New Tab Concepts

The user experience for opening up a new tab in Firefox is somewhat lacking: you are greeted by an intimidating, blank canvas with no hint of what to do. Could Firefox be doing something better with it? The answer is almost certainly yes, but the question is what?

Initial Ideas & Mockups

To get the ball rolling, we are highlighting two early concepts.

The first is Aza Raskin’s Contextual New-Tab Actions, which is a look at using the power of context and contextual actions to enhance the browsing experience through a smarter new tab. Its main goals are to:

  • Simplify the common actions, like being on a page and needing to perform a look-up on some text. Right now you have to copy the text, open a new tab, go to a new web service, and paste it in. If the browser knows you’ve just selected an address and then opened a tab, it knows you’ll probably want to map it. Let’s give the user one-click access to mapping it.
  • Streamline your habits. If you always visit TechCrunch after reading Slashdot, the browser can offer you one-click navigation from a new tab.
  • Super-charge search. You often go to a new tab to start a search action: Make that front and center.

The ideas are meant to be mix-and-match, not necessarily all used together.

Experimental Add-On

Edward Lee, the main developer of the Awesome Bar in Firefox 3, has already starting experimenting with a zero-configuration new-tab extension. Try it out.

Ambient News

The second is Atul Varma’s Ambient News, an experiment into how Firefox could learn from your habits to give you the news you care about in the new tab area. Its goal are to:

  • Provide the user with zero-configuration news about the sites that they visit frequently.
  • Explore how to bring the benefits of RSS to a wider audience.

Get Involved

So what do you think about these ideas? They are not meant as static artifacts, but as a launchpad for thinking about better ways to use the new-tab workflow. There are two ways in which you can participate in the design process:

1) Provide feedback on each of the concepts shown here for Contextual New Tabs, here for Ambient News, and here for Edward Lee’s add-on.
2) Get involved and share your own ideas and expertise.

66 responses

  1. Caleb Mardini wrote on :

    I may have been wrong about that as I uninstalled the tool and the behavior continued.

  2. Caleb Mardini wrote on :

    I am using the add-on About:Tab 0.0.36, and I have to say I think the concept is there, but this version doesn’t work well on a Mac (for me anyways).

    I’m the type to hit CMD-W to close tabs and ultimately the browser window. With About:Tab 0.0.36 all tabs can close via CMD-W except the last one open. I have to reach for the mouse to get that done. Thanks.

  3. oss 2009 wrote on :

    Thanks you. After trying the two, I must confess I prefer ambient news. I get more content and a better visual experience with it. Definitely a must-have extension.

  4. salihrocker wrote on :

    Thanks you. I have no back and forward button on my home page could you help me set it up Thanks

  5. salihrocker wrote on :

    Thank you. I agree with Andres S. Lancheros, please take a look at Chrome’s new tab. It’s a very nice layout.

  6. James wrote on :


    I disagree, I use the URL bar a lot as do a lot of people I know.

  7. James wrote on :

    I’d personally rather have a function similar to Opera or Chrome’s speed dial, that to me would be more useful.

  8. Claudius Raphael Paeth, A3lyphe wrote on :

    Uh and by the way:

    What you try to do is realizing a contextual widget system; Again: copy Opera.

    And if you want the presentation that is best for it and what you obviously try to realize; copy vista sidebar.

    And if you want a goddamn usable tab system; copy safari’s (v4) extended version of the google chrome tab visualization.

    And if you want the best way of representing bookmarks; copy windows 7 taskbar visualization, use it INSTEAD of the (in any application unnessecary) standard menu.

    And if you got rid of the standard menu put it under your logo that in almost any system is representing your application in the upper left; so lean to old macOs as you did with some other features you already took over (what’s in the upper right?).

    Uh yeah, and if you’re at it and got all that; copy Internet explorer 8 view of content exploration in the developers panel.

    You know what?

    You’re browser is the only one beside Opera that is ABLE to do all that.

    This would result in the best usability experience one using a browser could have.

    Believe me, if you won’t do it, others will.

    And perhaps you are thinking about technology advantages?

    What about a clean x64-version?

    What about Direct-X and OpenGL? If you need help with that ask your concurrent developers at Microsoft and Opera.

    Oh by the way: Did any of your developers ever looked at Opera 10 and how sites are rendered there?

