Opening a new tab in a browser is a moment ripe with opportunity, and Google has begun testing a version of Chrome that can present new options when users do so.
Chrome's current new-tab interface, which also shows by default when the browser is first launched, displays a three-by-three array of thumbnails of the most commonly visited Web sites. It also sports a history search box, a list of recent bookmarks, and a list of recently closed tabs. That changes in Chrome 18.104.22.168, a developer preview version released Monday.
The new layout, though, features a thumbnail grid four wide and two down, placing lists of closed tabs and recent downloads in a "recent activities" section below and offering an area for "tips and suggestions" next to it. This instructional section probably makes sense, given that Chrome is somewhat alien to most users, but so far it doesn't show any actual tips or suggestions.
Also new is the ability to delete specific thumbnails with a close box, pin them so they're permanently shown, and reorder them using a drag-and-drop interface. Chrome users also can opt to show Web pages in as a list rather than as thumbnails, and they can hide either the "recent activities" or "tips and suggestions" boxes.
The new-tab page historically has been left empty, but now browser makers see it as prime real estate for prompting users with ideas for what they might want to do or offering them what they might need.
Apple's Safari 4 offers a 3D array of thumbnails, which debuted the pinning, deleting, and reordering features with its January beta debut. Mozilla developers also have been toying with Firefox's new-tab behavior. Microsoft's Internet Explorer 8 asks "What do you want to do next?" and offering choices such as enabling InPrivate browsing, reopening closed tabs, and installing accelerators that let people take actions with Web page text.
The new new-tab view isn't available by default in Chrome. To use it, launch Chrome with the "--new-new-tab-page" command-line option.
The new version also fixes some issues with printing on Windows and with animated GIFs, according to Chrome Engineering Program Manager Jonathan Conradt.
Below are images of the new new-tab screen, the new new-tab screen in list view, and the earlier new-tab screen.
The new new-tab screen
The new new-tab screen in list view
The earlier new-tab screen