Mozilla Labs has announced an update to its Jetpack extensions system that makes it easier for developers to write browser add-ons that more closely interact with a person’s computer desktop.
The new Jetpack SDK is version 0.7. It is quickly reaching the level of maturity required for it to become a standard feature in Firefox.
While Jetpack was innovative when Mozilla first announced it, Google has since added an extension system to its Chrome browser that works on the same principles as Jetpack — using web-based tools like HTML and CSS. More recently Apple joined the fray by adding a similar extensions system to Safari 5.
Firefox’s lightweight extension framework has spent a long time in development. Jetpack graduated from Mozilla Labs (though the project is still hosted there) in March of 2010, but, while there was some speculation that Jetpack might end up in Firefox 4, that appears unlikely.
Still, the developer SDK is now at version 0.7 which brings three new APIs for developers to test. The panel API creates floating modal popups that appear on top of web content and browser chrome and persist until dismissed by users or programs. There’s also a clipboard API for interacting with the OSes clipboard and a notifications API which mimics the look of Growl to display messages to the user.
The Jetpack roadmap calls for another SDK release near the end of September and then Jetpack should hit 1.0 sometime in the fourth quarter of 2010. Once Jetpack 1.0 is stable look for it to begin working its way into Firefox.
In the mean time, if you’d like to test out Jetpack and see what the fuss is about just install the Jetpack add-on, which allows Jetpack to work within current version of Firefox. Yes, it’s a little weird, but for now Jetpack is an add-on that you use to install add-ons.
That’s more add-ons downloaded than there are people on the web. Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone has add-ons installed — many of us have a dozen or more add-ons installed at any given time — but Mozilla has previously shown that some 150 million add-ons are in use every day.
Of course the word “add-on” is a little vague. Mozilla isn’t just counting web developer favorites like Firebug or YSlow, but also things as simple as Personas themes, which might explain why the numbers are so high. For instance, if you frequently change Personas, you’re downloading a new skin every time, and that drives the numbers up.
UPDATE: The original version of this post incorrectly stated that Mozilla was including individual downloads of Personas in its count. The two billion number is new downloads of extensions and themes since 2005. Personas are not included in the count.
Still, there’s no question that Firefox users love their add-ons, and Mozilla has the McDonalds-esque number to prove it.
If you’re looking to extend Firefox, or just curious about what other people are using, check out the new “Best of 2 Billion Firefox Add-ons” collection Mozilla has posted. There are number of web developer favorites, including the aforementioned Firebug and YSlow, as well as some other must-haves like NoScript, Xmarks and Greasemonkey.
We love Google Chrome — it’s blazing fast and supports most of HTML5 and CSS 3. But when it comes to using a browser for web development tasks, it’s hard to beat Firefox. With add-ons like Firebug or the Web Developer extension, Mozilla’s browser is still the tool of choice for tweaking and testing pages.
If you’ve been looking for Chrome-based replacements — a better way to inspect code, test alternate resolutions, or quickly check a page’s validation status — the Chrome team has a new Chrome Developer Tools page with some very useful add-ons for web developers.
Sadly, there is no equivalent for Firebug (even the “light” version is no replacement for the real deal), but there are a number of great developer add-ons for Chrome that we hadn’t noticed before.
Speed Tracer is a decent substitute for Yahoo’s YSlow add-on for Firefox. Speed Tracer helps identify and suggest fixes for performance issues. The Web Developer extension (written by Chris Pederick, the same person who did the Firefox version) gives you quick access to validators and offers page resizing and a CSS elements viewer.
Other nice extensions include Chrome Editor, which allows you to make live edits without needing to jump between your text editor and web browser. There’s also, JSonView, which lets you see JSON data, and PHP Documentation, which gives you quick access to PHP’s extensive documentation.
If you’re a heavy Firebug user, there’s nothing here that’s going to convince you to switch from Firefox to Chrome for web development. But if you’ve already made the switch and are looking for some additional web development tools this collection of Chrome add-ons has you covered.
The popular Xmarks browser extension has added a new feature to sync open tabs across browsers and platforms. Xmarks, which started as a Firefox extension, is now also available for Google Chrome, IE and Safari, so this new feature has the capability to keep all of those browsers in perfect sync. It will now even allow you to sync your open tabs to the iPhone using the Xmarks web-based interface.
The new features bring Xmarks closer to Firefox’s own Weave syncing tool. Although Weave can handle some things Xmarks cannot — like form data and browser settings — Weave only syncs between Firefox installs.
If you frequently switch not just computers, but browsers (as many of us do), Xmarks offers a more universal syncing solution.
Once Xmarks is installed, you’ll need to create a web-based account if haven’t already. The new tab syncing feature is disabled by default, so make sure you head to the preferences panel (or page, it varies by browser) and turn it on. Once open tab syncing is enabled, just click the “open remote tabs” menu item and you’ll have access to any tab in any browser where Xmarks is installed.
Xmarks has long been a favorite for syncing bookmarks across browsers, but the new tab syncing features make it even more useful. Weave is nice, but for true cross-platform, cross-browser syncing, Xmarks is the way to go.
Add-ons account for more than 70 percent of browser crashes in Internet Explorer 8, according to Microsoft.
The company released a whitepaper this week titled “Enhancing the performance of Windows Internet Explorer 8″ that outlines the various factors influencing performance and speed in its flagship browser. The whole report is available for download (as an MS Word .doc file, if you can believe it).
The other 30-odd percent of crashes in IE8 are caused by the browser, one of its subsystems (such as the download manager) or by malware.
When confronted with criticism about performance, especially crashes, browser makers are always quick to point their fingers at add-ons. And rightly so — add-ons are sometimes buggy and poorly tested. As a result, browser makers are now subjecting add-ons to a more rigorous testing process to vet their stability and safety before giving them the stamp of approval.
In a detailed analysis of Microsoft’s report at our sister site Ars Technica, Emil Protalinski argues that the third-party add-on culture around IE isn’t as robust as those surrounding Firefox and Chrome.
Protalinski chalks it up to IE being a poor development platform.
Microsoft’s two biggest competitors in the browser market, Firefox and Chrome, both put a big emphasis on add-ons. Microsoft claims that IE add-ons are very easy to develop and that it made sure the developer tools are not a separate download. That may be true, but IE still isn’t as good an extensibility platform as other browsers: it’s harder for plugins to intercept web traffic and so add-ons like NoScript are much harder to port.
During his keynote address at Microsoft’s recent MIX10 developer event in Las Vegas, IE general manager Dean Hachamovitch said that one of his team’s goals is to significantly improve the browser’s extensibility in the next version.
IE9 is due around the end of the year, but you can test drive it right now.