for a few weeks now. Mozilla isn't the first company to rethink the blank window. Opera has offered a "speed dial" feature with user-customizable thumbnails for your favorite web sites for a while. And Google Chrome automatically generates thumbnails from your most frequently visited pages.
But Mozilla doesn't just want to give you quick access to the sites you visit most. The team also wants to make sure the new tab area isn't too distracting. And that's led to a completely new concept that the developers are calling a "cognitive shield."
What happens is that Firefox will keep track of your recently and frequently visited pages. But instead of showing you a list of links or thumbnails every time you open a new tab, Firefox will show you a dull gray set of icons for those pages. If you type an address or search term into the location bar, you'll never see anything other than this unremarkable list of icons. But if you scroll your mouse over the page it will expand into a colorful list of web sites and favicons.
Unlike Opera's speed dial, the Firefox bookmarks are automatically generated. But unlike Google Chrome's thumbnails, you can add or remove links from the Firefox new tab page. You can also disable this behavior by clicking the asterisk in the bottom left corner of the screen.
In order to try out this concept design, you'll need to have the most recent beta version of Firefox 3.1 and then you can download and install the New Tab prototype add-on. Eventually this feature or one very much like it could find its way into a future version of Firefox.