How To Change The New Tab Behavior In Firefox 13

Change the default New Tab behavior in Firefox to avoid seeing thumbnails of most frequently visited sites. I reviewed the major changes in Firefox 13 earlier today – it introduces a new ‘New Tab’ page – when you open a new tab it displays up to 9 thumbnail pictures of your most frequently visited web pages – click a thumbnail to visit that site.

Some people will find it helpful – Chrome and Opera already offer a similar feature. However, others may have one of the following issues:

  • Invasion of privacy – you may not want your most frequently visited pages displayed whenever you open a new tab, especially if you share a computer.
  • Speed of page display – you may be concerned that displaying up to 9 thumbnails might slow down the New Tab page load speed (to be fair I don’t think that it does to any appreciable extent).
  • Choice – you may prefer a New Tab to open a different page e.g. a blank page or a specific website like Google.

An example of the new Firefox New Tab page is shown below:

new tab

Firefox New Tab page

If you would like to change this default New Tab behavior in Firefox, here are 3 possible alternatives to choose from.

1.  Hide the thumbnails

  • Click on the square icon (consisting of 9 little grey squares) at the top right of the New Tab page – this hides the thumbnail pictures and your choice is remembered even after you restart Firefox.
  • Note that the square icon remains displayed – if you click it again the thumbnail pictures will reappear on this (and all subsequent) New Tab pages.

[Geek’s corner – clicking the icon changes the ‘browser.newtabpage.enabled’ preference in about:config to True (default) or False]

2.  Hide the thumbnails and the square icon = Blank Page

You can do this by setting the New Tab page to just open a blank page instead:

  • Open Firefox and type about:config in the address bar and press Enter.
  • Click the “I’ll be careful I Promise” warning button (if it appears) – a long list of preferences used in Firefox is displayed.

Tip: You can scroll down the list of preferences but the quickest way to find the right one is to type part of the preference name into the Filter bar at the top of the config page e.g. type newtab to narrow down the list to only display preferences containing that text.

  • Double click the browser.newtab.url entry and change the String Value text to about:blank (default is about:newtab).
  • Close Firefox and reopen it – now, whenever you open a new tab it should just display a blank page.

3.  Change New Tab to open at a website of your choice

If you want a New Tab to always open a specific website e.g. Google:

  • Open Firefox and type about:config in the address bar and press Enter.
  • Click the “I’ll be careful I Promise” warning button (if it appears) – a long list of preferences used in Firefox is displayed.

Tip: You can scroll down the list of preferences but the quickest way to find the right one is to type part of the preference name into the Filter bar at the top of the config page e.g. type newtab to narrow down the list to only display preferences containing that text.

  • Double click the browser.newtab.url entry and change the String Value text to your chosen website address (URL) e.g. (default is about:newtab).
  • Close Firefox and reopen it – now, whenever you open a New Tab it should display your chosen website.

Privacy Warning

The three methods above change the default behavior of the New Tab page which appears when you click on the ‘Open a New Tab’ + icon. However, they do not delete the thumbnails from the actual New Tab page itself – so anyone browsing directly to about:newtab will still see the thumbnails displayed (or be able to display them by clicking the square icon).

To delete the thumbnails completely you must clear your browsing history – this also clears the list of your most frequently visited sites (and therefore the thumbnails too):

  • 1.  Manually – via Firefox Menu \ History \ Clear Recent History. Note that the thumbnails will start rebuilding again as you visit more sites.
  • 2.  Automatically – via Firefox Menu \ Options \ Privacy \ Clear history when Firefox closes (in the History section). This will erase the existing thumbnails whenever you close Firefox

Ccleaner (and similar) tools can also be used to clear the Firefox History.

56 Responses to: "How To Change The New Tab Behavior In Firefox 13"

  1. Alan says:

    Thank you for this information. I do consider this a major problem for me. I’m sure that some others will find this useful but whenever I open a new tab, I already *know* which page I want to go to and you can bet it’s not gonna be one of the ones suggested. It’s usually a cut’n’paste from some other page.

    But this is all useless to me if Firefox doesn’t fix the problem of not putting the new tab where I f’g want it, which is just to the right of my current tab. I picked *THIS* tab to Open New Tab from because THIS is where I bloody want it! It’s a dead simple option they can put in, so WHY did they take it out after 3.6 and WHY has it never been put back in?

    • Roy says:

      Hi Alan, I can’t answer for Firefox changes (they’re a law unto themselves!) but if they haven’t put something back yet they probably never will :-(

      However, I have used Tab Mix Plus add-on since FF 4 to open a new tab just to the right of my current tab –

      If you haven’t tried it yet, install the addon then go to Firefox menu bar \ Tools \ Tab Mix Plus Options then select the Events button then the New Tabs button and tick ‘Open new tabs next to current one’ – that should do the job for you. The addon has many more useful options too.

