Users of the Firefox web browser have had options until now to replace the default New Tab page of Firefox with a custom one using the built-in preference browser.newtab.url.
It was for instance possible to set it to a blank page to block the New Tab page functionality in Firefox which became popular after the introduction of a redesigned New Tab page in Firefox, or to set it to a favorite web service or website instead which would then be opened whenever a new tab page was created in the browser.
Mozilla noted some time ago that the useful feature was abused by companies who replaced the New Tab page in the browser with a custom version, for instance during software installations as third-party offers but also in malicious ways directly without opt-out.
The browser.newtab.url preference has no exposed UI, is not really supported, and is abused by search hijackers. We should remove it and encourage people using a non-default new tab page to install an add-on instead.
That's why the organization made the decision to remove the preference browser.newtab.url from Firefox 41.
While it is certainly improving user protection, as hijackers won't be able to use the preference anymore to modify the new tab page in Firefox using it, it is removing an option from Firefox that some users used to customize the browser's New Tab Page.
The change, which just rolled out in the most recent Nightly version of the web browser affects users who modified the preference manually or through add-ons. Those who have customized the New Tab page will notice that the customization does not work anymore after they upgrade Firefox to a version in which the preference has been removed.
Firefox users who fell victim to tools that changed the New Tab page automatically without their consent benefit from this as the New Tab page is reset automatically as a consequence.
Some add-ons that provide functionality to change the New Tab page in Firefox may have stopped working however and while it is likely that some will be updated to restore it, it will make add-ons unusable who are not updated, for instance because they have been abandoned by their authors.
The functionality to change the New Tab page in Firefox is still available to add-on developers who can create or modify extensions for the browser to provide users with that functionality.
This is not the first time that long-standing preferences have been removed from Firefox. Mozilla removed the popular keyword.url parameter in Firefox 23 for instance which allowed you to set a different search provider in the address bar than the one used by the search form of the browser.
Mozilla wanted add-on developers to re-introduce the functionality to Firefox for users who made use of it back then. The organization has the same stance this time.
The Firefox add-on New Tab Override has been created recently to re-introduce the functionality in Firefox 41 and later.
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