggle option. As I see it, this new batch of software design engineers are being lazy, they’re taking the simplest (for them) approach to design.

    A certain sort of discipline that was once predominant at Apple appears to have gone by the wayside. I can hear the Apple design engineers now .. Jobs is gone .. Finally we can relax.

    P.S. I started out at Fairchild in the ’60s. I’m an older guy now. My responses aren’t as quick as they used to be. In other words, I absolutely hate what these guys have done to the back arrow.

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