All posts tagged ‘add-ons’

File Under: Browsers, Software, UI/UX

Mozilla Puts Ubiquity on Hold

Faithful users of Mozilla’s Ubiquity add-on for Firefox found the extension broken when they updated to the latest version of Firefox, which was released Thursday.

You read that right, Mozilla’s own add-on hasn’t been updated to work with Firefox 3.6. In fact, Ubiquity, an innovative add-on that allows you to interact with maps, Twitter, YouTube and other web services through a command line interface, hasn’t seen an update since the summer of 2009. You’d be forgiven for thinking Mozilla has abandoned it.

As it turns out, you’d actually be right, Mozilla has abandoned Ubiquity — but not forever, just for now.

Jonathan DiCarlo, who works at Mozilla Labs, recently posted an update letting the Mozilla community know that Ubiquity is on hold. The reason, according to DiCarlo is that Mozilla labs had too many projects going and, “Ubiquity was one of the things that was put onto the back burner in order to focus better on Weave, Jetpack, Bespin, and other core projects.”

Mozilla’s current roadmap calls for both Weave and JetPack to graduate out of Labs and into Firefox proper, which is likely why the company has chosen to focus its efforts there rather than on Ubiquity.

Which isn’t to say that Ubiquity will never make it into Firefox. Aza Raskin, Head of User Experience for Mozilla Labs, at one point showed off a mockup of one way that some elements of Ubiquity might make it into Firefox. The demo was dubbed Taskfox, and frankly it looked awesome, but so far there is no timeline for when — or if — it will ever become a part of Firefox itself.

Even if Ubiquity never moves beyond Mozilla Labs, Mozilla, for its part seems to have a pretty clear idea about what works in Ubiquity, what doesn’t, and where it can be improved. In fact, DiCarlo has a second Ubiquity post running down everything Mozilla has learned from Ubiquity.

The rather lengthy post is notable for addressing what we found to be the chief shortcoming of Ubiquity — the lack of commands. Mozilla essentially created the frame work and left the work of creating actual, useful commands up to users.

As DiCarlo admits, “we might have been putting the cart before the horse… it’s not the system that is valuable to users, it’s the individual commands, and the time they can save.”

The good news for those of you relying on Ubiquity is that, while Mozilla may be taking a break to finish up Weave and JetPack, the Ubiquity community is still thriving. The mailing list reveals bugs are being fixed and users remain enthusiastic about the project.

If you’d like to update to Firefox 3.6 and want Ubiquity to keep working, you can disable process where the browser checks add-ons for compatibility (go into about:config, search for extensions.checkCompatibility and toggle the option). Keep in mind that doing so may cause problems with Firefox.

Hopefully, even though Ubiquity may be on the back burner, Mozilla will eventually at least release an update that works with Firefox 3.6.

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File Under: Browsers, Software

Firebug 1.5 Adds More Web Developer Tricks to Firefox

Firebug, the developer tool for debugging JavaScript, tweaking CSS, and inspecting network traffic, has announced a major new release — Firebug 1.5.

Firebug is a Firefox extension that turns your browser into a JavaScript debugging powerhouse. It eases the web development process by providing console interfaces, XmlHttpRequest tracking, live HTML and CSS editing and all sorts of other useful information about what your pages are doing (or not doing). Firebug is so popular with web developers there are even extensions for the Firebug extension — sort of meta-extensions if you will. Yahoo’s YSlow and Google’s Page Speed are the most popular.

The latest release of Firebug improves the add-on’s stability, adds several new features and makes Firebug compatible with the soon-to-be-released Firefox 3.6, which is expected next week.

Among the updates in Firebug 1.5 are a much-improved Inspector tool, which allows you to select any element on the page and see the HTML and any applied CSS rules; and several major new features for the Net panel, which can debug XMLHttpRequests. For a complete list of everything new in Firebug 1.5 be sure to check out the release notes on the Firebug wiki.

