Browser Watch

Workarounds to purge search bar from Firefox's new tab page are available

firefox logo

Code of new tab page hints that Mozilla is preparing the browser for ads

Firefox users who don't like the changes to the browser's new tab page have multiple options.

With Firefox 31, Mozilla added a search bar to the new tab page, which previously had only displayed nine thumbnails of frequently-visited websites. Firefox 31 shipped last week.

Not everyone was enamored with the altered new tab page or its search box. "Australis was bad enough, now they've screwed up the New Tab page. If something works, why the hell can't they leave it alone?" griped someone identified as Scribe_uk in a message on a forum at MozillaZine, a third-party discussion board. Australis is the name of the user interface (UI) overhaul that Mozilla debuted in Firefox 29, also to some criticism.

Google faced similar complaints when it added a search box to Chrome's new tab page in September 2013.

Although there are no setting changes available in Firefox 31 to eliminate the search bar on the new tab page -- either in the browser's preferences or the semi-hidden "about:config" section -- commentators on MozillaZine suggested that unhappy users download and install the New Tab Tools add-on.

New Tab Tools is a free download, but the developer, Geoff Lankow, asks that customers give $5 to "help support its continued development." Mozilla has allowed add-on and theme developers to monetize their work since 2009, usually via contribution suggestions with PayPal the most common payment mechanism.

By default, New Tab Tools scrubs the search box from Firefox's new tab page.

An alternative, said others on MozillaZine, was the Stylish add-on, a styles manager for installing skins and themes on specific websites -- Facebook, Tumblr and YouTube, among others -- and browsers like Chrome and Firefox. After installing Stylish -- like New Tab Tools, its developer requests a $5 contribution -- users can then grab Firefox Remove Search Field from Stylish's collection at userstyles.com.

Eagle-eyed commentators also pointed out the large amount of empty, or "white," space above the search box in Firefox 31's new tab page, and wondered if that was reserved for the in-browser advertisements Mozilla talked up earlier this year.

"Well, the internal CSS coding for that [new tab] page has an area above that search bar called id="sponsored-panel", so [that] seems likely," said Frank Lion on MozillaZine. Computerworld confirmed that the new page tab's code did make reference to "sponsored-panel" several times.

A URL in the code referenced a page on Mozilla's support site that spells out what the company called "sponsored tiles."

"Hey! We're still testing/developing stuff. There's no sponsoredness happening right now and not everything will work," that support document stated.

In February, Mozilla announced that it would devote some "tiles," or thumbnails, in new Firefox users' new tab pages for ads. Long-time Firefox users would continue to see their nine most-frequently-visited websites. Analysts said that the move was part of Mozilla's search for revenue beyond its overwhelming reliance on Google, which pays the open-source developers almost $300 million annually for making its search engine the browser's default.

Although critics argued that ads violated Mozilla's stated mission of putting users before profits, the company defended the move and said it would press forward.

Some users on MozillaZine speculated that the new tab page redesign hinted that Mozilla was laying the ground for its advertisements, a not unreasonable assumption. In May, when Mozilla defended the decision and promised that Firefox would not become "a mess of logos sold to the highest bidder," Johnathan Nightingale, the executive who heads development of Firefox, added, "We will experiment ... we will mess with the layout," to better understand what would and wouldn't work.

Firefox 31 can be downloaded for Windows, OS X and Linux from Mozilla's website.

Firefox white space
Firefox 31's new tab page adds a search box and its CSS code shows that the empty space above the box has been researched for "sponsored tiles," Mozilla's term for the ads it wants to show new users.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

FREE Computerworld Insider Guide: IT Certification Study Tips
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies