27 August 2008 - 16:32Auto Dial Add-on for Quick Page Access

Aza recently suggested a zero-configuration speed dial interface [azarask.in], so I started hacking on an add-on to do just that. After plenty of user feedback and reviews over the last couple days, you can get Auto Dial 4 [addons.mozilla.org] as a public add-on without needing to log in.

The add-on creates a page that fills up the screen with links to your frequently visited pages with the most frequently visited ones at the top being the easiest to click. As you go further down in the list, the links become smaller for the pages that you less frequently visit.

Auto Dial Add-on
Quick access to frequently visited pages on new tabs (Ctrl/Cmd-T) (larger)

The Auto Dial page shows up every time you open a new tab. So after you hit Ctrl/Cmd-T, you can type into the Smart Location Bar as usual to search through your history as well as easily access your frequently visited pages with a click. With the Auto Dial page, you can click any of the pages like a normal link (middle-click or Ctrl/Cmd-click to open in a tab).

Other features in the current version include letting you to type the page’s number to jump right to it (hover over a link to see its number), moving selection with the keyboard and stripping off “http://” from URLs. There’s also a collection of about:config preferences to tweak to your liking: how many pages from the same site to have, how big the largest button should be, how fast the number of buttons grows, and how long you get to type the page number.

Auto Dial Add-on [addons.mozilla.org]

“.. adds incredible functionality. It’s like Active desktop for the browser.” “i love it! instantly my became my first useful home page” – Michael, zac

Thanks again for the feedback through email, my blog, IRC, and AMO.

74 Comments | Tags: Add-on, AwesomeBar, Mozilla


  1. i love it! instantly my became my first useful home page

    can’t wait for right click “ignore this url”

    being able to group stuff togther with the same favicon

  2. This is very cool. One nit: I got a lot of links to gmail, because I use the labels a lot – these end up as separate urls with similar frecencies. So maybe a better query for me would be something like (this is the first time I’ve tried sqlite manager or looked at the places tables, so ymmv):

    SELECT url from moz_places mp1
    where not exists (select null from moz_places mp2 where mp1.rev_host = mp2. rev_host and mp1.frecency < mp2.frecency)
    order by (select sum(frecency) from moz_places mp3 where mp3.rev_host = mp1.rev_host group by rev_host) desc
    limit 20

    ie ‘best url for each rev_host, ordered by the total frecency for a rev_host, limited to top 20’. This is a tad slow but gives me better results than ‘order by frecency desc’.

  3. zac: Thanks for the feedback. Any reason in particular you would want a page ignored? Perhaps it could be smart enough to not show the place and not require user interaction.

    For example, if it’s Baz’s situation with a lot of pages from the same site, it could automatically pick the top page for the site and not have to ignore a bunch of pages.

  4. Cool and innovative (as always). Just a note may be quick shortcut for first 9 pages. I hate mouse :)

  5. Wow, that is a seriously noisy display. I can barely look at it! But a neat experiment, nonetheless.

  6. Would it be possible to make it 50% transparent? (all of it).

  7. I’ve updated the add-on to version 2 which includes various suggestions from feedback.

    Baz: You can set extensions.auto.dial@agadak.net.maxPerHost (default 5) to limit how many pages from the same host show up.

    Jigar: You can type any number (not just single digits) and it’ll automatically select then go to the page. (Or just press enter if you don’t want to wait for the timer.)

    Ted: With suggestions from aza to remove the borders and from beltzner to make the layout more predictable, the new display should be less noisy and focus more on the content.

    Staś: With the borders gone, I faded the button background to be pretty much transparent and becomes mostly opaque when you focus or hover over a button.

  8. […] Lee, the main developer of the Awesome Bar in Firefox 3, has already starting experimenting with a zero-configuration new-tab extension. Try it […]

  9. Sumit Kishore says: 25 Aug 2008 - 14:45

    Nice, although I would still like a search field above the icons.

  10. What would you like the search field for? If you want to search for words in the url or title, you’re probably better off just using the location bar. If you want to see what numbers you’re typing as you quick-select by keyboard, keep an eye on the status bar.

  11. Great idea, I’ve noticed since I starting using Fx3 that I have got into the habit of typing a couple of characters, then down and enter to get to my favourite sites, yet I still never got round to bookmarking them. I’ve set this as my homepage, and I’m sure it will change my behaviour again.

