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How to get Speed Dial in Firefox

It's in Opera, Chrome, Safari, and Internet Explorer. Firefox doesn't have the new tab Speed Dial feature by default, but add-ons can help you out. Here are four that will give you Speed Dial powers.

While it's got Sync, tabs on top, and a menu button, Firefox still lacks one feature that all the other major browsers have in one form or another: the "speed dial." Originally from Opera, the feature is the visual implementation of your most recently or most frequently visited Web sites on the new tab page. Firefox add-ons have stepped up to fill the dial void, but implementation in each is uneven.

Speed Dial Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

Speed Dial (download) is the most robust of the four add-ons we're looking at today. It's highly customizable, offering the deep range of customizations that come with the best Firefox add-ons. Among the multitude of choices is the option to control whether it opens in new tabs or new windows; set the number of "dials," create dial groups, and hook them to hot key combinations for quick launching; and customize the look of each dial's thumbnail. It comes with a default weather dial in the number one position, although you can change that.

It has two problems, though. One is that it lacks the ability to automatically read your most frequently visited Web sites or most recently visited Web sites, which means that it requires your input before the dials get created, and the dials will never "learn" from your browsing habits. The second is that it appeared to slow down the browser's behavior slightly.

AutoDial 9 Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

Auto Dial 9 (download) goes in the opposite direction. It looks solely at your most frequently visited and most recently visited Web sites, and provides little in the way of ancillary customizations. There are some tweaks that are available in about:config after you install the add-on, and the extension's More Info page in the add-ons manager provides details on those. They are not an impressive set of customizations, though, dealing with button size and row width.

When you mouse over a link, which have been arranged in a slightly chaotic text cluster with inconsistent favicon support, a red X appears in the corner. Click it to remove the link from the list. While I like the concept of a pure frequently and recently visited list, this particular implementation is too disorganized to be overly useful.

Fast Dial 3.4 Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

Fast Dial 3.4 (download) behaves similarly to Speed Dial, but with fewer customization options. It also lacks the frequently and recently visited automation, and I actually had to restart the browser twice before it would show up in a new "new tab" page. You can add a new dial by right-clicking on an Web site you're currently looking at, and choosing the Fast Dial option. Or from a new tab, double-click on the dial and you can manually add a site. When getting started, I found that adding the toolbar button made accessing the dial page much easier than without it. It does let you do things like expand the grid, and set a custom favicon and URL, small tweaks that some may appreciate. It didn't present any of the performance hang-ups that can annoy in Speed Dial.

Sugestron Speed Dial 0.9.12 Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

The add-on that most closely resembles speed dial implementation in other browsers is Sugestron Speed Dial 0.9.12. It's limited to eight dials, and it has kludgy, awkwardly large icons for pinning sites to the dial and removing them. However, it does read your history accurately for frequently visited and recently visited sites. In fact, it's so accurate it'll pick up on visits to internal browser tools like the add-ons manager (about:addons).

If you're looking for a simple port of the basic dial features in your speed dial add-on, Sugestron's version is the way to go. Otherwise, Speed Dial offers the in-depth options that most people will want, while Fast Dial can provide you with a lightweight alternative to Speed Dial.

Got a favorite Firefox dialer? Tell me in the comments below.