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Firefox, too, revamping new-tab behavior

Why not put all that empty real estate to work when opening a new tab in a browser? Firefox is trying a different method than Chrome and Safari.

Opening a new tab in a Web browser shows a lot of prime but empty real estate, and now the programmers behind Firefox are following their peers at Safari and Chrome in trying to make it more useful.

Mozilla interface guru Aza Raskin posted screenshots of a new way to fill the new-tab screen with something useful but not too taxing for the computer.

Along the right edge is the "quick-access bar," a stack of thumbnail views of your popular pages selected on the basis of how recently and frequently you visited them. In the upper left are buttons that take various actions. For example, if you've selected some text on a Web page before opening the new tab, that text will be presented as a search that can be performed by clicking the button in the new tab.

Those with the latest developer build of Firefox 3.1 can try the new-tab behavior through a Firefox extension. To do so, see Raskin's three-step process described on the Mozilla Labs blog.

Mozilla has been testing new-tab options since January. "From the feedback from the last two rounds of new tab concepts, we know that the page needs to load instantly (even a small wait breaks user experience); that it shouldn't be visually distracting; and that it should be a launch point into your daily activities," Raskin said.

Safari 4, in beta, and Google Chrome both offer an array of popular Web pages when opening a new tab. Google's Toolbar can bring the Chrome behavior to Firefox and Internet Explorer.

Raskin explained Mozilla's thinking about relegating the Web page thumbnails to a right-side strip this way: "It may seem strange that the quick-access strip is along the right of the window. It's there in order to be polite. If you've got your mind on opening a new tab and just entering a url, it's outside your foveal vision."