PDFs Okay To Open in New Windows

I was pleased to read Jacob Nielsen's latest Alertbox article which recommends opening new windows for PDF and other non-web documents. This is something I've been a proponent of for a long time.

To summarize:

When using PC-native file formats such as PDF or spreadsheets, users feel like they're interacting with a PC application. Because users are no longer browsing a website, they shouldn't be given a browser UI.

In my opinion he is right on the money with this recommendation. Although many web designers seem to think that opening PDFs in new windows is irritating, my experience of watching users work with PDFs is that they will, more times than not, close down the browser window when they've finished reading the PDF.

It may be an annoyance to an advanced web user, but if so, there are many things you can do to avoid this. Try the PDF download Firefox extension for one.

Nielsen goes into a lot more detail about why he is going against his previous usability guidelines of not opening links in new windows. He makes an interesting point about removing the browser chrome from the new window - this is something that I hadn't thought of before, but seems to be a good idea.

Now that target="_blank" is deprecated (I understand the reasoning, but that was a pretty handy feature), the best way to open a link in a new window is to use JavaScript to cause the link to open in a new window and apply class="external" to tag these links as being external.

Posted on: August 30, 2005 | No comments

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