Firefox includes a couple of options for your new tab page. You can go with a grid of your most commonly visited sites, use the Firefox Start Page that has a Google search bar and quick links to your history, add-ons or downloads, or stick with the classic “about:blank”. If you don’t like those options, or you want something a bit more flexible, you do have options that add more features to every new tab. Let’s look at some of them.
Firefox’s new tab page is fairly customisable on its own. You get commonly visited sites by default, but you can add bookmarks if you prefer and make your own personal speed dialler. The Firefox Start Page is pretty cool too, since you can search right from it, or jump over to Firefox’s settings, your downloads, add-ons, browser history and so on. Still, if you want something more functional than that, and you’re tired of just a blank tab, here are some extensions to try.
New Tab King has been around for a very long time, but it’s still a great option if you’re looking to upgrade your new tab page. Each new tab shows you the sites you spend the most time on, and you can toggle between morning, afternoon and evening to get right to the sites that you visit the most. You get a search bar across the top of the screen that will search the web or search your most visited sites. New Tab King also replaces the default Firefox speed dial with more tiles, and you can toggle the speed dial based on your most frequently visited sites ever, in the past month, or in the past week so you always see the most relevant thumbnails to you.
The sidebar in New Tab King gives you a notepad to jot down thoughts, your recently closed tabs in a list, shortcuts to any sites you want to stay in the sidebar, and even shortcuts to applications on your computer that you can quick-launch. Finally, you can customise the background of your new tabs so you’re always greeted with an image you like (in addition to all of this useful information, and quick shortcuts to the sites you want to visit). Best of all, everything we’ve mentioned (largely, anyway) is customisable in the add-on settings. You can grab it right from the dev or at the Firefox add-ons repository.
New Tab Tools marries the Firefox Start Page with the built-in Firefox speed dial feature. You get the tiles of your most oft-visited sites in the center of the page, all of the buttons for your downloads, bookmarks, history, add-ons, Firefox Sync and browser settings at the bottom, and right across the top of each new tab are your last five or so recently closed tabs. Best of all, it’s super-fast. You can click the settings cog in the upper right to change the background image, set thumbnails for each tile or add new tiles. If you actually like the way Firefox does things already, you’ll probably love New Tab Tools, since it gives you all of the good things about each view in every new tab — and lets you customise them.
New Tab Plus offers some solid features in a much more minimal and lightweight speed dialer. Don’t be fooled though, it still hides some easter eggs that will make getting to your favourite sites or bookmarks fast and easy. Once installed, you get a simple grid of your most-visited sites. The add-on will pre-populate some of them for you, like the weather in your current location, a quick search bar for whichever search engine you prefer (you can select Google, Yahoo or Bing), and some common sites like Google, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, eBay and more. At the bottom of the window is a mini dock that contains icons for the extension’s settings, labels for each group of web pages, a panel of common web sites in different categories, and a “cloud wallpaper” button that pulls down images you can use as the background of each new tab.
What New Tab Plus hides though is a handy grouping function for your favourite sites, so you can arrange them into groups that make sense to you. Just scroll the mouse wheel to move between groups. Right-click to edit those groups, including the launcher at the bottom of the tab. You can also drag any site in any group to the dock at the bottom to have it persist across all groups, or drag it around the grid so it lives where you want it. Adding sites is easy too — click the plus sign on an empty block, and you’ll pull up a search bar. Just type in the name of the site and New Tab Plus will add it. It’s fast, it’s flexible, and it’s pretty good-looking too.
FVD Speed Dial was our favourite start Page for Firefox the last time we looked at them, and it’s still a great tool (and it’s gotten updates over the years!). Once installed, FVD pre-populates your speed dial with a few items you’ll probably want to remove right away. From there, you can add as many or as few sites to the dial as you choose. Just click the plus sign, type in the URL (it will auto-populate from your history) and add the item to your speed dial. You can also create groups, so you can have one for your webcomics, for example, another for your work websites, and another for your favourite blogs.
FVD Speed Dial also shows you your recently closed tabs, so you can get back to them quickly, and your most commonly visited sites, all from the hovering toolbar at the top right of every new tab. You can toggle between your customised dialler, commonly visited (all time, last month or last week), and recently closed at any time, and reopen them all or just select the ones you want. Finally, the add-on features online syncing, so you can carry your dial settings from computer to computer, as long as you install and use the EverSync extension, also made by the same developers. If that’s not enough, there are tons of customisation options under the hood, so don’t hesitate to explore and make it look and work the way you want.
Super Start does away with a lot of the tweaking and granular customisation options of some of the others here and focuses just on improving the built-in speed dialler that Firefox already has. You start with a blank slate though, so it will take a little time for you to get up and running. You can customise the background with an image of your choosing from your computer, and adding new buttons to the speed dial is easy. Just click the plus sign in the bar at the top, and type in the URL of the site you want to add. Add “placeholders” for groups of sites in one button that expand down when you click them. If you’ve visited it before, it will auto-populate. You can opt to make the image that accompanies the site a snap of the top-left of the site, a snap of the whole site, or you can select a custom image of your choice to represent it.
The little “back button” in the upper left shows you your recently closed tabs at any time, and there’s a notepad icon in the upper right that, predictably, slides your dialpad buttons to the left and opens a persistent notepad on the right side that you can use to type quick messages you need to remember. Just to the left of the notepad is the theme selector, where you can choose the look and feel of the buttons on your speed dial. Super Start also allows you to add placeholders, refresh the thumbnails at any time, and export your thumbnails and settings to Dropbox. Right-click anywhere on a new tab to get to its settings.
If all of these tabs and buttons and groups and menus are just too much for you, Fast Dial is a great alternative. It doesn’t offer too much more than many of the others do, but it does keep things a little cleaner and you can set it to be transparent so you can see right through the browser window to your desktop with every new tab, which is kind of neat. It supports groups, makes adding a site to your dialler as easy as right-clicking it when you’re on the page, download themes to customise it and more.
Perhaps its best feature is that you can customise the size, look, and logos of each button on your speed dial with just the logo of the site or service you’re visiting, or with a thumbnail, whichever you choose. If you opt for logos, the extension has a built-in search tool that will take you to Userlogos.org so you can find a good looking one. If what you really want is more bookmarks and the tools to make them look the way you want, and fewer menus and options and buttons, try Fast Dial.
One last extension worth noting, Add Google Search to New Tab Page, as the name implies, adds a Google Search bar to each new tab, so if that’s all you feel is missing from each new tab, give that a shot.
While they don’t roll in apps, weather, social networks and other external tools and utilities like their counterparts for Google Chrome, they all focus on one thing: letting you customise your browsing experience and get to the sites you want to visit without taking away features like recently closed tabs and personalisation. All of these give you the option to really make your browser your own, and considering how much time we spend with them open, it’s nice to be able to make them work in a way that’s best for us, as opposed to just accepting the way they were designed.