To grab a copy of Firebug 1.5, you can head to the Get Firebug site, or wait for the update to show up on the Mozilla add-ons website. The Firebug blog says the latest release should be on the Mozilla site next week (if you want to try Firebug betas or stay at the bleeding edge of Firebug development, we recommend installing the add-on through the Firebug site).

Firebug works wherever Firefox does, but be aware that, if you’re using Firefox on 64-bit versions of Linux, some users have reported problems with Firebug 1.5.

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File Under: Browsers, Software

Firefox Without Add-ons? Say it Ain’t So

If you want to know what a chorus of angry Firefox users sounds like, just make them think you’re taking away their browser add-ons.

A blog post from Mozilla’s Mike Connor, one of the company’s key browser developers, made waves Saturday and Sunday in the Firefox world for suggesting that scenario. While Connor didn’t explicitly say it would happen, his words led many readers to assume the company was considering abandoning the current Firefox add-on ecosystem in favor of JetPack-based add-ons

We asked Mozilla about this possibility and the representative we spoke to insists it’s certainly not the case. Connor’s post has been updated and much of the hubbub has settled down, but the post did spark an important discussion about browser add-ons and the relationships users have with them.

Connor’s post outlined a few lines of thought that have been going on behind the scenes among Firefox developers, as they have been strategizing about the browser’s future.

Exactly what Connor intended to say is still a little unclear. The initial post used phrases like “deprecating the old systems” and suggested that Mozilla would be “discriminating against the old systems” — that is, the current Firefox add-on ecosystem we all know and love — as it moves forward with its software releases.It certainly sounded like somebody at Mozilla was talking about killing off add-ons as we know them and replacing them with the still-beta JetPack add-on system and the Personas theming system. JetPack is Mozilla’s platform for creating simple add-ons that manipulate web page elements and UI elements within the browser’s skin, much like Greasemonkey scripts or the type of DOM-futzing that Chrome’s extension system allows. Personas, Mozilla’s theme manager, allows users to alter the look of the browser by installing a visual theme with one click.

Once a rather vocal community began reacting to the post (read the comments) Conner added an update that backpedaled a bit, but still concluded that, while the plan might be not be “set in stone,” Mozilla does intend to move in that direction. When he said that Mozilla was “discriminating against the old systems,” and added “I am personally at peace with that,” Conner was essentially throwing down the geek gauntlet, whether he meant to or not.

To understand why those statements caused an uproar, you must first understand that, as it stands, JetPack is full-fledged Firefox add-ons what Mini Me is to Dr. Evil — a cute but much less powerful sidekick.

JetPack makes it simple to build simple things, but in its current incarnation it could hardly produce a NoScript, an AdBlock Plus or any of the other popular, powerful Firefox extensions.

Presumably, long before Mozilla makes an attempt to officially migrate from the current system to the JetPack system, the company isn’t likely to turn its back on the over 5,000 add-ons currently shipping for Firefox.

But Conner’s post had an element of immediacy to it and that quickly brought out the die-hard Firefox add-on fans writing “over my dead body” and threatening to abandon Firefox in favor of Google Chrome (ironically, when we recently critiqued Chrome’s current add-on plan, we did so because it fails to offer developers exactly the tools that Conner is suggesting Mozilla might eventually take away).

Why would Mozilla want to limit developers? Well, the truth is that’s not at all what JetPack is aiming to do.

In fact, the JetPack program is an attempt to make developers’ lives easier. JetPack offers niceties like stable APIs (so new versions of Firefox won’t break all your add-ons), automatic updates, sandboxed add-ons for a more secure browser and process isolation so add-ons won’t crash Firefox.

But of course simplicity comes with a price, and this is where Conner runs afoul of the nerds.

To many, the power of Firefox is precisely in its infinite extensibility. Does infinite power bring infinite possibilities for problems? Yes, but the tradeoff is worth it, so say Firefox’s die-hard add-on users.

It’s precisely the fact that users can do whatever they want within the browser that has elevated Firefox to where it is today. Outside developers have been able to push the envelope the web browser’s capabilities, extending it to do things that even the founders of Mozilla would likely never have imagined.

