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Firefox risks user backlash by adding search box to new tab page

Gregg Keizer | June 16, 2014
Mozilla has pulled a "Chrome" by adding a search box to the new tab page in Firefox 31, which is slated to ship in final form on July 22.

Mozilla has pulled a "Chrome" by adding a search box to the new tab page in Firefox 31, which reached beta status yesterday and is slated to ship in final form on July 22.

Along with the nine thumbnails representing the user's most-frequently-visited websites, the new tab page in Firefox 31's beta sports a search field near the top of the window. Typing a search string in the box initiates a search on Google, unless the user has changed the default search engine. If the Firefox user has changed the search engine — say, to Yahoo or Microsoft's Bing — that choice is also used in the new tab page's search box.

"We know that many users don't know/use the search field in the UI or the Awesome Bar," wrote Philipp Sackl, a senior interaction designer at Mozilla, in the first entry on a Bugzilla thread that kicked off the change in January. "Providing a search field on the new tab page would make their search experience more fluid."

Firefox's new tab page appears when users press Ctrl-T (Windows) or Cmd-T (OS X), or when they click on the "+" symbol in the tab bar. All browsers offer a similar feature that, at a minimum, shows thumbnails of the user's most-visited websites. The new tab page appeared first in Opera — which called it "Speed Dial" — and has since been adopted by all browsers, including Firefox, Google's Chrome, Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Apple's Safari.

With the introduction of a search field in the new tab page, Mozilla users now have three different places in the browser's UI (user interface) where they can begin a Web search: In the address bar (called "Awesome Bar" by some at Mozilla) and the separate search field, both at the top of the window, and on the new tab page.

That may be a problem for some users if Google's similar change was any indication.

In September 2013, Chrome 29 added a prominent search box to its new tab page. And users howled.

"Fail, fail, fail," said one Chrome user at the time.

"If you're on Chrome, why wouldn't you just use the omnibar?" asked another, using an alternate name for "omnibox," Google's label for the combined search-address bar at the top of the browser window.

For several months, Google offered a workaround that stripped the search box from Chrome's new tab page. But the company dumped that option in February 2014, again riling users.

In the Bugzilla entry that launched the new feature — Bugzilla is Mozilla's bug- and change-tracking database — there was no commentary about possible user resistance. Nor has Mozilla added a setting in the browser's options to eliminate the search box.


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