    Two comments:

    Firstly, why do the ’tiles’ not act as normal links? I want to open a new window or tab, see this page and click through to the page I want. Or middle click the tile to open it in a background tab. Or right click to save it to disk. Or whatever. Fx has developed various methods of dealing with links that people are used to – it is bad to break those conventions.

    Secondly, I like the idea of a pyramid or hierarchy of links by most visited, but I think the current layout needs improvement (I’m “still” on V1, maybe V2 is better). The problems I see are:

    Layout issues:
    * Lots of space for the top sites, leading to blank space.
    * It doesn’t take account of window height or width
    * Favicons scaled up from their intended resolution and look ugly
    * Tiles near the bottom still have the same vertical space, but not enough horizontal space to differentiate them. My bottom two rows have 8 tiles showing just the default favicon.

    I’d suggest having about three sizes of tile, all with a roughly fixed width, just adding more to a row if there is space.
    Level 1: about 250px wide, the height of two of your tiles and showing a preview of the page (e.g. http://jboriss.wordpress.com/2008/08/22/tab-view-vs-application-view/ ). If there was enough space then it might even be possible to have more than one link for a site in a single tile.
    Level 2: Similar tiles to yours, maybe a little smaller.
    Level 3: Just the page title and favicon, so it uses less vertical space, but therefore allow more horizontal space.

    I’ve just noticed that you’ve updated your screenshot on amo, and it certainly looks better with the four widths of tile, but I think the tiles do need some form of border between them.

    Its a really impressive start though, and something I could definitely see shipping by default after a bit of refinement (not that I’m in a position to influence that!)

  12. I just wanted to mention that the chrome address in your post doesn’t work on Linux because it redirects to an all lowercase path. But this address does work:


  13. Great Idea. I use userstyle Firefox backgrounds to make things look better, but this adds incredible functionality. It’s like Active desktop for the browser. Actually you could take this a lot further. Congrats.

  14. Uhm, it’s weird, but I am unable to use it.
    When I try to open the address you indicate above, I get redirected to chrome://autodial/content/autodial.xul and getting a “File not found” error.
    The addon is installed properly since it does appear without errors at the addon list, and the various setup options are present into about:config. Did I find a bug? Can I help in any way?

  15. Package names must be in lower case. (This is a limitation of nsChromeProtocolHandler creating an nsStandardURL.) I thought this was documented somewhere, but if not, it should be 😉

  16. I’ve updated Auto Dial 3 to package as autodial, so you’ll be able to access it through chrome://autodial/content as well as chrome://autodial/content/autodial.xul

    Version 3 also supports automatically filling the whole screen as well as ctrl/cmd click to open in a separate tab.

  17. […] Lee, the main developer of the Awesome Bar in Firefox 3, has already starting experimenting with a zero-configuration new-tab extension. Try […]

  18. Excellent stuff, thanx. Would love it even more if there was the ability to change from frequently visited pages to recently bookmarked. Any chance that being doable?

  19. John Smith says: 27 Aug 2008 - 18:05

    It is problematic enough right now when Porno sites show up in the Awesomebar. However, it is going to be even worse if they show up on the Dial Add-on page.

    Solution #1: don’t look at porn (hah).
    Solution #2: Delete browser history (bad idea — as I then lose useful history data for the non-porno, 98% of the Internet that I have visited in the past).
    Solution #3: Allow us to kill sites from the Auto Dial page (which at the same time, kills them from awesomebar).

    This really is a problem, and it’s only going to get bigger.

  20. I would like a lot if it were posible to show only my bookmarks; I was very fond to Bookmarkshome and then My portal, but both of them are not longer maintained. This would be a good replacement, one homepage with the more usual bookmarks bigger and the less usual smaller.

  21. Mardeg says: 28 Aug 2008 - 2:41

    @John Smith
    My heart bleeds for your porn problem. Perhaps try:
    Solution #4: Create a separate Porn profile that you run from another (hidden?) icon with the target properties -no-remote -P “porn”
    see http://kb.mozillazine.org/Profile_manager
    I’ll definitely be giving this exension a whirl

  22. Very interesting, but there’s something that bothers me a tiny bit.
    Perhaps this is not the best place to make a suggestion, if so, please redirect me to the proper place.
    Anyway, when opening a new tab I expect to be able to type something, but the chrome:// address is on the way. Requiring me to erase it…it could be made so it doesn’t add any text to the location bar, allowing you to type directly what you need.
    Is this possible?