The real issue might simply be whether or not Mozilla recognizes this. Writing about the reasons why Mozilla wants to eventually switch to JetPack-based add-ons Conner talks about updates and problems with add-ons. “We already know from our users,” he writes, “that incompatible add-ons are a significant factor in opting out of updates.”

The message here is not that the add-on system needs to be changed so that people will have a cleaner upgrade path for their browser, but that the browser is irrelevant and the add-ons are what matter.

Firefox, Chrome and Safari routinely swap the top spot in speed tests, and the browsers match each other pretty closely in feature breakdowns, including Firefox’s once-unique core strength — support for the latest web standards.

But there is one huge difference that sets Firefox apart — the ability to infinitely extend it through add-ons. Take away the full power of add-ons and Firefox is just another browser. It might be easier to keep up-to-date since you wouldn’t have to worry about compatibility, but there wouldn’t be anything too special about it, functionality wise.

However, despite some perhaps poor wording in Conner’s post, Mozilla is not about to abandon traditional add-ons. Will many developers chose to port their add-ons to the JetPack system? We hope so. It makes it much easier to develop and maintain simple add-ons. But for the more powerful add-ons, Mozilla will likely leave existing frameworks in place for some time.

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File Under: Browsers, Software

Google Chrome for Mac Now Supports Extensions

There are already hundreds of extensions available for the Windows and Linux versions of Google’s Chrome browser, and now Mac users can get in on the party.

Google has added preliminary support for extensions to Google Chrome for Mac, provided you’re willing to install and use the “dev channel” release of the browser.

If you’ve been using the Mac beta release from December 2009, you’ll need to manually download the dev-channel release. There is no automatic beta-to-dev upgrade option. Using the dev-channel release means you’ll potentially be dealing with more bugs and quirky behavior in Chrome, but in our testing the trade-off — having access to extensions — is well worth the occasional bug.

Downloading a separate .dmg file is a small technical hoop to jump through, but because the support for extensions is experimental, it’s only available to those willing to put in the effort to get it. Instructions are on the Chromium project site.

Of course, the currently available Chrome extensions are limited when compared to what Firefox users will be accustomed to, but at least Mac users finally have access to ad blockers (aka “ad hiders”) and other useful extensions like OpenID auto-fill for faster logins. Also new in the Mac dev-channel release is support for bookmark syncing across Chrome installations (which works regardless of which OS you’re using). Additionally, Chrome for Mac now supports favicon-only pinned tabs, which reduce your favorite tabs to just the favicon, saving considerable space in the tab menu bar.

Google has also released updates to the Windows and Linux dev channels. While both platforms get some welcome bug fixes, there are no major new features. If you’re running the dev channel on any platform you should be automatically updated to the latest release. If you’d like to switch from stable or beta to dev, head to the Google Chrome dev-channel page and grab a copy.

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File Under: Browsers

Mozilla’s JetPack Prepares to Take On Chrome Extensions

Mozilla Labs has announced the release of JetPack 0.7, an update to the new extensions framework for Firefox. It lets people use common web development tools like HTML, CSS and JavaScript to build browser add-ons.

Eventually, Mozilla plans to incorporate JetPack into a future Firefox release. JetPack will most likely make its way into Firefox 3.7, which is due during summer 2010, or Firefox 4.0, due at the end of next year. At the moment, however, interested developers can grab the JetPack add-on that allows JetPack to work within current version of Firefox. Yes, for now JetPack is an add-on for installing add-ons.

JetPack is designed to make it easy for anyone with basic web developer skills to build Firefox extensions. 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. It would be nice if Chrome extensions would work with JetPack and vice versa, but differences between the underlying browsers make such compatibility unlikely.

Jetpack is still an experimental Labs project, but the 0.7 release sees JetPack moving closer to a stable project. Among the new features in this release are a unified first-run API that explains JetPack for new users, as well as some improvements to UI elements like status-bar widgets. The latest version also restores the debugging features available through Firebug.

There are also quite a few more working JetPack extensions available than last time we checked in with JetPack. the new extensions include a very handy tool for web developers: CSS Refresh can refresh the CSS on a page without reloading the whole page.

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