Firefox's new tab page performance improvements incoming

Martin Brinkmann
Aug 15, 2012
Updated • Aug 15, 2012

Mozilla introduced Firefox's new tab page at the end of January 2012. It basically was the company's take on Opera's Speed Dial page, displaying nine frequently visited pages with options to pin select pages to the interface to have them available at all times. The new tab page should provide Firefox users with an option to load popular pages faster.

Firefox users who are not interested in the page can either disable their browsing history in the program, change the new tab page url to another one, e.g. about:blank, or replace it with one of the many add-ons that have modified the new tab page for the last years.

Firefox users on slower low-end systems may have noticed that it may take time before the new tab page is displayed on their machine completely. The static HTML page needs to be parsed and rendered which is why you may see a noticeable delay. That's a problem considering that opening a new tab page is one of the most common operations in the browser.

Mozilla in Firefox 17 - that is the current Nightly version of the web browser - has implemented a change that should improve the performance when loading the new tab page in the browser. The solution preloads part of the data in the background so that it takes less time to render the new tab page.

A simple idea would be to preload the newtab page in the background and when gBrowser.addTab() is called move the newly loading docShell to the background and swap it with the preloaded docShell.

The user can now interact with the instantly loaded tab or just navigate away. When another tab is opened we just swap again because the previous tab should now be loaded in the background. If it's not loaded yet (which should almost never be the case) we can just not swap and let the new tab load normally.

The feature has landed in Firefox 17 in form of a preference that is disabled by default. To enable it load about:config in the browser, filter for browser.newtab.preload here and double-click the entry to set it to true to enable it. To disable it again at a later time, perform the same operation and make sure the value of the parameter is set to false in the end.

The second change is subtle: Mozilla removed the connecting indicator when a new tab page is loaded in the browser.

Currently, the text string “Connecting…” appears very briefly in the title of a newly-created tab before the text is replaced with “New Tab.” This text should not appear for two reasons. First, because it’s visible for too short a time to be read, and no text we display should be unreadable. Second, because it’s inaccurate, as New Tab uses cached rather data and requires no connection.

The tab should be blank before “New Tab” displays, and preferably “New Tab” would be displayed so fast as to appear instantaneous on a new tab.

It is automatically active in the latest Firefox 17 builds.


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  1. Roy said on August 16, 2012 at 5:58 am

    I never really did use this feature, I’ve set my browser.newtab.url to about:blank already. I wish they just improve session and panorama management controls.

  2. Zlip said on August 16, 2012 at 4:26 am

    I recommend all home users to avoid doing it as much as they can, it is said to introduce, startup regression, paint regression and places paint regression as per bug comments. So only users who want to test newest and latest should try it.
    Martin you should mention this in Bold..

  3. cezi said on August 15, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    Most Used pages in new tabs :
    1) (less important) : a bit slowering new tab opening/loading

    2) distract user eyes and mind = drag your thoughts to them =
    hinder/slower your action

    3) why should I have preloaded lets say x number of my most used sites – if i daily at FF session open not always the same 5 or 10 sites but 50-100 mostly different ….

    4 ) I can’t prove it ,but my guts tell me – such a preloaded mechanism is/can be /will be(exploited 4) open gate for spying/data mining

    5 ) it’s aim is= practically lead to hipnotising sppl to using less sites = more % of time on them -to shrink their minds- simplicity is debilitating ,
    in the next step it will be
    Spycial FBIbook and so on icons on spydial in default -even if you one time (or never) opened it – “most users want that”=
    =read we are paid for propagating that -just like google pays to mozilla – officially for default search engine + google safe browsing.

    – Your most used should be opened from bookmark bar-U can manually( =property) shrink,change its name, left only favicon,
    not 10 but 100 or even 1000 in custom thematic folders U can place (if so -stay open menu addon is useful)
    -or/and use your adress field ,

    try addons browse periodically and my weekly browsing schedule

  4. Zeus said on August 15, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    Really looking forward to this change. I’ve started using Firefox’s built in New Tab page, but there’s a noticeable delay when the thumbnails load, a delay which I found surprising, considering it’s no faster than various bloated addons. You’d think Mozilla would have fixed that problem when it introduced the feature. Opera’s new tabs instantly load, and it gives the browser a really slick, efficient feeling.

    If Firefox fixes the speed and allows the use of custom thumbnails, it’ll be the new king o’ the new tab page. Or, yeah, whatever. It’ll be neat.

  5. Uhtred said on August 15, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    Most people I know clear history on exit. I think the tab page feature would be a more useful thing if you could exclude certain sites from being removed via clear history, and thereby enable them for the tab feature. A simple set up under options like that for currently setting homepage would make it easy enough.

  6. ComicHippo said on August 15, 2012 at 11:13 am

    Firefox keeps adding new features but gives the option to enable/disable them in the about:config section instead of the Options under Firefox button . How will people who don’t follow tech blogs know about these features .

    1. jh said on August 15, 2012 at 4:58 pm


      Firefox has many new features introduced but disabled by default. This allows the developers (or just anyone interested) to turn it on for themselves and figure out any issues with it.

      Once the issues are resolved to everyone’s sanctification (so no memory or performance regressions), then its turned on by default for everyone.

      So just have patience. Once its good ready for general consumption, it will be turned on for everyone. However there are always a few people here and there that dont like any particular new feature. These people can easily go into their preferences and turn the feature back off!

      Firefox is truly the most customizable browser in the world!!

    2. Fine citizen said on August 15, 2012 at 1:30 pm

      true, but it saves the company from overwhelming complaints about bugs with inaccurate description – so power users can turn it on and test it before newbies can use it

      1. ComicHippo said on August 15, 2012 at 2:09 pm

        I didn’t just say it for nightlies . I meant for all version . For example the new tab page with the speed dial in the current stable version . We can disable it but only from about:config tab . Not everyone wants that feature . They should give the option to enable/disable it in the Options section . Same with the ” click to play ” feature . Chrome has given clear options to change the setting that even a noob can understand .

      2. ComicHippo said on August 15, 2012 at 2:11 pm

        And same for the upcoming feature like in built pdf reader , social integration etc . It will piss people off and they will move to chrome .

  7. Bob said on August 15, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    More history for data minors to mine. I wish people would get together and start a new open source browser project that doesn’t provide privacy breaches for the marketers to exploit.

    1. lewis said on August 15, 2012 at 5:09 pm

      Firefox is THE privacy browser.

      Mozilla actually cares about privacy and user sovereignty (unlike other browser venders). No other browser has even attempted to reduce fingerprinting in a meaningful way. Also the list of powerful and useful privacy/security related extensions is endless.

      If you dont like the new tab page specifically, you can disable it. And the only “privacy” problem that the new tab page has is that is shows your most visited sites (something you could always see in your history). If that is your concern, use private browsing or tell Firefox not to remember your history. Problem solved.

      Do you actually any substantial complaints Mr. FUD?

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