  23. When you open a new tab, it points to chrome://autodial/content/autodial.xul but the text is highlighted. This means you can type normally and the text will be overwritten and the location bar will work as normal.

  24. hybrid-kernel says: 28 Aug 2008 - 19:27

    This is a very useful addon, but the interface needs some work. The first time I opened a new tab after installing this it took me a few seconds to understand what was going on. It just seems as there’s too many things trying to get attention. I quickly mocked up a concept interface that should be slightly more user friendly. No its not perfect and it needs many tweaks but its the basic idea of what I had in mind.

    http://frenchford.googlepages.com/test.html (also it would have icons on the side and I should’ve made the whole thing not just the text clickable)

    It doesn’t have to be like this but it does need to be organized more cleanly. If you decide to use this, I’ll gladly work more on it.

  25. @Ed:
    No, the text automatically appends. This is not the standard behavior for my setup.
    My system is an Ubuntu Linux, with FF3.0.1. No homepage set.
    You need any more information?

  26. blufive says: 29 Aug 2008 - 0:08

    fairly cool, but there’s one thing driving me round the bend – lots of the pages that come up for me have long, barely meaningful titles, often the same for the first part. So I end up with a bunch of buttons with the same wording/icon.

    How about a tweak: if a site is bookmarked, use the bookmark title, not the page title?

  27. I don’t like the idea of opening new tab will bring the Auto Dial Page. I only want to use when I need it by only pressing Ctrl-T. How can I delete new tab integration?

  28. This is great! :) Just one small glitch:

    Is there any reason why opening a new window does not trigger the Auto Dial home page, and just shows a blank page, like opening a new tab does without having this add-on installed?

  29. I am not sure why this is necessary. The Awesome Bar is already pretty much doing all of this for me, in an easier-to-use way. Perhaps this will appeal to the more visually-oriented folks. Right now, though, it seems far too busy and cluttered to be useful to me, esp as default for every new tab. Yikes! I think it should be configurable as a home page or bookmark rather than a default for every new tab. Also, I suggest reducing the number of choices to no more than 10 (ie 0-9) and also, as others have suggested, allow a user to deselect a page from being displayed. But overall, I would rather see the effort go into adding functionality to the Awesome Bar. Like combining the Search Bar with the Awesome Bar, for instance. Regards.

  30. I just installed it… and there’s a blank page when I open a new tab… I did some browsing… still nothing

  31. @Ed:
    Me again. In a windows install the location bar behaves as it should. Might be linux-specific.

  32. fornetti says: 31 Aug 2008 - 7:20

    I do not believe this

  33. +1 for Geo’s suggestion of clearing the location bar. Typing appends text for me too. I’m using pretty much exactly the same Ubuntu setup. I poked around in the about:config settings a bit; but I didn’t find anything that would change that behavior.

  34. I thought I had this so that it was not invoked for a new tab, and now it is coming up for a new tab. I want only to see as an empty page for a new tab (about:blank) and it’s default icon.

    Instead as was your original intent it is coming up for a new tab and along with your favicon, which makes also makes it harder to recognize empty tab both on tabs bar and the injected content.

    I really DO LIKE the extension and have bookmarked a keyword shortcut (“autodial:”) to chrome://autodial/content/autodial.xul there is mention of about:config settings on the addons page, but don’t see them in about:config and no documentation that I can find — though I must have used something earlier.

  35. Fabrizio Bianchi says: 04 Sep 2008 - 4:41

    I think it would be very useful to put in FF Add-on window’s option menu for Auto Dial the option to show exclusively domain names of the most visited pages in the History.

  36. As per Ehsan and Nikko — not sure what’s happening, but I can’t seem to get any results. And the options button is permanently disabled, too. Any ideas?

  37. If you’re running TabMixPlus, you’ll have to configure TMP to open new tabs to be chrome://autodial/content/autodial.xul

  38. This extension is coming along nicely and getting more useful. Unfortunately version 5 usually fails to clear its address from the url bar and this requires a Ctrl+A and a backspace before I can start typing anything in it. That’s why I had to disable it until it’s fixed.

    Keep up the good work!

  39. Curious, what OS are you running? Linux of some sort? On Windows and OS X, the text will get highlighted and if you type something, it’ll overwrite the url. But even then, the chrome:// url should disappear when opening a new tab anyway.