    Seems i’m emotionally overloaded right now.

    Hell yeah. But if you’re following all that crap of business- and marketing-depending decisions made the last 20 years with open eyes, because you hope someone will do it right once; well, possibly you could understand.

    However, at least i wish you will find a way to get rid of unwanted and indeed unneeded complexity.

    Do your best.

  9. Claudius Raphael Paeth, A3lyphe wrote on :

    Didn’t read all that, but what saud said 2 posts before, is what i’m also concerned of:

    combine the adress and search-bar finally;

    and when we’re at usability: How about copying opera in whole and get back to the roots by adding presentational features that windows 98 by channels already tried to emit into the market.
    Oh yeah, sorry i forgot: Never argue on the enemies base, huh?

    You know what, i was always in opposition to FireFox, which changed when the v3 beta was out. And then? You released it and bloated it up to a monster that needs more memory and processor usage than a fully driven vista with a heck of applications open.

    This browser is just a set of crap in comparison to others, because what made it good is the concept behind, but that is in no way corresponding with how it shows up.

    Get back to basics.
    Be simple.
    Be cool.

    Split it into a professional version and a liteweight one.

    There is a reason why GOOD software has almost 2 views|editions you can use it.

    You are way too fresh, to go further on that lifeline.

    If you do, you’ll die.

    So don’t.

  10. Vero wrote on :

    Does anyone how to disable the new firefox feature of automatically copying the address of the current tab into the address bar of the new tab? For example, when I ctrl+t, the new tab automatically opens with the address of this tab…. I would like to disable that like in the older versions…

  11. saud wrote on :

    Why do we still need the URL bar anymore when all that we do is GOOGLE everything?
    I think its time that should be made OPTIONAL.
    I personally cannot remember the last time I accessed any particular site using the URL.
    I think it’ll be a good idea to make it optional to have the URL bar and just stick to GOOGLE Search bar.

  12. DooMsDaY wrote on :

    i don’t care about tab’s properties.
    just ctrl+t : ]

  13. p5rova wrote on :

    I use tab extensions to open an interesting link i a new tab and keep reading the current one. Is it possible to open the new tab with placing the address there but start loading the page only when the tab is selected /becomes ‘on top’/ ?
    Sometimes the new page turns to have some Java or big images so I cannot scroll my reading while something else loads ‘at background’.

  14. ana garrido wrote on :

    Lot of spam here.

  15. Murrich wrote on :

    What I think would be great: If you open a new tab, there should be a schedule which contains all of your bookmarks.
    I have many different folders for my bookmarks. Having displayed all of these folders on one page would make navigation much easier than having the bookmarks in the sidebar, always clicking that annoying “+” to open it and afterwards scrolling down in the list.
    I know there are addons like Fast Dial for this option but there I have to create all my bookmark folders manually.

  16. dan wrote on :

    why not just show the home pag ewhen you open a new tab?

  17. Bud wrote on :

    I have no back and forward button on my home page could you help me set it up Thanks

  18. Léo wrote on :

    After trying the two, I must confess I prefer ambient news. I get more content and a better visual experience with it. Definitely a must-have extension.

  19. Sami wrote on :

    This sound like to good idea.

    But for me I cannot remember opening a new tab.
    I am using TabMix Plus extension and using settings to open bookmarks, history, address bar, search bar, group of bookmarks, all in new tab.

  20. MichaelG wrote on :

    All good ideas.

    What I would like is a simple tree/map of my browser bookmarks below a standard search box. This needs to be an option for new tabs in the browser configuration.

    Another idea for your books:
    Have a multiple tab bookmark function. Where bookmarks in a folders are opened together as tabs.

    For example. There are websites that I visit everyday and I can categorise these by news, tech stuff, gadgets, sports, etc.. now if I select a folder, all bookmarks inside the folder opens in new tabs, this way, I can browse my fav websites without having to open each one or click on the bookmark thing for every link.

    You can pay me later 😉

  21. Warren wrote on :

    Neat Ideas

    One thing I’m guilty of is always using ctrl+t in order to simply get the cursor to the address bar even if I don’t want to keep the current tab I’m on.