      • Alan says:

        Yeah, I know they won’t if they haven’t by now. I’m just really, really puzzled why the f’ not though? It’s something that’s cause no end of troubles for people since 3.6 and spawned so many add-ons that you’d think that a simple boolean would solve. I’m not liking this attitude of theirs. I have seen many suggestions of Tab Mix Plus but all I want is my new tab to be to the right of the current tab (and keep the order if I open a bunch of them) and not the rest of the bloat that seems to come with every tab manager add-on there is.

  2. Cleo says:

    Better yet, take option 3, and change the default “about:newtab” setting to “about:blank” to get your old blank tab back.

    • Roy says:

      That’s Option 2 Cleo but, on review, it’s not as clear as it should be – so I’ve added ‘Blank Page’ to the heading for Option 2 to make it clearer.

      Thanks for the feedback – I still prefer blank tab myself ;-)

  3. jamiefreeman says:

    Hiya I usually want a new tab to google something I read. So changing the new tab to default search engine is perfect.

  4. joei says:

    Thank you for this. This new “new tab” layout was driving me crazy!!

  5. OC says:


  6. Peter says:

    Hi Roy,
    Since, I think, getting 13.0 for Mac (beta) every now and then FF opens a new tab without me doing anything. Have you or anyone else come across that behaviour before?
    Thanks in advance!

    • Roy says:

      Hi Peter, seen that lots of times on Windows where a different site opens each time – caused by a ‘redirect’ virus (often the TDSS rootkit). Macs can also be infected by malware (but less likely) – run a scan with a free Mac AV like Avast or Sophos to make sure.

      Do you mean Beta version? There are always likely to be strange issues with betas – try changing to the official FF13 Release for Mac.

      Otherwise it is probably a misbehaving toolbar or add-on e.g. some people report that the Facebook toolbar does this. Try disabling all addons and if it goes away re-enable one by one until you finds the culprit

      If the above fails then try Firefox safe mode –

      • Peter says:

        Thanks Roy, by now I seem to be on 14 beta version and just wondering if & how to downgrade to 13 official – do I have to uninstall 14 beta first?

      • Roy says:

        As you have a problem in 14 beta I would remove it first (backup Bookmarks, saved passwords etc if required and make a note of addons) and start with a clean slate with a fresh FF13 install.

        Then you could check if the problem has disappeared then add back addons one by one – you may also find FF is quicker/less prone to error as you have a new install and new user profile without accumulated rubbish from previous upgrades

      • Peter says:

        Thanks again, Roy
        I backed-up Bookmarks and got a list of saved bookmarks and add-ons, and saved a copy of my FF profile (as described here: as well, although I’m not sure from your comment “you may also find FF is quicker/less prone to error as you have a new install and new user profile without accumulated rubbish from previous upgrades” if I should actually reinstall that profile (once FF 14 beta removed and FF official installed) or build up a ‘fresh’ new one?

      • Roy says:

        Personally, unless you had a lot of configuration and tweaks in your old profile, I would just build up a fresh one i.e. import your bookmarks then manually redownload addons and configure FF how you like it:

        1. your old profile might include the cause of your original problem
        2. your old profile will have accumulated rubbish over time

        Like a fresh install of Windows can speed up a PC, it takes some time to do but is worth it to get a clean Firefox install going forward. If in any doubt, keep your old profile (you could also back it up with MozBackup) and you could always restore it afterwards if you really need to

      • Peter says:

        Thanks Roy!
        I’ve just finished doing it like you suggested – took a while to re-enter all saved passwords (that I keep under the master password) manually, as I didn’t know how to recover them automatically…
        PS: Added Tab Mix Plus add-on to have multiple rows of tabs (I use my screen in portrait mode)

      • Peter says:

        Unfortunately: occasional spontaneous ‘new tab’ still arising ànd several FF crashes today :-(
        Maybe getting rid off Tab Mix Plus? Other add-ons installed: ghostery, adblock plus, track me not, google analytics opt-out (all of which I had installed before with no problems)…

      • Roy says:

        If it happens in Firefox Safe Mode too then time to look for malware Peter – malwarebytes would be a good start as well as whatever AV you have, perhaps an online scanner too

      • Peter says:

        As I’m using OSX, can’t use malwarebytes. Don’t have an AV installed, so ran the Flashback removal tool from F-Secure (, but nothing was found. Will try FF save mode.

  7. Mark W. says:

    I was getting nine “blank” thumbnail images on the new tab page.
    I tried safe mode for the browser start-up to eliminate any possible interference from an add-on, etc. and still had blank thumbnails.
    I found a solution on a Mozilla support thread –

    “The thumbnails on the about:newtab page are generated from the cache, so if the page is not in the cache or otherwise can’t be rendered as a PNG image then you will get an empty box.
    Do not use Clear Recent History to clear data when you close Firefox.
    If there is no history then you get an about:newtab page with empty boxes.”

