Productivity

Five Best Start Pages

Your start page is the first thing you see when you open your browser or load a new tab — your gateway to the rest of the web. Get the most from your start page with one of these five favourites.

Whether the start page you’re using is your browser’s default or you’ve carefully selected it, checking out these five contenders for best start page will give you a chance to decide if your current start page serves your needs or if it could use an upgrade.

First, a note on our methodology. Several popular entries in this week’s Hive Five are essentially clones of each other (just for different browsers), so we opted to combine the most popular just-like-the-other options into single entries in order to give you a more diverse Hive Five. You’ll notice, for example, the entry on Speed Dial-like start pages includes the Chrome start page, Opera Speed Dial and Speed Dial for Firefox all in one entry instead of spreading them out so we could squeeze more options into the final result.

Photo by Kairos Photo.

about:blank (Free, Browser-Independent)

In modern web browsers, typing about:XXX provides various information depending on what the XXX part is. (For more on the various about: variables, gloss over this Wikipedia article.) about:blank is the universal code for “display a blank HTML document”, and many Lifehacker readers prefer this as their start page — or anti-start page in a way! — because it fires up each session and new tab with a clean slate that doesn’t use any unnecessary resources or bandwidth. It’s fast and distraction-free.

Fav4.org (Free, Web-Based)

Fav4 is probably the most elegant of the start pages featured here — not counting the extreme-minimalist approach of about:blank. The arrangement is simple: You visit Fav4 and click on the customise gear in the lower right hand corner. From the customisation menu, you can select your four favourite sites from the roster of provided sites or suggest a new site if they don’t have one of your favourites. Drag and drop the four sites of your choice onto the customisation side bar, and the sites will be displayed — as seen in the screenshot above — as four large icons in your browser window. You don’t need to sign up to use the service — it saves your settings on a per-browser basis using cookies instead of requiring a login. Given how much of the average user’s web traffic is directed at a small selection of sites, having only four sites in the bar isn’t as restrictive as it would first seem.

iGoogle/Google (Free, Web-Based)

Google made two appearances in this week’s Hive Five on two distinct ends of the start page spectrum. For many, Google.com is their go-to search engine of choice, so it was natural to make the basic Google search portal their start page. Others love Google as a search tool but want more out of their start page, so they use iGoogle (see the screenshot above). iGoogle is Google’s widget-based start page. Not only can you embed widgets for nearly every Google service — including Gtalk, Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Reader — you can add in additional widgets from the extensive iGoogle widget directory.

Chrome New Tab/Opera Speed Dial/Speed Dial for Firefox (Free, Browser-Dependent)

Thumbnail-based “speed dial” start pages have grown in popularity since Opera introduced Speed Dial two years ago. You can enable or install Speed Dial-style start pages in most popular browsers in a variety of ways. Opera set the stage for thumbnail-based start pages with the original Speed Dial, which allows you to specify up to 25 thumbnailed sites on your Speed Dial page for quick access. Google Chrome has its New Tab Page, which displays your most frequently accessed web pages as well as recently closed tabs (seen in the screenshot above). Finally, Speed Dial for Firefox is a Firefox extension which brings Opera-style Speed Dial to Firefox. It’s not as polished in appearance as the actual offering from Opera or self-updating as the New Tab Page in Chrome, but it gets the job done.

Custom (Free, Browser-Independent)

While some people are content with the emptiness of about:blank and others are content with the structure imposed upon them by using pre-designed start pages, a smaller but vocal minority of readers opted to build their own start pages from the ground up. Why be restricted to the form and function of a start page designed by someone else when you can build your own start page to fit your needs and tinker with it to make it as simple or complex as you need it? The start pages readers create vary as much as their HTML chops allow, but for a surprising amount of readers, the best start page is the one you design yourself and load as a local HTML document or save on your web server for personal use from anywhere you do your browsing. Photo by jphilipg.

Honourable mention goes out to Netvibes, a feature-rich and widget-based start page, and the various session restore browser features, which load the previous windows and tabs you had open in lieu of a start page. Want to offer more reasons your favourite is so great — or want to talk up a start page that didn’t make the cut? To the comments!


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