  22. Kushal H wrote on :

    If we have the search bar in the webpage itself, why not go ahead and hide the awesome bar from the new tab when it opens? maybe we could bring it back once the user leaves the open page and goes to another location.

    would that be too resource hungry? What do you think?

  23. Jess wrote on :

    There is a very simple functionality that I would LOVE to see. I’d like the ability to toggle through my open tabs using the arrow keys on my keyboard. This would make browsing so much funner/easier.

  24. DeBorah Beatty wrote on :

    I’d like to see tabs open with the same address as the old window. I often want to open a new tab to keep a window open while I explore a link or perform a task and to have to copy the address to the new tab is often just an extra step I prefer not to do.

  25. Tiago Sá wrote on :

    I don’t know if anyone relevant is ever going to read this but I hope they do. Here’s a thought about search. They my firefox works right know (with tons of extensions, including the marvelous tab mix plus) is, I select a text, and DRAG it to my search box, which will open the search on a new tab. OR if I want a different search engine I can drag it to the search engine icon, it will open a dropdown with the search engines I have on my search box and I just drag the text to the engine I want. My firefox is fast that way.

    Also, if I just want to open the text in a new tab (as if I was typing it and pressing enter in a brand new tab) I just DRAG it to a blank space on the tab bar (or a place in between tabs). How about that?

    Also, some feedback. The only times *I* open a new tab is for actually typing a new url. Like I want youtube in a new tab, I open a new one and type “youtube” (not or whatever) and that’s it. It goes where I want it to go. Other than that, I don’t need to open new tabs. ALL my searches open in new tabs, ALL my bookmarks open in new tabs by default, I can use middle click in any link I want and all that.

    All this doesn’t mean everyone takes the most out of their browser like I do. Most people don’t know about this stuff. Still, it’s MUCH better to let them know about the actual stuff you have in your browser. IMHO.

  26. nblracer wrote on :

    I read a few comments, and i think some people may be missing the point. Fast Dial system like opera already out fore Firefox in a plug in. Anyways hat system makes it easyer to go to websites you already know. it does not provide any real info in the blank window since the thumbnails are to small and not cashed often.
    I think the goal is more in line with providing a services of information on each new page.
    I don’t think the first idea with the awesome bar is that useful, Since Firefox makes it so simple to search. You can just hit ctrl-t to get a new tab and start searching your favorites and history or hit the tab key to type a query in your favorite search engine.

    I think a good idea is to a widget system page. Where it alowes users to drop, add and organize widgets. Giving Firefox programmers more area to show some eye candy that can provide a services to the user weather it a simple feed reader, slide show, or the weather,

  27. Matthew Wilcoxson wrote on :

    Thanks, Aza, interesting, I like the idea of using the blank space for something but maybe we should take it a little further… Perhaps it is time to get rid of the new tab button altogether? (Stay with me on this one!)

    It seems like it works the wrong way around at the moment. You need to be able to say, “I want to go here but put it in a new tab”, not “give me a new tab then I’ll tell you where I want to go”.

    For instance, all my searches automatically go into a new tab. If I want to open a website I use regularly in a new tab I hold down “Ctrl” and click on it in the bookmarks. (perhaps they should have an extra button to replace “Ctrl”)

    It seems like two awesome bars is one to many, so maybe the normal ones needs an extra “go to tab” button.

    Also, “speed” (or “quick” or “fast”…) dial is useful to fill a blank tab, but its no different to the “Most Visited” auto bookmark and you can click “open all tabs” in that!

    And the maps thing is good, but I prefer the the way Ubiquity works by selecting the address then right clicking and selecting “Map”, think that’s much more intuitive.

    Any thoughts? Would people miss the button?? Actually, I think I might at first, but I guess it’s what you get used to…

  28. peter wrote on :

    aza raskin checkout cybersearch add-on.

  29. peter wrote on :

    my new tab opens with fastdial i think this idea is a dead duck!

  30. F6F Freak wrote on :

    Speed dial would be a good way to go. (And hey, why not call it quick dial?) This way, you can have six different search engines if you want to. Problem solved. Or, You could integrate a search bar on the top of the speed dial page.

  31. Joe Vasquez wrote on :

    I agree with Andres S. Lancheros, please take a look at Chrome’s new tab. It’s a very nice layout.