    Makes sense. Can’t clear my data and have my thumbnails … have my cake and eat it too.
    I have to think about this “feature”. :)

    • Roy says:

      That’s true Mark.

      Although the thumbnails build up again, for some time they will just be your most ‘recently’ visited sites rather than your most ‘frequently’ visited sites which isn’t quite the same thing and may not be as useful.

      If you like the feature then best not to remove history at all (or with Ccleaner etc) – I can see people forgetting and being upset when they find they’ve all disappeared :-(

  8. Rich says:

    I have been using NewTabURL and set it to open the “Current Page” because I usually want to follow a link without losing the original page.
    However NewTabURL does not work with Firefox 13.

    How can I get a new tab to open with the “Current Page” option?

  9. Mike Haseler says:

    I am so horrified by this stupid thing I’ve had to revert back to 12.

    When I open a new tab … I don’t want a blank page, nor a specific URL. I just want a copy of the current page. It’s that simple. Sometimes I copy a URL and open that page.

    When I look at a problem I google search. Then I open up the first likely website, I read the content, and this often suggests another couple of sites. So, then I duplicate the site and click on each one.

    The best feature is that if I find a non-clickable URL, I just copy it and then press “ctl-T” and hey presto it is there magically.

    I never ever look at … what are they called “most frequent sites”. This “feature” isn’t a feature. It may as well show flower shops for all the use it is to me.

    And having to go back to opening up a specific URL is like going back to the stone age. IT SO PRIMITIVE.

    I really can’t understand how people can live without NewTabURL. I can’t …. my blood pressure is back to normal after getting more and more worked up trying to find version 12 of firefox so that I could get rid of this stupid pathetic, luddite, incomprehensibly stupid “improvement”.

    This is why I stopped using micro$oft. They were constantly foisting stupid “improvements” on users.

    • Roy says:

      I feel your pain Mike – it’s ironic that this New Tab behavior is just copying Chrome – which has overtaken Firefox in popularity, go figure…

      Hopefully NewTabURL will be updated soon. If it isn’t and you want to upgrade FF in future for security, note that Tab Mix Plus works in FF13 and has the option of opening a New Tab as:

      Duplicate Tab with history (i.e. current page with history so you can go back/forward a page if available)
      New Tab page
      Blank page
      Home Page
      Current Page (without history)

      Also see my answer to comment 8 above – Tab Mix Plus also lets you easily Duplicate a tab (with history)

  10. Pen says:

    Hi Roy,

    Thanks for your instructions to “Change New Tab to open at a website of your choice”

    I set it up to open a new tab on (which is what I had before).
    It opens up on Google – but the cursor is in the address bar, not the search box on the Google page.

    Any idea how to fix so I can just click on a new page and type, instead of having to click on the search box?


    • Roy says:

      Hi, Tab Mix Plus (TMP) can do it – TMP Options \ Events \ New Tabs – set ‘Load on new tabs’ to ‘New Tab Page’ then put the google URL in the Address box – that opens a new tab on Google with the cursor in the search box ready to type :-)

      I can’t see another way to do it without an addon. [If you make google your homepage, the cursor is in the search box when you click the Home button but that is because you’re not opening it in a new tab, just changing the website in the current tab].

  11. Valerie says:

    Thank you so much! I hate the cluttered look of the default “new tab”–especially since the mini-windows it shows are all blurry and nasty looking. I’ll take a clean white screen any day.

  12. kachi says:

    Thank you SOOO MUCH! I hate the feeling of add ons just taking over my personal browsing space. I was feeling so invaded and this is the only article that gave me exactly whet I was looking for, thanks so so much!

  13. PJ says:

    Is there any way to control the 9 links that appear so they are not the ones I visit most often but the ones that I choose instead? Kind of like a condensed bookmark list…

    • Roy says:

      Yes – drag and drop a bookmark onto whichever of the 9 squares you want it to appear in – it should be permanently pinned there by default (to double check – hover over it and you should see a blue (pinned) icon in top left of the square)

      Do the same for all 9 bookmarks :-)

      You can also move (drag and drop) a square to reorder it into a different position if required

  14. Valerie says:

    Thank you! My problem with much of computing these days is the obvious trend toward “dumbing” it down. My goodness, don’t they think we are capable of actually reading a list?

  15. Sharon says:

    Thanks so much for the tip. I found the thumbnail layout distracting. I keep my history for the occasional time when I want to get back to a page that I didn’t bookmark. But I find scrolling a text-based history list much faster than looking through thumbnails of a handful of pages of history. In the rare cases I’ve needed to go back, it’s been much further back than the websites represented by the thumbnails.

    I appreciate the time you’ve taken to share this information.