  40. Dmitry Gutov says: 04 Sep 2008 - 15:48

    I’ve installed version 5 from AMO, but the documented changes such as red X, bookmark titles, and any options for the text and icon size are nowhere to be seen.

  41. That’s very odd, can you try installing it again and restarting the browser? You should see the red X when hovering over each page entry.

  42. Congratulations. My browser now has a homepage button for the first time since Netscape Communicator was released and I was able to customize my toolbar!

  43. Dmitry Gutov says: 04 Sep 2008 - 17:05

    I already did that (and also reset the only remaining setting after uninstalling), no change. No X-es, and the Options button is still grayed out at the Extensions page. Should it be that way?
    I’m running Firefox 3.0.1 under WinXP SP3.

  44. SlugO says: 05 Sep 2008 - 2:51

    I’ve used Auto Dial on both Windows XP SP3 and Arch Linux. Sometimes there isn’t anything in the url bar but quite often there’s the Auto Dial’s address. I’ve never seen it highlighted though.

  45. Version 5 corrected the location bar text not being deleted/selected. Now I can say this is my homepage for good!
    Thanks for addressing the issue so quickly!

  46. […] nouvelle extension “zero-configuration new-tab” à tester dans FF. Un projet de Edward Lee, le développeur principal de la “barre […]

  47. I like this concept! The red X is a good idea but it remove the address from history, can we imagine a black list to filter out some host without removing them from history?

  48. That worked – thanks!

  49. Wonderful idea, and a great extension. I have my about:config settings adjusted to display the links in columns of 4 down the entire page (buttonRows at 16, buttonSize at 500), which makes it easier for me to skim.

    ISSUES: With some FF3.0.1 themes (on Windows Vista), the delete ‘X’ button isn’t displayed on mouseover. Readability is hindered when using certain themes that change the Options/Add-ons confirmation buttons (ok/yes/no/cancel), which skin the Auto Dial links as buttons and move the link title over the button but leave the address listed under the button. Favicons are very distorted in some themes, too.

    Screenshot: http://img114.imageshack.us/my.php?image=autodial5oc3.jpg

    I am not certain if I should address these issues with you or with the themes’ creators. Is this something I should correct myself with CSS/Stylish or could you fix the extension’s code to thwart themes from crippling the display.


  50. I was wondering – is there a way of clearing the cache for this? I already tried clearing my history and all of my settings, but to no avail. The reason I ask is that when I have to surf for a particular set of pages for research but won’t go back to them again, it takes a LONG time to remove them all. Plus, it seems like the extension went a ways back into my history to find pages and I don’t particularly need to see pages that I accessed a bunch of times 90 days ago.

    Thanks in advance.

  51. There isn’t a cache that is storing a local copy of the top pages. Every time you load the page, it updates to the latest understanding of your most frecently visited pages. The frecency algorithm will automatically determine which pages show up earlier in the list, so if you recently visited some pages, they’ll be higher up. But if you go back to visiting your usual non-research pages, they should jump back up.

    One thing to check is that bookmarks get a slight boost in staying power, so that might be one reason why some pages are sticking around.

  52. nik del says: 18 Sep 2008 - 1:28

    I can’t make it work. I believe because I have the Speed Dial extension also installed.When I open a new tab by default opens with Speed Dial. Is there a way to fix this or should i disable Speed Dial?

  53. stephen says: 20 Sep 2008 - 20:41

    I can confirm SlugO’s problem of the chrom//autodial address appearing in a new tab bar. The address bar is not automatically selected.

    I can also confirm enSue’s findings of problems with certain themes, namely Utopia and HEAVEN.CUBE.

    Abstrac Classic, Abstract Zune, Aero Fox, Aero Siler Fox Basic, Aquatint Black Gloss, Aquatint Redone, Metal Lion Andromeda, MidnightFoxy, and rein are fine.

    Running 3.0.1 on Vista.

  54. A very useful extension!
    Suggested refinements would include aesthetically partitioning the new tab space with most visited/recent sites (~12 page thumbnails etc), show full history etc., similar to Google’s Chrome browser. The home page opens with nine (too large) most visited web page thumbnails with a “full history” hyperlink.
    Kudos for the great development effort!

  55. I keep getting the following error when opening a new tab with this add-on:

    [Exception… “Component returned failure code: 0x80004005 (NS_ERROR_FAILURE) [mozIStorageStatement.executeStep]” nsresult: “0x80004005 (NS_ERROR_FAILURE)” location: “JS frame :: chrome://autodial/content/autodial.xul :: :: line 266” data: no]

    Sometimes, I get this too when I click on the little red cross.