  32. Andres S. Lancheros wrote on :

    I recommend examining Google Chrome. The new browser released the first of September. It has a very creative idea on the new tab screen. It shows the nine most visited pages, like Opera’s Speed Dial, then shows the most recent bookmarks, closed tabs, and allows to search browser history

  33. Mike Stuart wrote on :

    Multiple Row Tabs

    Please can someone allow tabs to span multiple rows. What is the point of extending them into infinity in one long line. Why not allow them to span rows. Imagine having three rows open. On one row you are researching a concept. On the other row you are reading news sites. And the third row researching a related concept. Now you don’t have to walk miles to the right to find the last tab you opened. Tx

  34. Duane Wills wrote on :

    I prefer the method that IE 8 beta 2 uses. If you highlight text, it puts up a floating Web 2.0 button that can send the data to your web application of choice. You shouldn’t have to open a new tab. Highlight the address -> Accelerators -> Map with Google Maps -> Done.

  35. antistress wrote on :

    If you try something like Epiphany (Linux) you’ll stop pressing ctrl+tab to perform a new search as Aza said, since the location bar allow to perform searches.
    Anyway, Firefox has a search box.
    Therefore i don’t understand if Aza mockup for a better new tab screen aimed at replacing the search box or what.
    The major drawback of Firefox to me is having a separate search box which means 2 commands lines with the location/awesome bar which means that one command line should be removed.

  36. Peter Fleming wrote on :

    Each result should also have an icon to show which of the search components produced it. This allows for user increasing or decreasing of influence as they get used to what is producing the results he needs and which is a total annoyance.
    It could even track the links followed and their search component then automatically increase weighting to that part of the algorithm eg. deicious.

  37. Peter Fleming wrote on :

    To set influence have a slider for each source and slide to increase inflence.
    MSc IT

  38. Peter Fleming wrote on :

    Jive has a point.
    Too much opinon on what the person wants with mixed search results and awesome bar makes the browser seem like an over anxious personal assistant. People like computers because they have a consistant input output logic. With this move towards agents you really need a clean interface to set bias towards each influence. This will give the user back control and restore faith. A slider to drag is needed. If there are four inputs eg. delicious, bookmarks, history and awesome then make a square and let the user show the influence he wants from each by placing the slider at a point in that square. This way he can fine tune is preferences and knows he is in control, not some programming secret agent with a hidden agenda ( you get the idea). That is lacking in the awesome bar and is why there are so many bad reviews.

  39. jive wrote on :

    I really dont like this because we dont need a 3rd search bar. We can already search from the address bar “google firefox” or we can search from the search bar on the right. Also when I open up a tab I want to have a fresh start, so what if its empty. Do I really want to move down to the third giant searchbar? Also I’m concerned about load time, I have about:blank as my homepage because its very fast and doesnt bother me, I think the same should be for my new tabs. But this might be useful for others, but please have it an option to have it blank like it is now.


  40. Roderik wrote on :

    I agree with some other comments. Implementing a search box in a blank page when there is a search bar in the GUI already and a contextual address bar will just distract you. In that case white would be better because you can concentrate on the elements that are important. I configured Opera’s speed dial but I hardly use it. Maybe if the “most visited” thingy in the bookmarks toolbar improves a bit you can use that to generate some thumbnails of those pages in the blank page (as speed dial). The problem with my “Most visited” menu is that one website has too many entries there because it considers all related pages and another problem is how to count frequencies when urls might change for different reasons but might actually refer to the same content.

  41. Jan Dittrich wrote on :

    I think genesys is right.
    But it would be nice, if Firefox could open a new tab after the current page and not far right.(especially while using “Open in new tab”) Today, I always have to rearrange my tabs.

  42. Michael Rees wrote on :

    I find IE’s opening the home page in any new tab a great advantage since my home page just contains my most important bookmarks.

