Links opening in a new window: make it a preference setting

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Blogging
December 2nd, 2003 • 11:03 pm

The debate over whether links with a target="_blank" attribute, i.e. links that force the browser to open the corresponding page in a new window, will probably never be settled for good.

I personally use the target="_blank" attribute for links to external sites, i.e. pages outside my own domain.

I can fully understand the argument that it might disrupt a reader’s viewing habits. On the other hand, please consider the following:

  1. Relying on the “Back” button only is fine… if you read in a linear kind of way. But reading on the web is rarely a linear process. So it’s easy to get “lost”, i.e. not remember exactly where you came from (which links you followed), especially if you leave a given page open for a while and come back to it later on. The “Back” button doesn’t really address this. It’s one-dimensional, when most of my web browsing is two-dimensional. Using the target="_blank" attribute is an (admittedly far from perfect) way to reflect the two-dimensional (tree-like) nature of web browsing.
  2. Yes, in theory one should leave the choice to the end user. After all, if I want to open a link in a new window, I can do it myself. In practice, however, there is the fact that it often requires two hands (especially on the Mac): one for the mouse and the other one for the modifier key. When I am browsing the web, I am often resting my left hand away from the keyboard. This forces me to go back to it. I like it when sites don’t force me to do this, i.e. when they use the target="_blank" attribute for external links.
  3. The target="_blank" attribute doesn’t actually force the user to view the link in a new window. With the appropriate modifier key, you can get Safari, for example, to open the link in another tab in the same window, even if the link includes the target="_blank" attribute. I prefer having to use a modifier key only when I actually want to force an external link to open in the same window, in a different tab.

I think a lot of issues surrounding this target="_blank" attribute could be settled in a fairly reasonable way by adding some preference settings to web browsers, such as:

  • “Force external links to open in the same window”
  • “Force external links to open in a different tab in the same window”
  • “Open external links behind current window”


Yes, it’s all about user choice. But I, for one, would like to have the choice to have external links open in a new window without forcing me to use the keyboard (or use a three-button mouse).

Additional preference settings could go a long way toward making everyone happy. Think about it.

One Response to “Links opening in a new window: make it a preference setting”

  1. Will says:

    If my web browser changed the effect from _opening in a new window_ to _opening in a new tab_, like you suggest, I wouldn’t mind this thing.

    But it can’t, so I hate the effect. It should never have been invented and it’s the worst thing in the world.

    (But I’m not going to impose my preference on anyone. I just don’t understand people’s motivation for using it. If you seriously find it _helps_ your internet browsing habits, I’m not the person to say otherwise.)

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