I promised to talk more about iRider and why it kicks so much ass compared to “tabbed” browsers…
First, iRider isn’t a full blown “browser” exactly. It is just a shell that wraps around IE. It is still the IE engine that does the HTML rendering while iRider replaces the address bar, toolbar, status bar, side-bar, and navigation features. Under the hood pages still load up using IE.
That means that if IE can display the page, so will iRider.
It also means that the plug-ins for IE are available in iRider too. The only thing you might miss are the third-party toolbars (like the google toolbar and similar).
The most striking thing you’ll notice about iRider is the side-bar. Instead of using tabs along the top, pages open in the side-bar as you navigate the web.
The sidebar takes up a good bit of horizontal space, but with modern screen resolutions this shouldn’t be a problem for many people. If you are using a widescreen monitor (and really… who the fuck isn’t?) then you probably have plenty of horizontal space to spare anyway.
The sidebar can have a lot more pages open without crowding than you get with tabs. It also displays much more information about the open pages. With tabbed browsing, you get less room to show the page titles as you open more and more tabs.
The sidebar contains a thumbnail, progress bar, page title, pin button, and close button for each open page.
You can control how big the items in the sidebar appear… specifically, how big the thumbnail image will be. If you are like me then you don’t care about thumbnails, so you can shrink them to make more room for more pages! If you prefer visual cues then you can make the thumbnails big, or even huge.
The side-bar gives you a visual relationships between pages. Pages from the same site are grouped together. As you click links, pages in the same site also indent below the page you came from. This visual navigation history really beats the crap out of the old back button.
That’s all cool stuff, but iRider’s real strength is in the many more subtle features.
Left-clicking a link opens a new page in the main window. The old page remains in the sidebar so it is easy to get back to it.
Right-clicking opens the link in the sidebar, but leaves the main window where it is. This is similar to the “open in new tab” command in tabbed browsers, but is a lot less annoying. This is called “surf-ahead” in iRider.
How often have you opened several tabs in IE or Firefox, then had trouble figuring out which of the 15 tabs contain the pages you haven’t looked at yet?
The sidebar in iRider has an elegant solution to this problem. That progress bar serves two purposes. It tells you if a page has finished loading yet, but then it stays lit up after the page loads until you’ve looked at the page. You can glance at the sidebar and see instantly which pages you’ve looked at and which you haven’t.
Another set of cool features are the bulk-operations.
If you want to open a bunch of links from a page at the same time? Just drag-highlight the links and right click. ALL of the links in the highlighted part of the page will open at once!
The sidebar has bulk operations too. If you want to close a bunch of pages at the same time (and this will come up often) then you can just click-and-drag over several “X”s at once. All of them will close when you release the mouse button (excluding pinned pages).
The sidebar allows you to “pin” pages too. Clicking the “X” will not close pinned page (which prevents accidents with the drag-click closing of several pages at once). Additionally, pinned pages automatically re-open when you launch iRider. And pinning can be done in bulk with click-and-drag in the same way that the close button can.
iRider also has several neat enhancements to the “favorites” that allow you to do neat stuff too. You can create favorites that open multiple pages all at once. I have an “AtWork” favorite that I use to open about 6 to 10 code reference sites at the same time. I have another one for news sites that will open all of my favorite news outlets in one click.
The ideas in iRider’s UI are very well thought out, elegant, and graceful. The iRider developers really understand the idea of how users “surf” multiple pages and sites.
It is depressing that most of iRider’s features remain obscure and have gone unnoticed by the major browser makers. The UI in iRider is at least 5 or 6 years old now. But the best that Firefox, IE, and Safari have managed to give us is crappy-ass “tabbed browsing”, which is a clumsy and user-hostile shadow of what iRider offers.