'Speed Dial' finally comes to Firefox

With the Firefox 13 update, Firefox no longer lacks a "frequently visited sites" tab page. The update also brings a new default home page and support for Google's faster and safer SPDY browsing protocol.

The new New Tab page in Firefox 13 finally shows a Speed Dial-style, frequently visited sites thumbnails in a blank tab.
(Credit: Mozilla)

A number of improvements that Mozilla has built into today's new Firefox release find the browser playing catch-up, treading water and forging ahead, all at the same time.

If it sounds like a near-impossible juggling act to you, you're not alone.

Firefox 13 (download for Windows | Mac | Linux) comes with feature changes and tweaks under the hood. The new features include a redesigned New Tab page, which shows you thumbnails of your frequently-visited sites, often dubbed Speed Dial in honour of Opera's take on the feature. Firefox is the last of the major browsers to implement some variation of the feature.

While the previous home page only showed a Google search bar and two small text links at the bottom of the screen, the new one includes large icons to give you easy access to downloads, bookmarks, history, add-ons, sync and settings. You can access the home page with "about:home" in the address bar.

Those changes are good, but quite minor. One move that will help Firefox immediately move ahead — its support for Google's SPDY protocol is now on by default. SPDY affects browsing in two ways, assuming you're loading a web page that supports it; it's a more secure successor to HTTP, forcing SSL encryption for all sites, and it's a faster protocol, too.

The new home page in Firefox 13.
(Credit: Mozilla)

There's a number of reasons for that which includes; it can request multiple site elements over a single connection, it can assign priorities to those elements so that more important ones show up first and it can compress header data. So, if you're loading a site in Firefox that supports SPDY, it ought to finish loading much faster than otherwise. Two notable sites that support SPDY are Twitter.com and Google.com.

Currently, only Chrome and Firefox work with SPDY.

On the performance back end, Firefox 13 makes a few adjustments that ought to result in a more pleasant browsing experience for most people. If you have multiple tabs load when Firefox first starts, the browser will now only load the web page content of the active tab. This means that, for heavy tab-abusers like myself, we'll be able to get started in the browser much faster.

The new version of the browser also does a better job at memory management and has shrunk its start-up time.

Developer tools also see a large batch of small improvements in Firefox 13, such as making recently opened panels, but now closed, reopen simultaneously so that tools re-appear en masse; and saving CSS files, that are loaded locally, without a save prompt for a faster workflow.


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