  43. Jason Fowler wrote on :

    Sorry it was called About:BookmarksHome

  44. Jason Fowler wrote on :

    I used to use an extension call About:Home it would create a nice CSS/HTML page that was populated by folders of bookmarks I had selected. You could use the smart-folders available in the new Firefox to create something similar with the most recent pages, the most-viewed bookmarks, and a collection of live-bookmarks. You could also include the most recent queries entered via the search-bar as links …

    @Cristian Alvarez:
    The problem with the “New tab homepage” idea is that I have 3 pages set as my ‘homepage’, so if this was used, would spawning a new tab load three new tabs? or would it only load the first of my homepages? This could cause issues for some people who have a site that only allows one instance to be opened at a time …

  45. Andrew wrote on :

    First time poster and all, but instead of an idea, I have a different way of looking at this. Instead of figuring out what to display on empty tags–why not circumvent opening empty tabs in the first place? For example, think of the reasons you open blank tabs (at least, for me)

    1) To type in a new URL
    2) To paste a new URL
    3) To search for something (Ctrl-T, Tab); although I’m sure this has hotkeys associated with it, its just a habit that I never got around

    I realize a few people have posted slight variations, but basically, it can all be narrowed down to the following: going somewhere where there’s not an immediate link to click on. So why not have ways that circumvent opening a blank tab? Perhaps a way to open a new URL in a tab without having to open a blank tab and then enter the address?

    As for pasting a new URL, I know Firefox already has this in the form of middle-clicking, but judging by the number of blog posts with instructions on how to disable it, I’d say its more an annoyance than anything. How about a context sensitive “button” at the end of the tab bar that activates when it detects a valid URL in the clipboard?


  46. Garciat wrote on :

    Awesome ideas.

  47. Cristian Alvarez wrote on :

    I think the best option is, like “New tab homepage” extension, just open the user’s home page (usually a search engine). Or let the user configure an URL, or just duplicate the current active tab.

    The search functionality described is already on the URL field, and like someone said, you can simply add a “open in new tab” button in that field.

  48. Joelee wrote on :

    Personally, when I open a new tab it is because I want to go to a specific website and I simply type the URL. I like it this way. Go figure?

  49. LethAL wrote on :

    The search idea is just silly. Why not just make the normal search box better, and add an option (in its menu?) to open in a new tab.

    Speed dial would be a better option, although I don’t use it.

  50. Dave Brondsema wrote on :

    Like desu said, we already have 2 bars at the top. I like the concepts for a search + awesomebar + 3rd-party, but whey limit to a new tab? It should be accessible from anywhere. And why add something new when we could make the awesome bar + search box that we already have do it. Combine it into one, make it bit bigger, make gain focus when a new tab is opened, etc.

  51. Travis wrote on :

    I love the “fast dial” firefox add-on and the “new tab button” add-on. It makes going to all my regualr sites easy. To improve it, It would be nice if firefox maintained a directory of website logos that could be easily used on the fast dial buttons.

  52. BetaByte wrote on :

    @ thread starter : It wouldn’t hurt to add something that saves all your comment input when decide their is an error. That way I wouldn’t have lost my first trial because of a CAPTCHA that only showed up AFTER having pressed send :p

    @ genesys : Enabling new features can be done through the settings, if you’ld like to use this one you need to mark that option. That way everyone is happy and further development can go on.

    @ topic : …

    Search and Suggest tab :
    * Learns from your actions in the web browser to suggest adding rss-feeds from sites you visit regularly but haven’t added to your rss reader. Added links could then display the number of posts they have since your last visit.
    * Proposes links through what your favorite sites use as sources, what people with similar search patterns visit, what your friends share/blog/talk about, etc.
    * Suggests alternate search terms that are closely related to the ones you use and that deliver results that you haven’t seen yet.
    * Suggests subjects based upon a cloud like view of the things you search for and visit. For example sea and water source result in the following suggestions : river(s), glacier(s), lake(s), etc..

  53. Dallas wrote on :

    since the birth of tab’s, all I have wanted was to have it open my home page. click, click, newtab open homepage. that is all

  54. genesys wrote on :

    Please don’t. Opening a blank new tab is just fine. If you try to attract new users with “things that shine”, you’ll lose old users who hate things that slow down firefox – and it is slow already.

  55. Stephan wrote on :

    Oh dang….throw, not through.

  56. Stephan wrote on :

    I always thought Dvorak’s home page ( ) was an interesting concept. What if this could be made dynamically from my bookmarks? Through in a search box and I have my self an awesome starting point.

  57. Danielle Fong wrote on :

    The short version:

    I like Aza’s suggestions, but I’d also like to be able to paste arbitrary html elements, like lists or images or text, into a new tab, to help me take notes as I browse.

