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Momentum Brings Eye Candy to New Browser Tabs

In most Web browsers, when you open a new tab, you can choose to have it display your home page or thumbnails of frequently used sites. Or you can do what I’ve done until recently, and just keep new tabs blank. I did this because I’m always creating a new tab in order to go to a particular Web site, and no single page or grid of thumbnails is likely to anticipate what I want.

Not long ago I happened on a free Chrome extension called Momentum that is so utterly delightful that even 16-year-old Tristan couldn’t resist installing it on his Chromebook, despite it being recommended by his otherwise completely clueless father. Created by a small team of designers and developers who talk about making “software that has a real impact on the human condition” and “weaving culture, history, and the milk of human emotion into modern app design,” Momentum adorns every new browser tab with a picture of a spectacular landscape from the 500px photography site, subtly adding useful little widgets around the edges. The photo changes every day,
and I’ve never seen one that wasn’t absolutely gorgeous.

Getting Some Momentum — To install Momentum in Chrome, open it in the Chrome Web Store and click the Add to Chrome button.

There’s also what seems like an abandoned beta of a Safari extension for Momentum. Unfortunately, it has few of the features of the Chrome version, many glitches, and numerous complaints from users. It may still be worth a try if all you want are Momentum’s pretty pictures. You’ll need to download the extension and then
double-click it in the Finder to install it in Safari, and then set Safari to use Top Sites in Safari > Preferences > General > New Tabs Open With.

The team behind Momentum says they’re planning a Firefox add-on, but are waiting for some changes in Firefox to stabilize, hopefully soon.

Use Your Momentum — Returning to the flagship Chrome version, a picture truly is worth a thousand words when it comes to Momentum. To see it, press Command-T to open a new tab.

Smack in the middle of the screen is the time, along with a greeting that updates throughout the day. Double-click the time to switch between 12- and 24-hour time. Momentum knows who I am because I told it early on, and you can double-click your name to change it at any time. Below that is room to enter what you want to focus on for the day, and a motivational quote.

At the top left, there are controls for Links and Search. Clicking Links reveals a small popover in which you can store links to frequently used sites, just like a bookmarks bar. If you click the magnifying glass, you can search for anything in Google; the results appear in another popover.

Moving clockwise, in the upper right, Momentum shows how many to-do items you’ve completed, along with the temperature and weather in your location. To switch between Fahrenheit and Celsius, double-click the temperature; double-clicking the location lets you change that as well.

In the lower right, the Todo control shows and hides a simple to-do list. It’s more like a slip of scrap paper for jotting things to remember than a task manager. You add an item by clicking where it says “New todo” and typing, and you can either mark an item as done by clicking its checkbox, or just delete it by hovering over it and clicking the x that appears to its right.

Finally, in the lower left, Momentum tells you where the astonishing image you’re seeing was taken, and mousing over the place name toggles it to show the photographer’s name. A gear icon displays a menu of administrative options, the most important of which is Customize. Click it, and you can turn off the focus, quote, links, search, weather, and to-do list if they’re not useful to you. You can also switch to Bing for searching.

If you use multiple Macs and want to sync backgrounds, quotes, to-do items, and more, you can create an account on Momentum and request access to the account syncing beta. It all depends on how private you want to be.

Niceties abound. If you press the Tab key twice after opening a new tab, you can use hotkeys to access Momentum’s various widgets: T for Todo, L for Links, S for search, F for focus, C to bring up a normal Chrome tab, and comma for Settings. I quite like Momentum’s in-place editing of settings, and while it’s not inherently discoverable, both the Customize and Help screens remind you to double-click on anything you want to change.

The only two things you can’t turn off are the time and greeting, so if you’re not a fan of them or Momentum’s other widgets, check out the Flickr Tab Chrome extension, which shows you a new photo selected from the most popular images on the Flickr photo sharing service every time you open a new tab. For Firefox users, there’s Flickr NewTab, which does much the same thing, although you may want to click the gear icon in the upper right corner of a Firefox new tab page and choose Show Blank Page to avoid overwriting the photo with site thumbnails. For Safari, the closest I’ve been able to find is Flume, which pulls its new tab photo from Instagram. It requires that Safari new tabs be set to Empty Page, you must have an Instagram account, and it installed for me only in OS X 10.11 El Capitan, not 10.10 Yosemite.

Momentum’s eye candy won’t change your life, but it might make you just a wee bit happier, as it has me and a million other users. I get a little thrill every morning when I see whatever beautiful photo has been chosen for the day, and again whenever I create a new tab. What’s not to like?

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