    Also agree with Brent’s suggestion of having the option to reduce the choices down to say ten (helps to reduce clutter) or to be able to configure the row/button height.

    Otherwise, a useful extension to replace the blank new tab.

  56. Hey Ed! Interesting experiment. I’d like a pref to display the page in a grid rather than the tree shape it has now. I find this format a bit messy.

    One suggestion for the pyramid might be to make the links farther down the page have smaller text size. Might make more of the title and URL visible when you get into 7 and 8 links per row.

    I also set auto.dial@…maxPerHost to 1. In a bunch of cases, I’d like to take the top-level or have a default page. Forums and bugzilla links tend to be less useful when you’ve descended into the site.

    Anyway, cool stuff! Thanks!

  57. required says: 12 Oct 2008 - 6:16

    it’s looks kinda stressfull like. please make the most visited places bigger and let me configure the ratio and/or number of elements shown.

  58. […] Mike Beltzner, Madhava Enros, and Vladimir Vukićević. Special thanks to Edward Lee for the AutoDial add-on, and Atul Varma for the Ambient News […]

  59. You’ll Like It

  60. Michael E says: 05 Feb 2009 - 4:27

    I have used Auto Dial and Firefox 3.0.5 for a few months without any problems. I have just updated to Auto Dial 6 and Firefox 3.0.6 using this combo the back button on the browser disapears. I have I have uninstalled and reinstalled a couple of times but always the same back buttonless browser, however installing Auto Dial 5 does bring the back button into use.

    I have enjoyed the use of Auto Dial

  61. Auto Dial 6 + Speed Dial Make location bar can not change when switch tabs.

    Auto Dial 6 + Tree Style Tab 0.7.20082801: Type new URL in location bar then press Enter, it does not goto new URL.

  62. Thanks Eric. The new version v7 should work better with other add-ons, e.g., IE Tab Speed Dial, Tree Style Tab.

  63. Bjartur says: 04 Mar 2009 - 0:42

    I think you should create a new about: page, like “about:autodial” to gain quick acces to the page without opening new tabs.

  64. You should be able to load the page with chrome://autodial/content/autodial.xul
    You can additionally bookmark that page if you want. But I might make it about:autodial down the line.

  65. […] as it has drawn from existing projects like Atul Varma’s Ambient News [toolness.com] and my Auto Dial. You can follow the development of this prototype [wiki.mozilla.org] to see what’s going on […]

  66. […] since last year, the idea has been floating around Mozilla with attempts like Ed Lee’s AutoDial (frequently visited sites), Atul Varma’s Ambient News (web feeds approach), and Aza […]

  67. […] desde el año pasado, la idea ha estado flotando alrededor de Mozilla, con intentos como el AutoDial de Ed Lee (sitios más visitados), o el Ambient News de Atul Varma (con una aproximación al […]

  68. […] 12 sites that appear in the list are those that you frequently use to start browsing. Similarly, Auto Dial 6 has been updated to only show pages you’ve typed. These two make great ways to go back to […]

  69. Dave Field says: 01 Jun 2010 - 14:30

    Three suggestions:

    The ability to move entries.

    The ability to add pages manually.

    The ability to alter entries. I have several sites I go to where it opens the home page, and not my specific page (i.e. in weather sites).

  70. version 9 recently updated for firefox 4, not working with beta 6 or 7 alpha’s

  71. Matthias says: 10 Feb 2011 - 5:13

    Great add-on!

    Small bug: Just noticed that the autodial page is not loaded when a new tab is created from inside the Panorama (tab candy) view by clicking the new-tab-button or double-clicking empty space in the window. Ctrl+T works, both outside and inside Panorama.

    This is in FF 4 Beta 11.


  72. Jalathas says: 26 Apr 2012 - 13:34

    I’m not sure if this is the place to take this or not, but Auto Dial doesn’t appear to be working for me in Firefox 12.0. Is it just not updated yet, or does it function for most people on 12?

  73. @Jalathas could you try version 10 to see if it works in Firefox 12? https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/auto-dial/versions/

  74. Jalathas says: 26 Apr 2012 - 14:33

    Indeed it does! Thank you very much, both for your rapid and helpful response and for creating this add-on in the first place.

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