    The long version:


    I may be unusual, but nearly always, when I open a new tab, I do one of the following things:

    1) Perform a search. Often, I’ll use the hotkeys I can configure in my search tools, so a huge proportion of new tabs around opened like this

    ctrl-t (new tab)
    w – enter (look up something on wikipedia)

    I don’t typically use the search box.

    2) Access a frequently used application.

    3) Search history for a recently visited site.

    4) Paste a location I have in my clipboard that wasn’t turned into a link.

    5) Hop to the end of the list of tabs. I stopped doing this once I found that I could switch to the end of the list with ctrl-9.

    6) Paste something that I’ve seen that I want to remember briefly: in other words, take a note.

    This is probably quite obscure, but since the Awesome Bar has a different textfield for each tab, I sometimes save information in a tab as a quick way of taking notes.

    If, however, there were a better way to take notes, able to save arbitrary html or images or embeds, that would be super terrific. Imagine Evernote, on each tab.

    I think this is one of the main opportunities for new tab screens. We already have an Awesome Bar, which should focus entirely on navigation. But we *don’t* have a method for jotting down notes or copying things, which is unfortunate, since it’s one of the main activities that websurfers do.

    On top of this, support can be made extremely simple, elegant, and clutter free. The blank page can remain, save for a small text message inviting you to paste or type in the blank tab, wherever you may.

  58. desu wrote on :

    hell no, speed dial ftw, what’s the point of having a blank tab with a huge search bar when you already have two bars that can perform great searches.
    do not want

  59. ManOfSkill wrote on :

    1. How about just making the default for a new tab go to your homepage. I know it would only take a second to change this in the preferences but I find many “non-power” users don’t know about it at all. That alone would make a new tab more useful for most users.

    2. I’m a fan of Opera’s speed dial and personally use an addon to replicate that functionality. I agree with the comment above. There is no shame is using someone elses good idea. Just ask microsoft. I’m not sure if speed dial or Edward Lee’s auto dial would be best.

    3. I really don’t like your idea of a contextual tab. Firefox already has most of those features by default. When you select text and right click there is a search google option which opens in a new tab. Maybe it could behave more like office 2007 which automatically displays a set of options when you select text.

    4. An idea which could incorporate many other good ideas would be to have a new tab open to a widget page. There could be a default set of widgets (search, weather, word of the day?) and people could add other user created widgets. Much like iGoogle. In this way people can really get what they want. You could combine search + awesome bar with speed dial with a feed reader or whatever else the user wants. But all on one page. Seems useful to me, what do you guys think?


  60. Jandy wrote on :

    Are there stats on how often people open new [blank] tabs? I never do. I always get new tabs from entering an address, using the search box on the top right, or clicking a link (or duplicating a tab). What are some purposes for opening a new [blank] tab? You mention 90% of the time it’s to run a search, but why not use the search box that’s already built into the browser interface, especially since you can customize it to include any site you search often?

  61. ktalgerie wrote on :

    very good

  62. Wil wrote on :

    “If the browser knows you’ve just selected an address and then opened a tab, it knows you’ll probably want to map it. Let’s give the user one-click access to mapping it.” — I currently use the “SearchWith” extension for right-click, search-on-highlighted-text functionality. It’s awesome! If you’re going to integrate such functionality, please allow the user to select the type of search (i.e., don’t limit the search to the browser’s best guess)…perhaps the highlighted text is an address (for example: “90th Street”), but the user doesn’t want to map it, they want to run an Amazon search on it.

  63. Raymond wrote on :

    One of the extensions I always install is “Context search” when you select a piece of text, and use the context menu you have the option of using one of the installed search engines to search with the selected text.

  64. Mirek2 wrote on :

    I like Aza Raskin’s Contextual New-Tab Actions. About the news feeds, I like the way IE 7 manages them, along with bookmarks and history – in a tabbed, hideable (on a click elsewhere; I’m not quite sure what the right term is) toolbar. I use Google Reader for RSS feeds (I find Mozilla’s solution too complicated also), so I don’t really need or want the news under a new tab…

  65. Tae Kim wrote on :

    Oops, I guess they call it speed dial.

  66. Tae Kim wrote on :

    Uuumm… quick-dial? There’s no shame in copying great features and Opera’s quick-dial is definitely an awesome feature.